Formal Complaint against the ABC TV’s bias reporting on Sri Lanka, in its “Foreign Correspondent” broadcast on 9 February 2010
Posted on February 23rd, 2010

Sri Lanka Support Group, Canberra

24 February 2010
ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs
GPO Box 8884
Sydney NSW

Dear Sirs

Formal Complaint against the ABC TV’s bias reporting on Sri Lanka, in its “Foreign Correspondent” broadcast on 9 February 2010

We refer to the “ƒ”¹…”Foreign Correspondent’ documentary, dated 9 February 2010.

Said program was totally biased against Sri Lanka.

It was intentionally designed to bring forth disrepute to Sri Lanka and to stir the efforts of ethnic reconciliation that the Sri Lanka is vigorously attempting to now create. The program contains lies, deceptions, distortions, misinterpretations and innuendos.

The program had been produced with the utmost malicious intent of bringing disrepute and hatred to the Sri Lankan Government, its people and Buddhism “”…” Sri Lanka’s main religion, among the Australians who were watching the program in their living rooms.

This is a formal complaint against ABC TV for broadcasting the “ƒ”¹…”Foreign Correspondent’ on 9 February 2010. Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 we hereby lodge a complaint, with a copy to the ACMA. We request you to investigate the complaint against ABC TV and advise us of your finding ASAP. The complaint consists of 32 points, with a number of sub-points.

Should you require any clarification and further information from us please do not hesitate to contact us and we shall provide our response to you promptly.

a. The title of the Foreign Correspondent story is ‘Hell or High Water’. The terminology “Hell” had been used to personify Sri Lanka as a country of “Hell” for Tamils. This is a totally incorrect misrepresentation of the Tamil situation in Sri Lanka. We consider that the title is a grave insult and injustice to the Government of Sri Lanka and the People of Sri Lanka. The title causes a bias in the mind of the viewer against Sri Lanka. It was cleverly done to promote the underlying theme of the whole program “”…” to attack the Government of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese People and their religion, Buddhism, to whatever extent, wherever possible, with utmost hatred and malice. The entire program had been done with the intention of showing that Sri Lanka is a racist country for the Tamils. It is a “ƒ”¹…”Hell’ for them, they can’t live there hence the Tamil boat people must be welcomed in Australia. The producers have done a wonderful job in achieving their ambition and objective.

2. The program stated that large number of locals (ie, meaning Tamils) are fleeing Sri Lanka due to “daily harassment from the Government and the military”. This again shows the bias and the prejudice of the “ƒ”¹…”Foreign Correspondent’.

a. 40% of the Colombo population are Tamils. They live in harmony with the fellow Sinhalese. Before the war, say, in 1976, less than 20% of Tamils were living in Colombo. During the 33 years of war, the Tamil population in Colombo has more than doubled. Today, in Sri Lanka, there are more Tamils living in Colombo than in Jaffna. Then, on what grounds that the Foreign Correspondent say that there is daily harassment of Tamils by the Sri Lankan Government and the military?

b. Tamils have established their businesses in Colombo and they run them very successfully. They are comprised of small-, medium- and large-scale businesses. Those who patronize them are the majority Sinhalese. If the Sinhalese discriminate against the Tamils, as alleged by the ABC TV, then they would not patronize the Tamil businesses.

c. Apart from businesses, there are Tamil professionals like doctors, engineers, accountants and lawyers who work in all parts of Sri Lanka. Most of the top Sri Lankan companies’ boards are comprised of Tamil directors.

d. There had been former Inspector General of Police, Army commander, Attorney General, Chief Justice, Solicitor General, number of Ambassadors, Justices of the Court that have been Tamils. Even today there are number of Tamil cabinet ministers and junior ministers in the Sri Lankan Government.

e. Apart from the private sector, large numbers of Tamils work in the Sri Lankan public service. Not just in the North and the East but even in predominately Sinhalese areas such as the deep South. This is a clear example that the Sinhalese and Tamils do live amicably and in harmony in Sri Lanka, and they patronise each other. They co-exist with each other very well. Sinhalese and Tamil children go to study in the same schools. Obviously the Foreign Correspondent does not want to report these positive things in Sri Lanka.

f. Mr Campbell in his program failed to mention these true facts, but showed that all Tamils in Sri Lanka are subject to harassment from the Sri Lankan Government and the military. This is a breach of the ABC TV Charter and Code of Conduct.

