Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

The Channel 4 Debate

( Created date: 18-May-2012 )

The Sri Lankan High Commission was invited some weeks back for a discussion with Channel 4 at the Frontline Club. After the High Commission agreed, that the High Commissioner and Prof Rajiva Wijesinha would debate with Jon Snow and Callum McRae of Channel 4, Jon Snow backed out.

He was replaced by Yolanda Foster of Amnesty International and Jan Jananayagam of Tamils Against Genocide. Given this sudden shifting of the subject of debate, it was decided that the High Commissioner should not participate in what might prove emotional generalizations rather than discussion on facts. Instead, in addition to Prof Wijesinha, Arun Tambimuttu agreed to come, and proved extremely effective in making it clear that it was only a few Tamils in the diaspora who shared the Channel 4 mentality. His plea for moving forward on reconciliation, with a refusal to hound the LTTE killers of his parents, was an object lesson in not just decency but also practical commitment to conciliation.

Jan Jananayagam engaged in generalizations, basing her description of Sri Lanka at present on an account by the International Crisis Group. Prof Wijesinha, whilst acknowledging reasons for the bitterness of a younger generation whose parents had left Sri Lanka because of the violence of 1981 and 1983, noted that Jan Jananayagam, who was in fact older and more mature, should take account of current realities instead of thirsting for revenge with a preposterous definition of genocide. He read from a Wikileaks account of what the ICRC had said, solidly refuting the idea that the Sri Lankan forces targeted civilians. The ICRC had noted that the Sri Lankan forces suffered more casualties because they were committed to sparing civilians.

Yolanda Foster made some valid points though they were nothing to do with the Channel 4 documentary. In particular she had brought Dr Manoharan whose son had been killed in Trincomalee in 2006. Prof Wijesinha noted that he too agreed that indictments should have been issued in that case, and that the reason of the then Attorney General for not prosecuting, that he would not be able to secure a conviction, was not good enough. He pointed out that what Britain had done, issuing indictments and then acquitting most people, was an example to be followed, because not following up on such cases was unfair to the victims and their kin.

The idealism of the ladies, though misplaced, was in marked contrast to the falsehoods delivered by Callum McRae. He claimed that 11,000 former combatants were in detention still, a claim refuted not only by Prof Wijesinha but also by Jan Jananayagam who acknowledged that there had been releases but some had been questionable. He asserted that Prof Wijesinha had initially claimed there had been no civilian casualties, which was complete nonsense, and he proved unable to substantiate this when asked to mention one instance of such a claim.

He also attempted to refute evidence of manipulation of material in claiming that the first Channel 4 news item about killings was not a documentary, and therefore the fact that a wrong date had been given and never explained was not relevant. The fact that the UN had shown that the subsequent documentary contained material edited backwards was also not challenged, so that the Chairman, Stephen Sackur’s query as to whether the material was legitimate, was clearly to be answered in the negative.

Perhaps the most telling evidence of the failure of Channel 4 and its allies to establish their authenticity was the declaration of the more extreme elements of the diaspora that Arun Tambimuttu was not Tamil. His calm account of the brutality of the LTTE, and their ruthless killing of Tamils who opposed them, provided an illuminating background to the efforts of the Tamils abroad who are pursuing their own Prabhakaran type dream to ‘other’ all Tamils who oppose them. In the eighties and nineties this led to the murder of Sri Sabaratnam of TELO, Amirthalingam and Yoheswaran of the TULF, Sam Tambimuttu and his wife, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Padmanabha of the EPRLF, two Mayors of Jaffna including Mrs Yoheswaran, and many others.

What the diaspora extremists may convince themselves of is always to be feared, but their complete contempt for the Tamils of Sri Lanka in pursuing their own externalized agenda is even more frightening. That Callum McRae and his associates play around with this is deplorable, but nevertheless it is necessary to engage with such duplicity and show its evil consequences. The withdrawal of Jon Snow, after he was informed that a debate based on facts rather than emotions was intended, is symptomatic of the refusal of those who deal in superficial falsehoods to face challenges direct. Sri Lanka must then tell its own story, acknowledging the few aberrations in a story far better than most in the struggle against terror, and make clear its determination that all Sri Lankans should live together in prosperity based on equity.


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