A Pact with the Devil himself
Posted on May 30th, 2009

Bandula Kothalawala London N7

British diplomats, licking their self-inflicted wounds from the 11th Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka, must have felt a tremendous sense of relief to learn that a pack of hyenas from the British media have already pounced on their elusive quarry.

The Times, after detailed research backed by experts, ably assisted by the BBC and Channel 4, supported by human rights groups, has finally arrived at the true figure of civilian casualties in the war in Sri Lanka. Based on “satellite imagery” and “UN internal documents”, it now says that 20,000 civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the last few days of the offensive. The calculation itself is a stupendously complicated exercise which bears the hallmark of the technical expertise, perhaps, of an award-wining journalist of the calibre of Marie Colvin. With the idiot’s guide to the methodology that Channel 4 has kindly provided, anyone can now work it out for himself or herself. Choose a cut-off date and a number for the civilians who were trapped in the No-Fire Zone, deduct from it the number of the people supposed to have been rescued by the Sri Lankan army and add the UN unofficial casualty figures to the result. Lo and behold! You get the number of civilians killed by the Sri Lankan forces! Fortunately, for the Times, there was no shortage of estimates of the number of trapped civilians and they ranged from about 150,000 to 400,000. Let’s take 400,000 as an example and the number of those rescued as 280,000 and UN casualty figure as 7000. 400,000-280,000 +7000=127000. In this example, I have arrived at a higher figure which is, perhaps, even more correct than the Times figure!

The newspaper has a number of award-wining journalists, including Marie Colvin. She has harboured a visceral hatred against Sri Lanka ever since she was wounded in the crossfire between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE in 2001. It is unfortunate enough that she lost one eye. What is even more unfortunate is that she seems to have lost all her critical faculties, perhaps, due the injuries. The Press Complaints Commission upheld two complaints against her articles on Sri Lanka in 2001. Her articles were founded to be biased and inaccurate. I do remember that Marie Colvin, in her own account of the incident in 2001, claimed that she was wounded in the crossfire. By May 2009, Marie Colvin’s memory has been so clouded, perhaps by hatred and prejudice, that she now says that she was targeted by the Sri Lankan Army. As I was being smuggled out of the area at night, we were ambushed by the Sri Lankan army. I was unhurt until I shouted, “Journalist, journalist.” Then they fired an RPG at me, severely wounding me. (Times online 24 May 2009). In 2001, the award-winning Marie Colvin did not remember whether she spent 7 days or 14 days with the LTTE in the Wann, the difference being only a matter of 7 days. Marie Colvin counted exactly one thousand “amputees” on a beach in the war zone in Sri Lanka in the final few days, but failed to explain how the patients were operated on without surgeons.

Isabelle Allende, famous novelist and Salvador Allende’s niece, in one of her autobiographical novels says that Pablo Neruda once said to her that she was one of the worst journalists in the world, that she would make things up when there was no news and that she should try her hand at fiction. Isabelle Allende was a journalist before she became a novelist. Perhaps, Marie Colvin should take Neruda’s advice seriously for herself.

Jeremy Page, another Times reporter, who attempted to sneak into the country without a proper visa was deported by the Sri Lankan authorities. He has started his own “boycott Sri Lanka” campaign since then.

As for the credibility of the Times Group as a whole, suffice it to say that, according to the 2008 PCC Annual Report, there were 584 complaints against it. In fact, in this contest, the Times Group outshines its nearest rival – Daily Mail which had 92 complaints against it by 492. Moreover, in 2008, there were a total of 4,698 complaints against newspapers in the UK. 71.4% of them concerned possible breach of the code on accuracy.


I still remember vividly how, in December 1989, a newsreader on the venerable BBC, looking sombre for the occasion, announced that 60,000 people had been killed by Ceausescu’s security forces during the Romanian Revolution. It was later found that 1,107 (far too many indeed) people had died – claim disputed by some journalists and scholars. As far as I know, neither the BBC nor any other media organisation which subsequently used the BBC story, made any apology for the blatant lies they deliberately propagated! Please, note that I am not attempting to defend the Ceausescu regime, but merely pointing to media excesses.

