Channel 4 Vs the Sri Lankan Government

Journalists and their editors make many difficult decisions, perhaps none more so than whether to quote from or broadcast material for which they cannot be absolutely sure of the source but where if genuine the contents reveal evidence which must be put in the public domain.

Last August Channel 4 News broadcast a video (includes extremely disturbing images) they received from a group called Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka which appears to show Sri Lankan army soldiers executing Tamil prisoners some time around the end of the conflict in early 2009.

The broadcast turned into a full-scale diplomatic row between the Sri Lankan government who said the video was fake and denounced Channel 4 for irresponsible journalism, and also dragged in the UN and the US to comment on the issue – because if genuine the video is evidence of war crimes being committed. Amnesty and many others believe there is much evidence to show that war crimes were committed and have called for an independent investigation, but the Sri Lankan government continues to deny the allegations.

Channel 4 News have valiantly stood by their story and were yesterday somewhat vindicated by the UN’s top expert on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston, reporting that his own investigation into the video concludes that it is genuine and as such demanding that the Sri Lankan government allow an independent inquiry into whether war crimes took place to go ahead.

It is almost nine months since the conflict ended and no independent observers have been allowed into the former battle zone since then. There are concerns about the loss of valuable evidence.

Many who look on become cynical about anyone being brought to justice for any crimes that were committed, as the real block lies in the fact that Sri Lanka has support at the UN Security Council, especially from China (which empathises with what it might call its little local difficulty), and is so able to resist the push for an independent investigation. The persistence of determined journalists and their editors however might just make a difference.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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