3. The program showed people travelling in a dilapidated, primitive boat on the sea, and implied to the viewer that they were Tamils who were fleeing Sri Lanka to Australia. But, in actual fact it was a Sinhalese boat with Sinhalese people of Matara on it. The name of the boat “Sudu Putha” are Sinhalese words ( “Fair Son”). The showing of the boat on a high sea with bogus people was a deliberate fabrication to create an image in the mind of the viewer that it was an actual Tamil boat fleeing to Australia, when it was not.

4. The program stated that all the 150 people (men) who were arrested were Tamils. This is incorrect. There were Sinhalese men among the 150 people that were arrested. Some of the detainees were heard talking in Sinhalese language in the background. But this fact was deliberately hidden away from the viewer, to show that the boats coming to Australia from Sri Lanka exclusively contain Tamils only, and that they must be provided asylum here in Australia (11 Sinhalese were denied asylum in Australia recently, merely because they were Sinhalese and not Tamils).

5. Mr Campbell, in the “ƒ”¹…”Foreign Correspondent’, uttered a big lie in saying that the official language of Sri Lanka is Sinhalese. He knew or ought to know that Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka, but he deliberately hid this from the innocent viewer. This is journalism at its gutter level. If he uttered these truths Mr Campbell would have known that his attempt to sensationalise the fact that Tamils are being persecuted in Sri Lanka may not be successful.

6. Mr Campbell stated that each person was bailed out for $3,000. This may be incorrect. According our information the amount bailed out for each person had been different, and it has been stated that the minimum amount of the bail was much less than the $3,000, as reported by Mr Campbell.

7. It seems that Mr Campbell had stage managed the Tamil women to cry for the show. It was very obvious that those women were crying solely for the camera.

8. One woman uttered that the Sri Lankan Government denied them from taking a flight, hence they took to the boats. This is another blatant lie. This may very well may have been taught to the woman by the producers of the show, we ask the ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs to investigate this. Anyone who goes to Colombo airport will see that majority of the Sri Lankans who are in the departure lounge are Tamils, say about 65% – 70% of the Sri Lankans who depart the country are Tamils. If the Sri Lankan Government is stopping the Tamils from taking flight how can they depart from the Colombo airport so safely? Mr Campbell himself must have seen that majority of the people in Colombo airport were Tamils. By deliberately airing such fabrication, the Foreign Correspondent was clearly showing bias. Their aim of the show had been to throw mud at the Sri Lankan Government, Sinhalese People and the main religion of Sri Lanka, Buddhism.

9. In the program Mr Campbell was trying to create an impression on the mind of the Australian viewer that all the Tamil boats to Australia depart only from Sri Lanka. It is evident some of the boats have departed from other Tamil populous countries. For example, the Tamil boat with 240 people that is currently berthed in “Merak” in Indonesia departed from Malaysia. It had been reported that the main spokesperson of the boat, the bearded Alex, may not have lived in Sri Lanka in the recent past but in South India (where 60 million Tamils live). There are reports that he had also lived in Canada. Truthiness of these allegations are unknown to us.

a. Mr Campbell did not raise the point as to why the Sri Lankan Tamils should sail all the way to Australia, when they can easily sail to Australia, which is only 20 miles away from Sri Lanka. India runs an effective refugee process service for Sri Lankan Tamils. Furthermore, there are 60 million Tamils live in south India, and the Sri Lankan Tamils are direct descendants of the South Indian Tamils.

10. Mr Campbell had interviewed Mr Gordon Weiss who stated that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians may have died in the recently concluded war. When he was working for the UN, his own agency stated that only up to 7,000 people were killed (this was also a high number and the Sri Lankan Government denied this). We believe Mr Weiss was the media person for the UN then! Mr Campbell failed to ask him why Mr Weiss waited 9 months after the end of the war to correct that the actual number of deaths were may be 40,000 and not 7,000. If Mr Weiss is credible he should let out the correct figures as he saw them then, rather than waiting to create sensation 9 months after the end of the war. Such conduct on Mr Weiss goes to his credibility though the Foreign Correspondent made a desperate attempt to create a good image for Mr Weiss.

11. Mr Gordon Weiss in the program without adequately and sufficiently substantiating his accusation stated that the Sri Lankan Government intentionally misled or lied to the international world about the casualty figures. This is a very serious accusation against a democratically elected Government. It is important to investigate whether or not it is the Foreign Correspondent program and Mr Weiss who have done this (misled the Australian public), rather than the Sri Lankan Government.