BBC journalists would resort to any subterfuge if it suited their agenda. Their methods range from peddling in bare-faced lies, half-truths, distortion of facts to juxtaposition of library pictures as if they were very recent images. In the past few weeks, they have been doing it so often, almost as a pastime that it is hard to keep track of them. They are not any better on the radio. On 29 May 2009, at 22.00 Robin Lustig, reading the headlines of the news bulletin, reported that “according to human rights groups, 20,000 people may have been killed in the final days of the conflict”. However, in the Programme he said that this was based on a report published in the Times. Moreover, there was no representative from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch usually referred as human rights groups among those he interviewed. The spokesperson from the Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect interviewed in the Programme had nothing to do with the claim of 20,000 deaths. Finally, the interview with John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, was not mentioned in the headlines or highlighted later, apparently, because, he, much to the credit of his organisation, presented a sensible well-balanced view of the situation.

The culture of bias, deceit and lack of intellectual honesty and rigour in the BBC seems to be deep-seated and pervasive. It does not seem to be confined to controversial themes like the war in Iraq or the conflict in Sri Lanka. Not even children’s programmes are spared. In 2007, Mark Thompson, BBC Director-General, admitted that the producer of a kids’ programme had rigged the poll which was conducted to name a kitten! He also had to apologise for faking phone-ins on a number of occasions. In one of them, Children in Need Appeal Viewers were told that a phone-in competition had been won by a ten-year-old when, in reality, there had been no winner, the name being simply made up!

Channel 4

The recent coverage of the conflict in Sri Lanka on Channel 4 has been anything but fair. Channel 4 has thrown objectivity, integrity and impartiality and the basic tenets of journalism to the wind and embarked on a vicious and calculated campaign to vilify the Government of Sri Lanka. Jon Snow has made it his business to ensure its success. On 20 April 2009, when the Sri Lankan Army succeeded in freeing nearly 90,000, he glossed it over and simply said that thousands managed to flee the conflict zone. On another occasion he asserted that the SL Government was going to kill “all the Tamils or throw them into the sea”! If I remember correctly, this happened during an interview with John Holmes who dismissed his claim.

On 22 May 2009 at 7.00, someone, inadvertently, let the cat out of the bag. Channel 4 which had persistently claimed that they were showing the footage filmed by their “undercover” reporters suddenly announced that their contact person did not wish to surrender, but committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule! It is quite possible that Channel 4 was broadcasting, at least, some scenes from “LTTE promotional videos”.

Media in Europe

The things do not look much better elsewhere. I happened to read a piece in the El PaƒÆ’†’­s – Spanish daily – on 24 February 2008, following a bomb attack in Sri Lanka which killed Mr Jeyraj Fernandopulle. The article concerned, replete with factual errors, said, among other things, that the conflict was triggered off by religious differences, that the Minister concerned was killed because he was a Singhalese and that the LTTE had succeeded in liberating parts of their country. The Newspaper has so far refused to publish my reply sent to it by e-mail and by ordinary mail which simply asked for the correction of factual errors in the article.

It has to be stressed that there are respectable British journalists who exercise their profession honestly, impartially and objectively and with an exemplary attachment to its ethics. However, they are few and far between. They are a rare breed indeed and in danger of extinction. The vast majority of British journalists have no qualms about stooping to any depths to get a story with scant regard for the ethics of the profession.

General Fonseka may have won the war against the LTTE for President Mahinda Rajapakse. Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka may have outmaneuvered Sri Lanka’s detractors for him in the UN Human Rights Council. China and Russia may have helped him to avert a resolution against Sri Lanka in the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, he is not out of the woods yet. The British Media is after him now. He needs to sign a pact with the Devil himself to win this battle!

Bandula Kothalawala

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