Amanda Hodge, South Asia correspondent | February 11, 2009
THE BBC has suspended its programming through Sri Lanka’s national broadcaster, citing “deliberate interference” in reports on fighting between Tamil Tigers and government troops.
The BBC World Service issued a statement yesterday saying that despite meetings with Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation chairman Hudson Samarsinghe, it had been unable to prevent interference in programs and news reports.
“We are dismayed that the BBC’s programs in the English, Sinhala and Tamil languages have been interrupted on the SLBC network,” BBC World Service director Nigel Chapman said. “We have no choice but to suspend broadcasts until such time as SLBC can guarantee our programming is transmitted without interference.”
In the statement, Mr Chapman listed 17 instances of interference to BBC Tamil broadcasts and eight cases on its Sinhala programs between November 27 and early last month.
The BBC broadcasts two daily half-hour programs through the SLBC’s FM channels. The interference – from playing music over the top of news reports to blocking out entire programs – coincided with an escalation of the conflict in the country’s north between government troops and rebel Tigers forces.
President Mahinda Rajapakse said a week ago that the military was days away from crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The rebels were said to be squeezed into an area of less than 200sqkm, along with more than 200,000 civilians.
The BBC said programs would be available to Sri Lankan listeners via short-wave radio, the internet and commercial broadcaster MBC.
Meanwhile, UN human rights experts said Sri Lanka had “a climate of fear”, particularly among journalists and lawyers. At least 40 journalists have been attacked, kidnapped or murdered in the past two years.