The Secretary, IATAJ.

As a participant to the conference I wish to say a few words.

 

Firstly let me congratulate you and the organisation. On all accounts it was a grand success and I hope you would have achieved what you set out as your goal. On arrival to the venue I was impressed by the very large number of participants. In fact later on I found that the hall was completely full and few had to stand. This confirmed my belief that the Tamils are very much interested in the plight of journalists and their welfare. I do remember in my young age in Jaffna, how every household read the news papers. Reading newapares was a normal days activity. Their devotion to the newspaper as if it was their own was part of Tamil heritage.

 

The conference kicked off very smartly, with Ivan providing the intro. The speakers in the morning secession did detail how they underwent harassment hardship and in many cases human rights violations. No doubt the Tamils are very very angry at the government. After all we do revere new spars as a medium of Goddess Saraswathi and any harm to it or any one associated with it is akin to desecration of  Tamilian values.

 

A strong case for Press freedom was made by the Non Tamil delegates, Bandara in particular, who has first hand experience in the Governments strong hand policy in stifling the free expression by media and slaying the truth.

 

The evening session was livened up by Baghvan Singh and Murari , who recounted their

Period of reporting the situation in Sri Lanka. These two journalists Hardly sympathisers of the LTTE were of view that the absence of any equitable solution by the Sri Lankan Sinhala governments would lead to a justifiable creation of a new nation where its citizens could aspire for freedom and equity.

 

In all the event was the first of its kind to bring the problems faced by journalists in Sri Lanka to a wider audience. Similar events should be held in other parts of UK and throughout the world. Participants should include the world media who at the moment slavishly print or broadcast hand outs by the Sri Lankan information Department as it it is the whole truth. A massive campain to educate them should be one of the major goals of IATAJ meets.

 

sivasamy

 

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IN SEARCH OF THE TRUTH?

 

The International Association of Tamil Journalists (IATAJ) held its third Annual Conference (2008) at the University of Harrow on April 26th.

The IATAJ was formed in London in 2006 with the aim of uniting all Tamil journalists of the world in one organisation. Whilst the environment these journalists face is different depending upon the country in which they operate they inevitably face acute difficulties in their homeland in Sri Lanka.

It was appropriate therefore that the Conference title was 'Media and Sri Lanka's conflict: where is the truth?'

The Conference lasted all day and was heavily attended by journalists and concerned Tamils plus a sprinkling of others. The sessions were ably and entertainingly handled by the acting Chair Mr Ivan Pedropillai.

The morning saw historical and contemporary reports on the Tamil media and highlighted how the intimidation and sometimes fatal wounding of journalists grew as political negotiations faltered in the 1980's and violent conflict took hold. Inevitably Tamil journalists found it increasingly difficult to report on events as they were denied access or were threatened if they reported 'negatively' Government actions.

The session by the BBC Sinhalese Journalist, Mr Chandana Bandara was entertaining and explained that both Tamil and Sinhalese were largely kept in the dark and were only fed the 'truth' as determined by the Authorities. There was a lively debate between some of the audience, who felt the Tamils get the rawest deal, and Mr Bandara who believed it was almost impossible to verify the truth in a war situation.

Rachael Cohen of the International Federation of Journalists explained that they were concerned with the lack of Press Freedom within Sri Lanka and reminded attendees that Sri Lanka was ranked 159 out of 169 countries on such freedom. The afternoon session focused on Tamil reporting from outside the area. All in all it was a well-run conference attended by journalists well versed in their craft and many others who sympathised with the difficulties they faced whilst trying to find out the truth in the Sri Lankan conflict/war.

Personally i think the meeting highlighted the problem journalists have (whatever their nationality) in verifying what is happening 'on the ground' in Sri Lanka but it also touched upon the problem of what the world perceives to be the truth. This perception tends to be largely through the eyes of GOSL propaganda with very little balance from the 'opposite' side (the so-called 'other').

Ironically in the week before the conference the Evening Standard attacked the Tamil Forum (with usual accusations of being a 'Tiger front') in an effort to smear London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone but in doing so smeared the Tamil cause too. The story was initiated by the Sri Lankan High Commission. As I have stated in a previous article I contend this happens so often because there is no visible alternative source for the 'world' (and the west in particular) to approach.

A Media Operation in the U.K. (it could go international or have replica groups elsewhere) would take information 'leaked' out of Sri Lanka (including perhaps reports from members of the IATAJ?), filter it for western consumption and then work to ensure the information is laid before the media and the public at large.

For the Tamils to meet their national aspirations they must first win over the 'hearts and minds of the West' and in order to do that they must argue the case for self-determination and counter the relentless GOSL propaganda that is presently fed to an ignorant media. Perhaps a future conference can concentrate on what can be done to right the wrongs of the past.

 

Graham Williamson

                         

Graham Williamson is an Executive Member of the newly formed National Liberal Party based in the United Kingdom