12. If ABC TV which broadcast the “Foreign Correspondent” is a reputed, honourable broadcasting service it should have allowed the Sri Lankan Government to have its say “”…” it’s side of the story. By denying that the Foreign Correspondent denied natural justice to the Sri Lankan Government and the Sri Lankan people.

13. Mr Weiss did utter the truth that Tamil Tigers were deliberately killing the Tamils who were fleeing the war zone. But neither Mr Campbell nor Mr Weiss were bold enough to state that of those Tamils who died (7,000 or 40,000), they were Tamil Tigers, and if Tamil civilians also died, then they may have most probably been killed by the Tamil Tigers themselves, as they were holding heavy armaments inside the war zone. Mr Weiss failed to say that because the Sri Lankan Army did not fire at the no fire zone, large numbers of Sri Lankan soldiers got killed from the Tamil Tiger gun/artillery fire. The Foreign Correspondent did not want to say all this as then it will not create a bad impression about Sri Lanka in the mind of the ordinary Australian viewer. To qualify his assertion that the Tamil civilians were killed only by the Sri Lankan military, Mr Weiss stated that the “Tamil civilians were within range of all the armaments that were being used, small and large, to smash the Tamil Tiger lines “¦ the end result was that many thousands lost their lives”. This shows how cleverly the Foreign Correspondent used the story to show that the alleged up to 40,000 Tamil civilians who died (such number of killing never happened anyway), then that was done by the Sri Lankan military not the Tamil Tiger shelling at their own people.

14. Gordon Weiss stated he got his information from reliable sources who had a presence inside the battle zone, not Tamil civilians nor Tamil fighters. Then, as a responsible broadcasting station, ABC TV in its Foreign Correspondent documentary should have stated what the other sources are that he got his information from (Mr Campbell later stated that journalists were barred from the battle zone).

a. If Mr Weiss’s source of information was the Tamil doctors who spoke to foreign journalists during the war stating that large number of Tamil civilians were dead, then, they cannot be considered credible witnesses. After the war the doctors came out from the closet and stated that they had to say there were many Tamil civilian deaths because they were under pressure from the Tamil Tigers to say so. They admitted that they had fabricated the stories to the world.

15. The program blamed the Sri Lankan Government that more than 300,000 Tamils were incarcerated in camps after the war. These were war refugees. If they were not put in camps then the Sri Lankan Government could have been accused that it did not look after its Tamil populous. The Tamil civilians became refugees because the Tamil Tigers kept them as a human shield.

16. Mr Campbell, allowed Mr Weiss to state that 290,000 Tamils were incarcerated because the Government wanted to screen the Tamil Tigers from them. This is a lie. The Sri Lankan Government undertook a great responsibility to look after its Tamil citizens at great cost to the Government, not merely to screen them for Tigers, but as part of its moral and legal obligation to look after its own population, who were in great distress at the time.

a. A parliamentary delegation from Tamilnadu Government commended the Sri Lankan Government for the excellent manner in which the IDPs were treated in the camps, but obviously neither Mr Campbell nor Mr Weiss wanted to mention that, as then the excitement they wanted to create from the program – that “ƒ”¹…”the Sri Lankan Government and the Sinhalese are “ƒ”¹…”bad people’ – will diminish.

b. More than 90% of the Tamil people have now left the camps “”…” this is a great achievement for any country.

c. Refugees in many other countries spend numbers of year in camps before being resettled elsewhere. Tamil refugees who had left for India more than 5-10 years ago are still languishing in camps in that country in most appalling and atrocious conditions.

d. The record by the UN (Mr Weiss’ former organisation) in resettling refugees in other places of the world has been not good (eg. Kosovo).

e. It must only be in Sri Lanka that such a large number of people who were resettled in their villages in such a short period of time. Rather than criticising the Government of Sri Lanka, the Foreign Correspondent should have praised the Sri Lankan Government. But obviously Mark Cochran and others in the ABC TV had other ideas in producing the show “”…” to bring forth the maximum possible discredit to Sri Lanka, Sinhalese people and Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

17. The story alleges that Pathmanathan’s father and uncle were killed by the Sri Lankan Government and he was also threatened with abduction a year ago. Was this man telling the truth? What sort of investigations did Mr Campbell do before airing such blatant, very serious allegations against the Sri Lankan Government and the military? He seemed to have done no research on the most serious claims made by Pathmanathan. This is not good journalism.

