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Channel 4 ‘persecuting’ Sri Lanka’s government – Rajiva

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 5 July 2011 07:01 No Comment]

Speaking on the BBC radio’s ‘Today’, one of Britain’s most popular current affairs programs, Sri Lankan government representative Rajiva Wijesinghe brazenly claimed Monday that Channel 4 had “apologized” for using “doctored” video in its recent hard-hitting documentary on Sri Lanka. His claim immediately drew a swift retort from Channel 4 which categorically denied the accusation and said it “stood by the excellent journalism” of the film. On the BBC programme, referring to international calls for investigations of the allegations, Prof. Wijesinghe said “the people of Sri Lanka are not interested in witch hunts.”

Prof. Wijesinghe’s comments come as a text message circulated amongst Sinhala expatriates in London exhorting them to attend a “mass protest outside Channel 4 headquarters” on July 17 organised by the Sri Lankan High Commissioner.

Prof. Wijesinghe, who was announced on the Today programme as the “Advisor to the Sri Lankan President on reconciliation”, was asked to respond to the UN panel of experts’ report on war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka.

Miliband, Weiss, a South African, and the Diaspora

In response, Prof. Wijesinghe said that the charges against his government are based on “tremendous falsehoods” and that it had “credible evidence” that many of the allegations, “which seem to build on each other, as it were,” “come from the same evidence as the Channel 4 stuff.”

Prof. Wijesinghe then first suggested the UN panel’s information came from “a particular South African who used to work for [UNITA leader] Jonas Savimbi in Angola and [who] seems to have spent much of his time in Sri Lanka setting up what is termed a network of observers – i.e. informers – who have informed this panel.”

Prof. Wijesinghe at the same time blamed “a particular UN spokesman, who on several occasions made erroneous statements and had to be corrected by his bosses” – presumably a reference to Gordon Weiss, whose book on the final months of the war was published in May.

Prof. Wijesinghe then said the allegations came from the Tamil Diaspora.

“Essentially what we find is this recent spate of allegations seems to be driven by the [Tamil] Diaspora,” he said, adding later the Tamils in Sri Lanka are “not interested in this.” He cited Wikileaks.

Prof. Wijesinghe later “largely” blamed UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband “who from 2009 kept agitating for war crimes investigations” – something, he said, “we find irritating.”

Prof. Wijesinghe also claimed Mr. Miliband “had admitted to the Americans” he [Miliband] was calling for war crimes to win votes in UK, and cited Wikileaks as proof.

“We do find it extremely depressing that in order to win votes in England British politicians were playing with the lives of people in Sri Lanka,” Prof. Wijesinghe added.

At another point in his interview, Prof. Wijesinghe claimed Sri Lanka had “evidence” the civilian deaths were “largely” due to collateral damage resulting when the Sri Lankan armed forces attacked LTTE heavy weapons amongst civilians.

When the BBC presenter suggested that for genuine reconciliation, it is important that establish exactly what happened, Prof. Wijesinghe said in his reponse:

“The really sad thing is there seems to be an assumption in the West that you need to go into all these in a recriminatory, retributive fashion, which to me is hopelessly old fashioned.”

Channel 4 documentary

Referring to Channel 4’s documentary, ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’, he said:

“When you have a situation like Channel 4 which produce videos in which very strange things happen – doctored videos which they have now admitted; to use that to persecute a government that is doing its best for healing and reconciliation, seems to me vicious.”

Later the programme’s presenter announced: “Since [speaking to Prof. Wijesinghe] we have been speaking to Channel 4 who do categorically deny [his] accusation and say they stand by the excellent journalism in the film which they say has resulted in calls across the world to investigate these apparent war crimes.”

Channel 4 was also quoted by the BBC as stating: “It is categorically untrue to say that we had any doubts about any of the footage that was used. The Sri Lankan government has taken repeated actions against Channel 4 News through the [UK media] regulator OFCOM, all of which have been rejected.”

Also Monday, a text message circulating Monday in London said “There will be a mass protest on the 17th of July outside ch4 headquarters. It has been organised by the high commissioner and we all need to get together and protest against the documentary and hypocrisy. … The Tamils have worked hard together and got their story across. It is now time to protest against ch4 biased doc. This isn’t against TAMILS but biased media and hypocrisy by the UK govt! ” (Emphasis original).

Meanwhile the Channel 4 documentary was broadcast in Australia Monday by the Australian Broadcasting Coporation’s (ABC) ‘Four Corners’ programme. ABC will repeat the broadcast on Tuesday and Saturday, and make it available online.

The documentary is also scheduled to be broadcast in India on Thursday, Friday and Saturday by ‘Headlines Today’.

The documentary is also available online at Channel 4’s website.

Monday’ ‘Today’ programme is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0128l6w/Today_04_07_2011/

Prof. Wijesinghe’s interview is from 0:45:30, and Channel 4’s response is at 02:37:40

[Full Coverage]

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