|BBC Interview - Sri Lankan Government Defends Press Freedom|
The BBC dodges questions about investigating David Miliband
The following interview of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha was conducted by Nik Gowing on the BBC Hub Programme, on 24th November 2010. This was well before the revelation on Wikileaks that Mr Miliband had made it clear to American diplomats that electoral considerations governed his approach to Sri Lanka.
RW: Your assessment of a savage indictment suggests that you haven’t actually looked at the real figures. There were several journalists murdered in the 90s as you said very clearly. In fact it (a list) was published last week, and then a great many were killed in the first half of this decade, for reasons which I won’t go into but which I have explained in other writings, I don’t know why you don’t actually look at those occasionally. But the simple fact is that the press is really very free and very critical of the government. The Tissainayagam case that you refer to is actually particularly interesting. I mean my Minister – I am no longer Secretary - but my Minister actually visited him the day he was arrested, made sure that his wife could see him, and as you know he was pardoned, and I myself wrote at the time that we really needed to sympathise with someone who was the victim of a lot of pressures. But the simple fact is that, as the Indian journalist Subramaniam Swamy put it, and I quote, ‘A lot of what he wrote was simple LTTE – pure LTTE propaganda.’ Now the really sad thing is a lot of this stuff was funded by the British government and (Nik keeps interrupting) look Nik, I think you really should try to investigate what the British government was doing on this
NG: Let me come back at you because you said that he was pardoned, but the fact is a journalist like Tissa was jailed for 20 years (this was perhaps unwitting carelessness, he may have meant to say 20 months), he was pardoned the following year. He then - therefore - spent a year inside for being accused (again carelessness, or sleight of hand, he was actually found guilty, and given the minimum sentences for each charge, his lawyers failing to ask that the sentences be concurrent) of writing things which were politically motivated. Journalism is about freedom of expression.
RW: My dear Nik, you have to know, just as you’ve said recently (in your programme), your MP (in the European Parliament) was punished for saying things, and there are limits to freedom of expression. We in Sri Lanka have suffered from terrorism; you guys had a Prime Minister killed nearly 200 years ago. We have suffered (more recently), so has India. And as I told you, the Indian journalist, this wasn’t Sri Lankan, Subramaniam Swamy described Thissanayagam’s writings as pure LTTE propaganda. He received money from the LTTE. You know I’m sorry, but you know Mr. Miliband and his Hampstead intellectuals may think there are good terrorists. As I told you, the British Government funded Tissainayagam. I think you should investigate that, just as the new British Government is investigating the appalling things that happened in Uzbekhistan, when your poor ambassador was dismissed for blowing the whistle. (Nik interrupts) I think you should investigate why you funded Tissainayagam. Please Nik, why doesn’t the BBC look into your faults, why do you concentrate only on ours? Please, look into what your Government did in funding what Indians have described as pure LTTE propaganda. We don’t like terrorists, we have suffered from them.
Nik: Let me put it to you, the BBC is always analyzing its journalism, and that is done independently and internally. And let me remind you that Mr. Milliband is no longer the British Foreign secretary.
RW: Well exactly, I’m suggesting now that the present British government look into what he did, funding people like
Nik: (interrupts) The issue is about press freedom, if I may put it to you.
RW: No, it’s about freedom with limits. Terrorism is terrorism and I don’t like this business that some people in Britain, gladly I think not the new government, think that some terrorists are good terrorists. We had an attempt to rescue the LTTE and I’m sorry but our people have suffered enough, Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, and we expect the same morality from all of you (Nik interrupts)
Nik: Doctor Wijesinha, I have to stop you there. I was asking you specifically about journalism and you have broadened the issues.
RW: Well, I told you about what this means in Sri Lanka.
Nik: (Interrupts) I have to stop the interview there in the interests of balance (Cuts the interview short).