18. Pathmanathan states he shaved the beard so that the Sri Lankan military could not identify him.

a. Then the show states that he has to go back to Matara for his court case. If the Sri Lankan Officials wanted to capture him they could do so when he is Matara, there is no reason for him to shave his beard to escape from the Sri Lankan military, as he will face them in Matara anyway.

b. Furthermore, he was playing cricket in the open in Batticaloe, then how can he say he was avoiding the Sri Lankan security?

19. During the show, a boat sailing on the sea with people on it were shown. It was an attempt to imply to the viewer that those people were Tamils who were fleeing Sri Lanka to Australia. But, to the average Sri Lankan, it is obvious that the boat was a normal Sri Lankan fishing vessel, which had been shot in the deep south of Matara, and that the people therein must be Sinhalese fisherman (natives of Matara). If this is the case then Foreign Correspondent had been engaged in the shameful act of misleading and deceiving the innocent public of Australia.

20. Pathmanathan, when playing Cricket, says that even on the Cricket pitch they were unsafe as there is a continuous presence of soldiers and police watching on them. But the scenery did not contain a single soldier or police officer, and the cricketers seem to be enjoying their game. Pathmanathan states that they are not allowed to play Cricket after 530 pm. Did Mr Campbell check the accuracy of this statement or did he merely allow Pathmanathan to say things to discredit the Sri Lankan Government, as this seems to be the objective of the show. Did he (Mr Campbell) teach Mr Pathmanathan to say those things?

21. Mr Gordon Weiss states that in Sri Lanka the Tamils and Muslims are excluded in any form of government. But, the truth is that apart from top public servants, the majority of Sri Lanka’s professionals such as doctors, engineers, accountants and lawyers and business leaders are Tamils. Sri Lanka’s commerce is dominated by the Muslims. In any case the Muslims in Sri Lanka have not expressed any grievous against the Sri Lankan Government. Mr Weiss was merely making up a story. Even the previous foreign minister of Sri Lanka was a Tamil, who was murdered by the Tamil Tigers.

a. According to the Sri Lanka’s Rich List, published in late July 2009 by the Rich List Publications USA, 21 out of 38 of the richest people in Sri Lanka are ethnic minorities. This means more than 50% of the richest people in Sri Lanka are ethnic minorities, comprised of largely Tamils and Muslims. Why cannot the Foreign Correspondent/Ms Weiss report these truths, but only untruth to the world about Sri Lanka?

22. The Foreign Correspondent stated that the video on the extra judicial execution of the Tamil Tigers was authenticated by the UN. By saying so they tried to imply that the UN had admitted the fact that Sri Lankan military actually arbitrarily executed those Tamil Tigers. But, the UN never stated this. They never stated that it was a fact that the Sri Lankan military executed the Tamil Tigers, but stated that the video was authentic, ie, it was not a doctored video (the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki Moon, clearly stated that the finding that the video was authentic was not a UN finding but a mere statement by Mr Phillip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur). If he was running a fair and just program Mr Campbell should have told the whole story about the video to his audience.

23. For Foreign Correspondent to play the controversial Video without regard to the Sri Lankan Government was totally wrong. When the Sri Lankan Government had vehemently denied that it was a true story (that its military killed the Tamil Tigers in such a way). The Sri Lankan Government had provided expert reports stating that the video was a fabrication, it is true Mr Alston (the UN Special Rapporteur) did not accept those assertion, not because of anything else, but, because he thought the persons who provided the expert analysis for the Sri Lankan Government were not independent enough. He asked the Sri Lankan Government to come up with a report from an independent expert, we believe the Sri Lankan Government is still attending to this. Under the circumstances, Foreign Correspondent should not have aired the controversial video in such a fashion. It is clear they merely used the opportunity to air the video so that it will bring enormous disrepute and bad record for the Sri Lankan Government, and the military.

24. The fact that the video is authentic means that it could have been produced in a foreign country (the background did not resemble the north/east of Sri Lanka, but a Western or a Mediterranean country), using actors, ie, people acting as Sri Lankan soldiers and Tamil Tigers. The uniforms worn by the alleged Sri Lankan Army actors and their hair cuts were not that of the normal Sri Lankan soldier. It is alarming that the video was released by a group of Sri Lankans living in Europe.

