The final stages of the Sri Lanka Civil war were fought without witness. The Government of Sri Lanka prevented the world’s media from reporting from the frontlines and withdrew international aid organizations from the conflict zones. This ensured that the only information coming out of the warzone was controlled by either the Government or the LTTE; both prolific propagandists.
Within a month of the end of the conflict three student journalists from the UK travelled to Sri Lanka. The group entered Sri Lanka with the hope of documenting the aftermath of the civil war and soon found themselves being given access to areas that were denied to the likes of CNN and the BBC. Gotabaya Rajapksa himself gave them access to the infamous Menik Farm IDP camp, Kilinochchi and the final battle grounds in Mullaitivu and Chalai.
The three young students set out on a journey to prove themselves as journalists whilst seeking to uncover the true nature of the conflict in Sri Lanka. They quickly realised however that being granted access to the warzone did not mean that they would be allowed to freely investigate and report on the issues that the rest of the world’s media were being kept away from. The three were provided with a member of the security forces as a ‘guide’, access to Menik Farm was limited to Zone 0: a “show” zone – the least populated and most developed. Soldiers where in accompaniment at all times and the three experienced what they described as ‘management’. It was obvious to them that what they were seeing and who they were able to talk to was entirely in the hands of the military.
This management of access is a microcosm of how the Government of Sri Lanka dealt with the conflict as a whole. It is easy to guard against criticism of policy when the media is only able to access what you allow them to access.
The documentary sets out to uncover the truths about the final stages of the war, but, finding this impossible, it instead describes the nature of media management through a very honest dissection of that failure. It therefore provides a telling account of the nature of the Sri Lankan nation. The documentary concludes that the ‘truth’ may in fact be forever lost and leaves the young journalists disillusioned with their chosen career paths. This is perhaps the most powerful element of the documentary.
The fact that ‘the truth’ remained elusive highlights the nature of the Sri Lankan state and the stifled freedom it provides. Whether it is the covering up of rights abuses in IDP camps or the failure to investigate the numerous murders and forced disappearances of journalists, the lack of ‘truth’ (or even the inability to attempt to seek the ‘truth’) is what defines the Rajapaksa regime. The Government’s control over the commentary of its own policies is pushing Sri Lanka down a path towards tyranny and nationalist extremism. A democracy can only truly exist when those in power are open to independent criticism and investigation.
The current state of affairs in Sri Lanka may be breeding further misunderstanding, grievance and perhaps insurrection as citizens and members of the Sri Lankan diaspora grow ever impatient with the lack of justice and accountability for the ever mounting rights abuses and attacks on freedom. But the truth is not lost forever; it just requires the pressure of Sri Lankans, the international community, ordinary individuals, and organisations like ours to make sure that it is exposed.
You can find out more information about this interesting and relevant documentary at http://www.codoc.org/