I have a certain affection for the BBC, which has grown considerably since Channel 4 began its programme of using every trick in its repertoire to denigrate Sri Lanka. Though the BBC too was not perfect, it did have certain standards, as was clear for instance when it refused initially to telecast the first film Channel 4 showed, on the grounds that its authenticity could not be substantiated.

The faults of the BBC are those of any other media outlet – and perhaps all humanity – a tendency to dramatize and exaggerate, to concentrate on what makes the points it wants to highlight and ignore the opposite. But it generally tends to do this with a sense of responsibility and, even if its perspectives are undeniably British – so that Al-Jazeera for instance seems more rounded in comparison – it does evince that sense of fair play which some Britishers used to cherish. Given the ruthless Murdoch approach to media manipulation, and the manner in which, like the Gadarene swine, other outlets felt obliged to follow suit, the BBC has been comparatively dignified.

While even within the BBC there have been exceptions, sadly the most prominent as far as impinges on our consciousness is its Sinhala service. I have now grown used to the techniques many of its reporters employ, so much so that I always ask for a recording so that, if there is excessive misinterpretation, I can at least make the point I was trying to make. Unfortunately they seem to be wise to this, and refuse to let me have recordings but, given that at least one of them seems reasonably balanced, I continue to deal with them and hope for the best.

I was saddened therefore to find recently a more egregious example of impropriety than usual. I should add that I am indebted for this to one of those many Sri Lankans resident abroad, Muslim and Tamil as well as Sinhalese, who have now begun to monitor the media and respond to it swiftly, as the LTTE surrogates had done so effectively over the years. I was thus sent a month back a screen shot of a BBC Sinhala Service article, about the Amnesty International claim that impunity persisted in Sri Lanka.

The illustration used to exemplify this on the BBC website was of a man lying on the ground with apparently menacing figures looming over him. However clicking on the picture revealed that it had been taken in Mexico.

I am not sure if there was a formal protest. But my informant had obviously circulated the picture, and the BBC realized its mistake. Now they have quietly removed the offending picture and replaced it with another, which is evidently of the body of a suspect killed in police custody in Sri Lanka.

It is good that they have corrected their error, but sadly there is no acknowledgment of their error, no hint of an apology for using fraudulent evidence. I am not for a moment suggesting that the fraud was committed knowingly, but that it should have happened so easily is symptomatic of the way the media behaves, sticking whatever it picks up onto whoever has earned its wrath.

And if the BBC commits such errors, and does not think it necessary to apologize, what can one expect of Channel 4 and others of that ilk?

Daily News 22 July 2011

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