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Channel 4 gets flak on truth and ethics

The niceties of diplomacy are not the means to make a proper response to those who lack any sense of decency in behaviour. They are also insufficient to deal with people or organizations that work to an agenda of undisguised antagonism. Channel 4 and its promoters, supporters and advocates made this evident in their well-orchestrated attacks on Sri Lanka from before Channel 4 aired it programme on contrived brutality in the last phase of the battle to defeat LTTE terror in Sri Lanka.

Whether we were dealing with a UN Rapporteur who rushed in with a comment about the video having credibility about war crimes, or the UN High Commission for Human Rights who was urging the ‘international community’ to act against Sri Lanka on the basis of what Channel 4 showed or the Darusman Report said, or the synchronized attacks by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others of similar ilk who were ready to throw Channel 4 and its bloody video at Sri Lanka, the path of quiet reasoning was having little effect against them. It only made their howls against Sri Lanka louder.


Ambassador Major General Shavendra Silva

What was needed was a response that was more firm, and sought to mute their strident voices with facts that would bludgeon them into shock and even silence. In the past few days we have seen such reaction coming, and Channel 4 and its Chorus Singers being put into a spin by well targeted response both on their ‘facts’ and how they were presented.

Strategic operation

The first major attack that showed machinations behind the Channel 4 dirty work came from Ambassador Major General Shavendra Silva, who together with Permanent Representative at the UN Palitha Kohona, responded to the documentary at the UN Church Centre, Wednesday, when AI, HRW and ICG organized a screening of the Channel 4 video with the claim that it reinforced the alleged findings of the Darusman Report.

As a man who had been on the front in the attack to defeat the LTTE, Major General Shavendra Silva, had the necessary firsthand knowledge to tear the attack to shreds, by drawing the attention of the audience to the many inconsistencies, in a highly biased narration. In what was a strategic response operation, he showed how the video and its presenters made proclamations which were known to be blatant lies, and also revealed the true identities of the individuals on which the video was worked out.

He showed how one visual in the documentary, displaying an aerial bombing of a specific target in a jungle area, was apparently morphed by Channel 4 with another clip to show fighter jets purposely bombing a civilian gathering. They were two separate locations but the narrator tried to portray that the casualties occurred owing to the bombing.

Significantly, the great champions of truth and human rights who organized the Church Centre show of lies did not permit Ambassador Silva to present video evidence to support his explanations, and debunking of their story.

General Silva also informed the audience of the truth about two eyewitnesses to alleged violations of humanitarian law by Sri Lankan Security Forces, namely Vany Kumar and Dr. Shanmugaraj. He explained that Vany Kumar had three different aliases, when she worked in different locations, namely, Damilvany Kumar, Vany Kumar and Damilvany Gananakumar.

The Channel 4 programme said she had been in Sri Lanka only for six months but Ambassador Silva exposed what her family in the UK had informed through an interview in theguardian.co.uk, that she was in fact an LTTE activist, which raised major doubts about her credibility in the documentary. Little would the producers of the ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ have expected the Guardian UK to be cited in evidence against them, with the undisguised support this news organization has been giving to Channel 4 and the so-called Tamil groups behind it in the UK.


 Permanent Representative at the UN Palitha Kohona

Also exposed were several statements by Dr. Shanmugaraja used in the video, although the doctor had already publicly admitted to giving false information to the international media during the final stages of the battle to defeat the LTTE, due to severe LTTE pressure. There was much more criticism in matters of translation and other technicalities that were shown by Major General Silva that raised much more issues of credibility about the producers of this documentary, than about the constant chorus of hatred against Sri Lanka, that it has been used for.

Just not journalism

If Major General Shavendra Silva used hard-line diplomacy with military precision to shatter the movers and shakers behind the Channel 4 video, they received another well focused blast from the media itself. With so many in their international media repeating and enlarging the unverified and cooked up brutality the Channel 4 video, the TV Critic of the Sunday Times UK, Adrian Anthony (AA) Gill had the most criticism for non-adherence to media ethics and basic social responsibility.

He said the programme ‘mixes a large collection of samizdat amateur footage from mobile phones and video cameras - mostly un-attributed and uncorroborated, with comment from unnamed sources with distorted voices and shadowed faces. And human rights lawyers. It was brutal, it was shocking, but it wasn’t journalism’.

“Not a second of this has been shot by Channel 4; none of the eyewitness accounts comes from journalists”, he observed.

He adds that: “Channel 4 has been flogging this story for more than a year, ever since it was given an unattributed but disturbing clip of footage that appeared to show Tamil Tiger prisoners being executed. It has showed it so often, to righteously harangue the Sri Lankan ambassador and various spokesmen, that now nobody will talk to it.

In a documentary that goes over the top on violence and brutality, Gill says, “the most demeaning and prurient part of it all was that the penises of the naked men being executed were smudged out, as if they were the shocking part. And the pubic hair of abused and murdered women was coyly pixelated so as not to be titillating. The horror of war tidied up like Japanese porn, to save us the embarrassment and distaste of having to look at the genitals of the dead.

“This was a piece of politically correct sanitizing that was degrading and humiliating for the viewer and the viewed, but was symbolic of this programme’s contorted news agenda.

It really was the most astonishing and misjudged editorial decision from a news broadcaster that has grown into the habit of poor judgment on almost everything.” From the viewpoint of social responsibility, Gill said: “What was depressing about this particularly bloody special was not just that it had precious little context or considered thought, but that the people who will suffer most from it are not governments or soldiers, but the victims of this brutal war, who deserve a more measured professionalism and due diligence.”

Significantly, this almost echoes what the External Affairs Ministry said in its first reaction to the Channel 4 documentary. It said: The government of Sri Lanka is concerned about the distress the images in the Channel 4 film aired without any guarantee of their authenticity might have caused to the viewers, particularly to those belonging to different communities in Sri Lanka.

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