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When I was asked by al-Jazeera Television to be interviewed with regard to an article in the Guardian about the latest Channel 4 film on Sri Lanka, they kindly sent me a link which showed previous stories on Sri Lanka. The most prominent below the current story was an article by Gethin Chamberlain entitled ‘Civilians held in Sri Lanka camps face disease threat’.

The name and the headline brought back many memories of the tremendous threats Sri Lanka faced back in 2009. The article was written by Gethin Chamberlain in Menik Farm on April 20th that year. This was part of an effort we made then to show journalists what was going on. Most of them reported honestly, in particular the Indian journalists, who were able thus to assuage the fears of many of those in Tamil Nadu who might have succumbed to negative propaganda.

In that sense those of us who wanted an open policy with regard to journalists were justified. But we were not helped by Gethin Chamberlain and a few others, who somehow seemed determined to denigrate Sri Lanka at every conceivable opportunity. The headline he used on April 20th exemplifies this approach, with its highlighting of a ‘disease threat’.

But we were used to this by then. For several months before this, we had read reports that noted that there had been no epidemics amongst those the Tigers had forcibly taken with them when they retreated, despite the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which they were forced to live. But most such articles predicted an epidemic soon, though when nothing of the sort occurred, there were no plaudits for our health services, which we kept going throughout the war. Similarly, there were constant warnings of possible outbreaks of disease at Menik Farm, with no appreciation by journalists of the fact that they were proved wrong. Not unsurprisingly, none of them picked up on the appreciation extended by the UN to the Sri Lankan government for having avoided the catastrophe that had been so confidently predicted.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2011
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