5th November 2000
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TV station's Tiger probe leaves sour tale

By Hiranthi Fernando
An investigative story launched by Dateline, an Australian ethnic broadcasting station, on how the LTTE raises funds to support its separatist war in Sri Lanka, turned sour when it revealed LTTE links within its own ranks.

Dateline, the flagship of Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and funded by the Government of Australia, broadcasts in 70 languages.

Reporter Graham Davis and SBS researcher Muditha Dias, a Sri Lankan domiciled in Australia, began the investigation in late July. The investigation was a costly exercise running into US $100,000, involving filming in Britain, Israel, Canada, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, however, they attempted to obtain information and documents from Sri Lankan journalists free or by offering a pittance. 

According to the The Australian, Australia's only national newspaper (October 26-November 1, 2000), Mr. Davis's investigation led to the very doorstep of SBS, with allegations that the Melbourne group Co-ordinator of SBS Radio's weekly Tamil language programme, Dr. Jay Maheswaran, had links with the LTTE. 

With the allegations against SBS, the issue became volatile. Mr. Davis was said to be already disenchanted with SBS over a previous story for Dateline. Further he had a reputation for display of temper over shortcomings of technical staff. 

In Israel, the Dateline cameraman was beaten up and his tapes stolen when he tried to film an arms dealer. In London, he walked out after an altercation with Mr. Davis. Filming had to be completed with freelance crews. Mr. Davis ended up with dozens of hours of tape filmed by five different cameramen.

During the editing that followed, Mr. Davis had thrown several temper tantrums against the shortcomings of SBS. A fortnight before the story was to be broadcast, Mr. Davis was suspended and the story turned into a disaster for Dateline and SBS. 

Although Mr. Davis requested to be allowed to finish the report he was not permitted to do so. Finally, Executive Producer Mike Carey wrote the story himself with assistance from the researcher. 

Jana Wendt, the presenter, was away on holiday at the time and unaware of the events taking place. She arrived back to a scene of turmoil. She was apparently dismayed at the decision to remove Mr. Davis from a complicated and important story and expressed concern over the implications of management interference.

The story went on the air on October 4, with Mr. Carey reading the voice-overs and Mr. Davis doing the interviews. One of Mr. Davis's key allegations according to the 'Australian', was a link between the LTTE and Dr. Maheswaran, who is also the International Co-ordinator of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO). His contention that the TRO funnels money raised for charity to the Tamil Tigers was carried in the final version of the story. 

After the broadcast, Dr. Maheswaran was suspended pending an investigation and Mr. Davis resigned. 

When the 'Australian' began investigating the story, they say SBS executives were not forthcoming. Finally, an SBS spokesman issued a statement saying an international inquiry had found 'no potential or actual conflict of interest' by Dr. Maheswaran. He was reinstated. 

The story which should have had positive results reaped instead, negative publicity and brought into question the integrity of SBS Radio.

Meanwhile, SPUR, an anti-LTTE Sri Lankan group will hold a demonstration outside the SBS office today.

Govt. agrees to UNP proposals, but no deadline

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has informed the UNP that the government was willing to set up three independent commissions but it cannot conform to any deadline, party sources said.

Mr. Wickremnayake who has been holding talks with UNP whip Tyronne Fernando said the government valued the co-operation of the main opposition. But it is not clear whether Mr. Wickremanayke's views represent those of the President and the government, the sources said. 

They said Mr. Fernando had briefed party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on the outcome of the meeting before he left for Rome to meet the Pope. 

They said the stage was also being set for a major political initiative between the two major parties on national issues, including the ethnic conflict.

The PA-UNP talks have received the blessings of religious leaders and the backing of the business community who see it as an essential step for peace and economic growth.

Mr. Wickremanayake has appealed to the UNP to act in a responsible and constructive manner and sought an assurance there would be no political back stabbing and pulling the carpet from under the government's feet to create political instability. He has sought such an assurance at least for the next two years which he believed would be a decisive period..

Minister Alavi Moulana told the Sunday Times that the country required a stable government, with the opposition playing a vibrant role to find lasting peace. 

"Several quarters have expressed hope about having an all party conference a threshing ground where our diverse ideas could be discussed and a compromise reached," he said.

JVP to protest against govt. extravagance

By Shelani de Silva.
The JVP which is carrying out a series of demonstrations against the setting up of a large 44-member cabinet will take its protest to parliament on Thursday when the ceremonial sittings are held.

Party spokesman and group leader Wimal Weerawansa said they would hold a picketing campaign outside Parliament prior to the ceremonial sittings, protesting over the use of public funds to maintain the unusually large Cabinet.

Mr. Weerawansa said the party would bring pressure on the Government over the appointment of a large Cabinet, which was nothing but extravagance. 

"The ministers will demand the perks. The Government never worked out how it was going to finance the cost of maintaining the ministers. The money will definitely be taken from the people. With the cost of living already high, the people will be further burdened," he said.

Mr. Weerawansa said that Thursday's protest would call on the Government to cut down on the extravagance and for a reduction in the number of Cabinet ministers.

"We will continue our protest and also protest against the issue of vehicle permits for parliamentarians," he said.


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