7.4 A war without witness: Media blackout
From the very beginning, the recent war had been a “war without witnesses” in every sense. The total media blackout maintained by the state justified the accusations levelled against the SL regime about their intention to carry out closed door massacres. No independent journalist was allowed to travel into the conflict areas, during the height of the military campaign forcing them to totally depend on the limited information provided by the Sri Lankan Army and the Ministry of Defence. It was considered as the only battle zone in the world that was declared as out of bounds to any independent media.
Blocking information was not the only method utilized by the state to curtail press freedom. Many journalists were subjected to continuous threats from the state authorities. Since December 22, 2005, 23 media workers were killed, including 11 journalists. Except two, all the others were ethnic Tamils (a detailed document will be provided separately). Since throughout all these years, not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice. By looking at the evidence that is available, it is not difficult to understand that there is a clear intention expressed through the actions of the armed forces and para-military operatives associated with the state, to silence independent Tamil media through an organized intimidation and terror campaign.
Apart from carrying out selected assassinations, many were threatened, abducted, assaulted and tortured or imprisoned. Over 50 journalists, both Sinhala and Tamil were forced into exile within the last three years for voicing the concerns of the people who were affected by the war. According to the well known media rights group - Reporters Without Borders - press freedom Index 2008, “Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries. This was the lowest ranking of any democratic country.” (http://www.dailymirror.lk/DM_BLOG/Sections/ frmNews DetailView.aspx?ARTID=37276)
A similar report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists in February, 2009 highlighted the deteriorating conditions related to press freedom: “Sri Lanka’s journalists are under intensive assault. Authorities have failed to carry out effective and credible investigations into the killing of journalists who question the government’s conduct of a war against Tamil separatists or criticize the military establishment. Many local and foreign journalists and members of the diplomatic community believe the government is complicit in the attacks. The lack of credible investigations into these crimes is in keeping with a long history of impunity for those who attack journalists in Sri Lanka.” (http://cpj.org/reports/2009 /02/ failure-to-investigate-sri-lankan-journalists-unde.php)
Many foreign correspondents who tried to expose the conditions of the war affected people during and after the war, were deported immediately from the island, as it happened to a group of journalists from the British television Channel 4 in May 2009, for reporting on the horrendous conditions inside the internment camps where the displaced Tamils are being held against their will. A month before, in April 2009, the South Asian correspondent for the "Times” was stopped at the airport and turned back in the same manner, for not toeing the government line. Describing his experience, Jeremy Page, the deported correspondent later wrote : “I regularly interview members of the Taleban in Afghanistan. In Russia I reported on both sides of the Chechen conflict. In China I interviewed dissidents and Tibetan independence activists. To do the equivalent in Sri Lanka is not only forbidden, it is highly dangerous... The Government denounced me personally at a news conference, but the most surreal response came in a letter from the head of the Government’s Peace Secretariat, who accused me of sensationalising the use of barbed wire in the camps. “Unfortunately, a man from a cold climate does not realise that, in the sub-continent, barbed wire is the most common material to establish secure boundaries, to permit ventilation as well as views,” he wrote.” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6112835.ece)