The Silent War - Press Censorship

Place: Tamil Eelam | Courtesy: Collection
| Date: 19960000

B.M.: It's perhaps not so surprising that the government is sensitive though, about the direct
reporting of military matters?

F.B.: No it's not. I mean we have to remember that there is a war on and that morale is im-
portant to the state of the nation and it's very important to the military sources who on a daily
basis are undergoing dangerous work. They're at threat of the Tamil Tigers at any time wher-
ever they are on the island, at any time of the day or the night. So the government is worried
that any wrong reporting could threaten their efforts to bring peace to the country.

On the other hand I don't think they've realised how important the media can be and how the
media in fact can be used as an ally. And we have to remember that the Tamil Tigers are using
the media very effectively indeed. They know the value of public relations. They know how to
approach the media. They know the kind of information that the media is interested in and
they're happy to use the media. If the government was more effective in doing the same thing
perhaps they would find the war more easy to win.

      Reporters asked to write specific stories on behalf of Government
                        war effort

B.M.: But I gather there have been incidents where reporters have been asked to write very
specific stories on behalf of the government effort.

F.B. : Recently, some journalists were taken up to an area in the North which the government
had recently captured from the Tamil Tigers and none of the international media were invited.
Only local journalists were invited....and they were was spelt out very clearly to
them... that this was to be used as an example to boost the army recruitment drive and certainly
some of the journalists weren't very happy with that.

On the other hand if you read the newspapers here they really do tend to take a fairly soft line
with the government. There are fairly glowing reports, for instance when we went up to Jaffna
to again see an area which was recently recaptured by the government forces. Most of the
reports in the papers were very glowing, not remotely critical of what the government or the
security forces were doing and that's the general rule here. In other words the government
really doesn't usually have much to worry about.

             No direct threats against me, but...

B.M.: Where does this leave you, as a BBC correspondent, Flora?

F.B.: That's a very diff cult thing to answer. I mean there are no direct threats against
me. On the other hand....and I won't go into details... ...when I was offered an exclusive
interview, recently, with someone from the rebel side, it was made very clear to me that
if I interviewed this person, if I travelled to interview this person, my life would be a
misery when I got back, I might even have to leave the country.

Now that didn't make me very happy. On the other hand the BBC were not keen for me
to do it for security reasons, for reasons of my own personal safety. But I had to bear in
mind, very clearly, that it was a choice between "getting a good story" - as a journalist   ,
as every journalist always wants to do, and maintaining my job here, and that wasn't
particularly pleasant.