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Cablegate: Journalists in Eastern Sri Lanka Constrained In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

161036Z May 05

UNCLAS COLOMBO 000897

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SA FRONT OFFICE
SA/INS (BRENNIG, DEAN) SA/PD (SCENSNY, ROGERS, STRYKER);
SSA/PAS

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PHUM KPAO PTER EAID OIIP PREL CE LTTE
SUBJECT: Journalists in Eastern Sri Lanka Constrained in
Their Reporting

REFTEL: COLOMBO 00887

1. (SBU) Summary: Journalists in the East of Sri Lanka,
concerned about their welfare, hesitate to report fully on
events in the region. Reporters from the Batticaloa Media
Alliance allege they cannot report freely from the Eastern
province due to pressure from the LTTE and Sri Lankan Army
forces. While most Sri Lankan newspapers still report on
major clashes or killings in the East, objective analysis of
the situation by journalists living there rarely appears.
Journalists self-censor out of fear of both the Tigers and
the Army, compounded by the split between the Eastern-based
Karuna faction of the LTTE and the Wanni LTTE in 2004. End
summary.

2. (SBU) On May 9-10, Information Officer visited the
Batticaloa area in conjunction with POL Officer. On May 9,
citizens (likely urged on by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam [LTTE]) organized a demonstration to protest the
building of a new army check point in the area that our
interlocutors thought was in violation of the Cease Fire
Agreement. Security forces reportedly opened fire on the
demonstrators, killing one and injuring nineteen others,
including a Muslim journalist employed by the state-owned
Rupavahini Television, who had come to report on the event.

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3. (SBU) The Batticaloa Media Alliance, consisting of
journalists from the government-owned Lakehouse Corperation
as well as independent and freelance journalists, met IO at
a guest house in Batticaloa on May 10. Correspondents from
the government-owned Tinakaran newspaper and the Sri Lankan
Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), the mainstream Tamil daily
Virakesari, the LTTE-sympathetic Thinakaral, the pro-LTTE
Sudar Oli and the regional Muslim daily Ella Natham agreed
that journalists in the Eastern Province could not report
freely. They all nodded when asked if the concentrated
presence of both the mainstream and Karuna factions of the
LTTE in the area complicated matters of free speech, but
none would verbally condemn either faction for restricting
the media. All journalists from independent papers blamed
the government, the army, and those allegedly in cahoots
with the government for restricting the free press. (Later,
a student from Eastern University asserted, "If I express a
wrong opinion, I could be killed.")

4. (SBU) In subsequent conversations about the journalistic
environment in the East, Colombo-based correspondents also
expressed more difficulty getting stories from the region.
One credible journalist who requested anonymity said: "It's
no doubt more difficult to get independent stories from the
East after the Prabhakaran-Karuna split, but in a sense it's
always been more difficult from the East. As early as 2000,
three or four Eastern journalists were given asylum in
Western countries. Now, our non-media contacts, not just
our local journalists, find it difficult to talk, but
because we know the background, we generally know what
they're saying between the lines." However, another Colombo-
based journalist from the Sinhalese nationalist Island and
Divaina newspapers, dismissing the fears of the journalists
in the Eastern province, commented: "If journalists need
security to report their stories, they can't be called
journalists. They should be politicians."

5. (SBU) Comment: Journalists in general in Sri Lanka are
not well trained. Moreover, most journalists in the East
are sympathetic to Tamil grievances concerning
discrimination. Thus, it is difficult under any
circumstances to get objective reporting from the Eastern
province. Nonetheless, the heavy presence in the area of
cadres from both of the LTTE factions, along with frequent
clashes with the security forces, undoubtedly intimidates
some journalists and causes them to be more cautious in
their reporting. End Comment.

Lunstead

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