9th April 2000

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If we are biased cite cases, says BBC's Asia head

By Hiranthi Fernando

Elizabeth Wright, Head of the BBC Asia and Asia Pacific Region, says demonstrators who staged a protest outside the BBC office in London accusing its Sinhala Service of being biased, could not cite a specific instance where the BBC was partial.

"It was general criticism, which is not new," Ms. Wright told The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview.

She is on her first visit here after she took over the desk in 1997. Ms. Wright, who joined the BBC in 1984, had served in the British Foreign Service and Commonwealth Office for five years.

She condemned the attack on a BBC correspondent during a protest demonstration on Thursday. "Journalists are only trying to do their job, which is to report whatever is happening. For them to be attacked seems to be just unacceptable', she said.

Referring to a recent protest in London against the BBC Sinhala Service, Sandesaya, she said people who have strong views often believed that others should have the same strong views.

"They object to those who hold views contrary to theirs. In the BBC, we don't have views. We report both sides of an argument. Some people don't like us reporting both sides. They only want their side reported. If an incident occurs, we immediately try to interview both sides. That is the way the BBC operates. We have to find out people's opinion. Other people's views are often unacceptable. Nevertheless, we have to get both sides of an argument," Ms. Wright said.

She said the BBC officials met the demonstrators numbering about 50 and asked them to cite for specific instances where the BBC had been inaccurate or prejudiced.

"We ask those people who accuse us of being biased to cite specific instances. If there is any, we go into it carefully. But the Sri Lankan demonstrators were not specific in their criticism. All our staff are trained carefully in the BBC way of doing things. That would apply to the Sinhala service as well. Everyday, we review what has gone on air.

"Regularly, we also take two or three days output with no warning to the section and have it translated into English. Then a wide group of journalists from the World Service, News Room and other language sections have a meeting and look at the output. So it would be extremely difficult for any section to pursue an agenda of their own," she said.

"Many of our services have been criticised. The Hindi Service has been accused of being anti-Pakistan and the Urdu Service being anti-Indian. Neither of the arguments stands up. On the contrary, it shows we are absolutely balanced," she said.

Ms. Wright admitted that it was difficult to gather information from conflict zones. Information was gathered from and journalists in the area. "We have to be extremely careful, whether it is Kosova or the north-east of Sri Lanka. We have sources, journalists who cover both sides. However, we have to cross check the information supplied to ensure that we are not fed with propaganda," she said.

Ms. Wright who is responsible for all broadcasts in Asia said she visits the countries she handles on a rotational basis. From Sri Lanka she is going on to India. Her forthcoming visit to India concerns a concert being held in Bangalore, hosted by the Dalai Lama.

Attack on Sandesaya man deplored

Media institutions and the clergy have condemned the attack on Sandesaya correspondent Elmo Fernando at last Thursday's protest rally conducted by the Sangha Sabha.

Elmo Fernando was allegedly assaulted by a group belonging to the National Movement Against Terrorism while covering the protest.

Following the assault media personnel boycotted the protest. The all island clergy organisation states that it is unfortunate that such thuggery took place at a rally which received the blessings of the Mahanayakas.

The organisation has condemned the act of burning the national flag of Norway.

It has called upon the people to unite to wipe out terrorism and to bring about a lasting solution to the ethnic problem. Another organisation, the Shri Rohana Bhikshu Peramuna states that while everyone has the right to carry out a protest to air their views it should not be done to create problems for a country.

Meanwhile the National Movement Against Terrorism states that the attack was not against any media personnel but was against the Sandesaya program alleged to be pro-LTTE. NMAT spokesperson Champaka Ranawake told The Sunday Times that the agitation against the programme will not be stopped.

'The events have been twisted, the incident was not against the media personnel. The correspondent was not assaulted, he was pushed aside because he was obstructing our path. NMAT has always agitated against the Sandesaya. It is not a Sinhala program but is the Sinhala program of the Voice of Tigers' he said.

Disaster management: South African lessons for Lanka

By Tania Fernando

A top official attached to the South African military pointed out that the media and military should have faith, trust and respect for each other.

Major General J. L Jansen van Rensburg, Deputy Surgeon General of the South African Military Health Services told a news conference in Colombo that the defence force should train and appoint a person to handle the media who is known to be credible.

"The media should be updated on the latest news which should be factual correct," said Dr. van Rensburg.

A three-day conference was held on the role of the social worker and how to combat stress, the rehabilitation of the disabled-physical and mental, war widows and orphans, the role of the media in disaster response and relief and rehabilitation and detailed preventive measures adopted in South Africa.

The conference was organised by the Presidential Task Force to help devise strategies for reversing some of the disastrous trends which have affected the people of Sri Lanka in the past years.

This symposium was primarily a medically and psychologically oriented programme to highlight the aspects of the South African experience in recent years. The emphasis was on crisis and trauma management, the psychological consequences of disaster, prevention and rehabilitation.

Dr. Jansen Van Rensburg said that he had visited the Rehabilitation Hospital and was very impressed by how disabled persons were used to help others.

He further said that they should work towards making it a national asset and more funds should be found to upgrade the military hospital.

"The Rehabilitation Hospital staff are very caring and their output is very high compared to the input", he said.

Brig. Gen. Dr. S.J.D Eygelaar, Acting Director, Psychology of the South African Military Health Services said that member of the defence force in South Africa had to sign a 'code of conduct' and had to either comply with it or leave.

He said that society is still being traumatized by rape, harassment etc. , and we should establish a bonding that's unique by itself and develop a morale plan.