25. Again, Mr Alston of the UN, or anyone else had not been able to prove that the incident of arbitrary execution as shown on the video was real, and it was an incident that actually happened in the war zone of Sri Lanka.

26. In the program they used Mr Gordon Weiss to justify that the video was true and the Sri Lankan Government actually killed those people arbitrarily. His words that, “ƒ”¹…”these things do happen in war situations, but the Sri Lankan Government denies everything that happened in the war front’, is a deliberate attempt to reinforce that the Sri Lankan Government did indeed kill those Tamil Tigers arbitrarily, and also committed many war crime atrocities. In the program it was evident that Mr Weiss had a desire to see war crimes charges being brought against the Government of Sri Lanka. Obviously he seems to have a grudge against the Sri Lankan Government. He may also want to come to prominence in giving advice in a future war crimes tribunal, given that he seems to be unemployed at the moment. It is better to ask him about his motive of coming forward now, 9 months after the war. The Foreign Correspondent did not do that.

27. Mr Campbell stated that the Tamils can’t go back to their villages because the Sri Lankan military had sealed off the Tamil villages or their homes were destroyed. This is a blatant lie by Mr Campbell. The main reason why the Tamils could not go back to the villages because some of the areas had been highly mined by the fleeing Tamil Tigers. Even Mr Weiss’s UN had accepted this as a fact and is currently assisting the Sri Lankan Government in this regard (to clear the land mines in the Tamil villages).

28. Foreign Correspondent denigrated the sacred religion of Sri Lanka “”…” Buddhism, in saying that in Sri Lanka the Buddhist faith equals to Sri Lanka’s hegemonous identity and nationalism, at the behest of other minority religions. Foreign Correspondent must be asked to apologise to the Sri Lankan Government and the People of Sri Lanka for the insult inflicted on them.

a. It is the Buddhist priests in Sri Lanka who have come to the forefront to assist the Tamils in Sri Lanka and create communal harmony there. It was they who started collecting food, clothes and other items to the Tamil IDPs.

29. Blatantly implying that Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Priests as racists, it is nothing else but the Foreign Correspondent demonstrating its gutter level of journalism.

30. In the Foreign Correspondent, a journalist from The Sunday Leader Newspaper of Sri Lanka, Ms Janz, was interviewed where she stated “I hold the Sri Lankan Government responsible for the murder of the journalist Lasantha”. Then she implied that she had no proof about that. If this is the case why was she allowed to criticise the Government of Sri Lanka for murder without evidence?

31. At the end of the show a message appeared on screen that despite Foreign Correspondent inviting them to do so, neither the Sri Lankan government nor its military wished to come forward to provide their side of the story.

a. This fact had been denied by the High Commissioner for Sri Lankan in Canberra.

b. Normally the Sri Lankan Government and the military would grab such an opportunity to state their side of the story. This has been the case in the past.

c. In any case, when such blatant extremely serious accusations are made against a country and its people, ABC TV being a responsible TV station in Australia, should have been proactive to get a Sri Lankan Government official/military to state their views on the Foreign Correspondent story.

d. It looks like that Mr Campbell had spent lots of time in Sri Lanka when producing the show. He even went to the Tamil refugee camps in the north of the country, manned primarily by the Sri Lankan military. For him to now say that he could not find a single Sri Lankan Government official or a military personnel to talk to him, well only an utter fool will accept such a blatant lie.

e. According to the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra an official there had directed the Foreign Correspondent to contact Mr Ranjith Uyangoda, Director General of Public Communications of the Sri Lankan Foreign Affairs Ministry for an explanation, but the Foreign Correspondent had failed to do this. They have evaded interviewing a Sri Lankan Government/military official purposely.

We look forward to your prompt response.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Sri Lanka Support Group, Canberra

One Response to “Formal Complaint against the ABC TV’s bias reporting on Sri Lanka, in its “Foreign Correspondent” broadcast on 9 February 2010”

  1. aravinda Says:

    Thanks Sri Lankan Support Group, you speak for 21 million people. After Milliband was chased out of Sri Lanka, with customary tail between shaking legs, direct attacks on Sri Lankan government has stopped. Now the age old Goebbels system is been used. That is ” If you tell a lie many times, people start to believe it is true”.

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