BBC suspends Sri Lanka broadcasts after govt interference
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BBC suspends Sri Lanka broadcasts after govt interference

The BBC World Service has suspended broadcasts in Sri Lanka after attempts to censor and interfere with Tamil-language content before and after last week’s United Nations resolution that criticised escalating violence against the island’s ethnic Tamils.

“We regret the disruption in service to our loyal audiences in Sri Lanka, but such targeted interference in our programmes is a serious breach of trust with those audiences, which the BBC cannot allow,” said BBC World Service Director Peter Horrocks as the suspension was announced Tuesday.

The interference by the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) – revealed here on Asian Correspondent last week – took place from March 16-18, and again on March 25, leaving the BBC with “no alternative but to suspend the service with immediate effect”.

(READ MORE: Sri Lanka blocks BBC reports as UN condemns anti-Tamil violence)

The BBC Tamil programmes in question, which would normally be broadcast via a partnership with the SLBC, were replaced with alternative transmissions that either pushed the government’s point of view or focused on unrelated issues ahead of the UN vote.

Writing here on Asian Correspondent last week, the Sri Lanka Campaign’s Fred Carver wrote:

The move echoes similar interference by Sri Lanka’s national broadcaster in 2009, just as the government launched its final assault to defeat Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for control of the country’s north. That disruption prompted the BBC to suspend transmissions in protest.

(READ MORE: UN rights body urges tougher Sri Lanka probe)

“The replacement of the BBC coverage constitutes a direct infringement of the right to information of the Tamil population,” said Bashana Abeywardane of the journalists collective JDS Lanka after last week’s disruptions. “In doing so, the authors of this censorship have once again demonstrated their unwillingness to change the repressive policies towards the Tamils. Their continuous disregard and flagrant attack on press freedom is callous and shocking.”

The BBC’s Peter Horrocks said Tuesday: “If the SLBC have specific complaints about any BBC output they should take them up with us, as we have invited them to do, and not interfere directly with broadcasts in ways that are unacceptable to the BBC and misleading to our audiences.”

Human rights abuses against Tamils and other minorities in Sri Lanka are gaining increasing international attention; so much so that it could even threaten a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government scheduled to take place in capital Colombo later this year.