The Presidential Task Force is mandated to develop a National Programme on Human Disaster Management. It was created primarily to help devise strategies for reversing some of the disastrous trends which have affected the people of Sri Lanka in past years and also to help chart a promising course which will sustain personal safety, integrity, development and liberty.

The initial strategies devised by the Task Force represent a set of co-ordinated processes aimed at repairing damage to physical and social infrastructure, to strengthening latent human resources, to harnessing the collective determination of young and old to bring to about a lasting state of normalcy and peace. The aim is to catalyze the 'growth and development' energies inherent in everyone.

The Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, Dr. D Ratnavale said that they are in the process of submitting many action plans to the government, and the role of the media is high on the list.

Security forces' grievances pour in

By Leon Berenger

More than 300 police and security forces personnel have so far complained of discrimination and other irregularities to the special committee that was set up recently to look into grievances within their respective units and workplaces, sources close to the panel told The Sunday Times. The police lead the complaint list making up a little over 50 per cent of the total, and most of them are officers grumbling of late promotions which they blame on political interference, the sources said.

There have also been a fair number of complaints from the Army and a few from the Navy and Airforce, they said. Nearly 90 per cent of the complainants are those holding officer ranks who claim to have been wrongfully overlooked for promotion, they added.

However the list is expected to increase in the coming weeks, and the committee is now in the process of replying those who have already sent in their representations, the sources said.

The Special Committee was set up by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga following growing dissent in the ranks of the police and security forces with some of them even opting to make their complaints known to the public through the media, causing much embarrassment to the higher authorities.

However those opting to make their complaints in person last week were in for a rude shock since the official appointed to handle the issue was out of the country barely 24 hours after he was appointed to the job.

Mr. K.L.L. Wijeratne, an Additional Secretary in the Aviation Branch of the Ministry of Tourism was out of the country on official business and could not be available for those wishing to see him in person to make their complaints.

The police seems to be the most affected, and several senior officers have already filed fundamental right cases in the courts, with some of them even winning their arguments against the state.

Hotel to sue KMC for unkind cut

By Shane Seneviratne

A hotel owner has lodged a complaint with the police and intends to institute legal action against the Kandy Municipal Council (KMC) for disconnecting water supplies to the hotel and causing inconvenience to a wedding party and other guests.

The hotel owner has claimed that he was forced to spend more than two million rupees as a result of the sudden stoppage of the water, despite paying all his water bills in time to the Municipality.

He said that he had to make alternative arrangements to supply water using bowsers and also has been brought into disrepute as a result of the KMC action.

The owner has complained that some of the guests in his hotel had walked out without paying their bills as soon as the water supply was disconnected.

A spokesman for the KMC said they were investigating the complaint.

Royal College millennium directory

The Royal College Union will launch the Royal Millennium Directory 2000 in August, an official said.

He said this landmark publication which would be richly crafted and hard bound in blue and gold would be a collector's item. It will include colour photographs of 170 classes of students along with their names. The photographs of the Principal and members of the staff, and the names, addresses and telephones numbers of all Royal College Union members will also be included.

It will also contain articles of historical interest pertaining to Royal College and its illustrious past.

The names of all Old Royalists who have lost their lives in the conflict will be featured prominently.

There will also be many other features.

Since this volume will contain only the names of those Royalists who are members of the Union, non-members are advised to become members of the Union by obtaining forms from the Union office at Rajakeeya Mawatha and handing them over along with proof of schooling.

No crisis in CWC: Arumugam Thondaman

By Roshan Peiris

Answering questions on his handling of the CWC after he took over the mantle on the death of his grandfather, S. Thondaman, Minister of Livestock Development and Estate Infrastructure Arumugam Thondaman denied that the CWC was being run with his cronies who sang his praises.

Following are excerpts from the interview.

Q: What have you to say about criticism that the CWC is increasingly dissatisfied with your leadership?

A: CWC means the grassroots membership. As far as I am concerned there is no dissatisfaction about the leadership at the grassroots level. There are a few misinterpretations to create the impression that the CWC membership is dissatisfied.

Q. Is the CWC facing a crisis at present with the plantation workers being dissatisfied ?

A. I think I have already answered this question. Anyway as far as the CWC is concerned its membership has increased under my leadership this year, compared to the last four years.

Q. Since the death of your grandfather S. Thondaman there is no legally elected President. Why ?

A. It is a legal matter which is pending in courts. There is a case going on between the ex-General Secretary and the CWC.

Q. Is it correct that you are trying to run the CWC with your cronies who sing your praises ?

A. No that is not true.

Q. Have you attended to the needs of the workers such as increased wages, education of their children and living conditions?

A. Yes. At the moment there is a negotiation going on with the Employers' Federation of Ceylon regarding the wage increase for the plantation workers. Since Estate Infrastructure and Estate Housing are coming under my Ministry we are formulating programs to upgrade and improve the living conditions of the plantation workers.

Regarding education, matters are now improving through the Estate Infrastructure Ministry and new buildings are coming up on the plantations. Discussions are going on with SIDA for a soft loan to complete 400 school buildings in the Nuwara Eliya electorate.

Q. You have also shown no accountability for your policies. Why ?

A. That is wrong. We stand by the policies of my grandfather, the late President of the CWC. We are here to take them forward.

Q. What will you do to foster unity and discipline among the Indian plantation workers ?

A. I don't know who had informed you that there is no unity and discipline among the Indian plantation workers.

Unity and discipline are maintained among the workers, for example, the Indian plantation workers are united under the umbrella of Ahila Ilangai India Vamsavali Makkal Perani.


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