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Whose language is it anyway?

Last weekend, many Lankans saw parts of the Channel 4 documentary, 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields' with its gruesome execution footage, for the first time.

world Updated: Jul 06, 2011 00:33 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Last weekend, many Lankans saw parts of the Channel 4 documentary, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields with its gruesome execution footage, for the first time.

It was repeatedly telecast on prime time, between serials and Bollywood song shows, on a privately owned but considered to be pro-government channel. With one little difference with the disturbing documentary though - in this "original, unaltered" video those carrying out military-style executions were speaking, laughing and smirking in Tamil and not in Sinhala.

Apparently, according to the newsnow.lk website, the local channel sourced it from the Defence ministry. The ministry along with the country's top officials and diplomats till the other day were claiming the documentary to be a complete fake. But now, there's been a change of heart and, well, language - so, the men in military fatigues have become Tiger cadres executing soldiers.

While trying an offensive against the British channel, the government has ensured that more people in this country now know that unimaginable acts of cruelty, war crimes in other words, were committed as the fight ended.

The government shifted the blame entirely on the Tigers but it's still totally open to debate on whose version is correct - a sensationalist channel's or a government's whose awkward trysts with truth have been patchy at best.

Human Rights Watch's Elaine Pearson recently wrote in Groundviews, a citizens' journalism initiative: "but it is wrong for the Sri Lankan government to dismiss this compelling footage as "fake."…the executions footage has been authenticated by four independent experts who have no connection to Sri Lanka."

Interestingly, the defence ministry continues to highlight a story on its website titled Channel 4 video - A blatant lie.

"There is also a video circulating at the moment, the same video, with Tamil voices in the background. There are enormous doubts as to the authenticity, not only of the technical authenticity, but also the substantive authenticity of this video," Palitha Kohona, Lanka's permanent representative to the UN, says in it.

So, the video's authenticity is questionable but the government will not say anything if a popular private channel telecasts it.

Repeatedly. I say the broadcast was allowed because this government worships at the altar of free speech; it wasn't surely dictated by any motive on a beleaguered government's part to tap into majority chauvinism.