Some local Sri Lankan communities are claiming last night’s airing of Channel 4’s highly graphic documentary “Sri Lankas Killing Fields” on 4 Corners provides an opportunity for a renewed conversation despite a highly varied response.

The documentary, originally aired on Britain’s Channel 4 Network, has been slammed on the program’s website by supporters of the Sinhala-majority government for unashamed bias and supposed usage of doctored footage. During the program, viewers were exposed to reel after reel of mobile phone footage providing what has been independently verified as evidence of war crimes perpetrated by Sri Lankan army troops.

For many local Tamils, however, the reaction was more muted — on one hand, a sense of gratitude to the ABC for committing to the documentary and exposing the plight of those who were unable to flee the violence, and on the other, a reinvigorated call for action.

In the days leading up to last night’s airing, Sri Lanka’s High Commission in Australia urged the ABC not to air the documentary.

This is despite the fact that the documentary had already aired in the UK, was screened at a UNHRC meeting last month in Geneva and has been widely available on the web.

ABC’s decision to air was also controversial given its primetime screening of the highly graphic content.

Sydney-based Kartheepan Arul, from the Tamil Youth Organisation told Crikey: “For the mainstream media to take this on, it’s a big bold move. Channel 4 showed it at a later time, 11.30pm, so for ABC to show that at 8.30pm, that’s very big and something we’re very happy about.”

Community dynamics are slowly starting to shift in a post-war context, according to local leaders.

One Tamil activist, Sujen, told Crikey that the Tamil community in Australia are keen to keep pushing this to continue in light of the documentary. “This is a good moment to pause and ask what the Sinhalese community stand for and how they might engage in an ongoing political process of reconciliation” he said.

“It’s very clear that the Chanel 4 documentary isn’t just propaganda by the LTTE. Now that there is no ‘enemy’ how can liberal Sinhalese people turn a blind eye to these crimes?”

Crikey put the following questions to 4 Corners but they declined to comment:

What drove 4 Corners to air the Killing Fields documentary?

How did 4 Corners respond to concerns from a) the Sri Lankan High Commission and b) the local sinhalese community?

How does 4 Corners respond to claims by the SL Government that one of the videos was doctored, and that the original voices in the video were speaking Tamil?

Since the airing of Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, Foreign Minister Rudd has urged the UNHCR to investigate war crimes for the first time since the cessation of violence.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey