Channel 4 - a review
It's a long video, so my commentary is long.
I've tried to break it up. It's loosely chronological. The start of
Killing Fields 2 is about Killing Fields 1 and how awesome it was and
how many international bodies and governments it influenced. There is no
talk about how it influenced or improved Sri Lanka, because it didn't.
Ignoring how thousands of civilians got someplace they didn't live.
The major error they make is saying that government forces drove the
LTTE Tigers and hundreds of thousands of civilians into an ever-smaller
area. That isn't true. The LTTE herded those people at gunpoint, and
they used these people as a human shield to avert general threat in
front of them. The strategy was to provoke international response based
on sympathy and terror to preserve a terrorist group. This is the
strategy that Channel 4 has unwittingly become a part of. Even dead,
Prabhakaran is playing.
Without this context, of course, the Sri Lankan government looks
terrible, firing on innocent civilians. Yet it is vital to remember that
the LTTE set this up as a ploy to achieve its strategic objective of
continuing the war - a far worse fate. Based on this omission alone, I
think the Channel 4 video is deeply compromised.
These are scenes that the LTTE cynically set up for international
consumption, and Channel 4 is eating it up. Making pointing at
photographs look more serious than it is.
Then there is the magic reliance on forensic pathologists to look at
photographs and tell you what they see. In all, there are so far no
voices of people from Sri Lanka (even saying this happened to me, which
I have heard), brown people are either shown as monolithic bad guys or
helpless victims, and it is all about the white man's burden, ie, 'the
international community failed them'.
Kernels of truth
A soldier carrying an elderly Tamil
woman during the conflict.
Anyways, these are Channel 4's indictments.
* Shelling of a UN compound within the no-fire zone
* Denial of food and medicine
* I somehow missed the third one
* The killing of Prabha's 12 year old son
Again, all of these things happen during war, which is why war is
horrible. In the case of shelling, the LTTE promptly moved into any
designated zone to mix with civilians and fire from there. That was
their strategy since Kilinochchi fell. Food and medicine also had to
generally go through the LTTE, who would take if for their cadres and
dole out as they pleased. That said, the government did downplay the
number of civilians in there, particularly Mahinda. But that's not even
the issue here. The issue is that these are all situations that the LTTE
set up. Thus the choice wasn't do or not do, it was either do and end
the war, or not do and let the terrorist force get away with it and
continue to wreck havoc for God knows how many more years, or decades.
That was the brutal calculus which the myopic video never addresses -
yet it was the decision most vital to the people of this island.
I still think these allegations are serious and bear discussion,
within context. They just don't lead to the clear indictment that
Channel 4 presumes.
At one point Jon Snow simply says it wasn't a hostage operation, but
they never question why people were simply shuffled around a war zone
without being allowed out. Because it was the LTTE not allowing them
out, and there is evidence of them literally herding people at gunpoint.
I've spoken to people who were there at the final moments and they
couldn't leave. It ended when they crossed to the government side, which
is what the LTTE prevented. If there was international pressure at that
point it should have been on the LTTE to let people out, but instead
they gerrymandered the emotionomics to turn scrutiny in the opposite
White man's burden
Throughout the video Channel 4 uses austere announcement and words
like 'analyze' and 'evidence' to describe video they got from uncited
sources and people sitting around and looking at photographs or giving
opinions from abroad. It's driven by agenda, not actual facts and
analysis, and certainly not context. They go for a few cases and
emotional impact, but it's not the reality. It's just war porn, staged
by the LTTE and distributed by Channel 4 with foreign announcers. They
use a lot of cinematic tricks like filming documents and computer
screens to cover up for the fact that they talk to no one in or even
from Sri Lanka. It's all second-hand data and third-hand analysis when
there are people on the ground who actually can talk - even through a
difficult government to do media work through.
Channel 4 uses infographics and voice-over to substitute for actual
journalism, however hard it is to do. It's all UN documents, UN reports,
US cables, TamilNet-style videos, it's innuendo around a distant truth.
They even set up fake desks with rotating fans and video backgrounds to
cover up for the fact that they don't have direct evidence.
The killing of Prabhakaran's young son I think is pretty bad, but in
the video they have an anonymous source saying that his info led to
Prabhakaran's whereabouts. I dunno. Then they get into the legitimacy of
how Prabhakaran was killed, which is a bit like asking about Bin Laden's
assassination by the US. I mean, really?
I think Channel 4 is also wrong to brush over the LLRC report as not
being substantive. I thought it would be eyewash and it wasn't, it
actually did correct a lot of the original lies. That, however, didn't
fit into the Channel 4 narrative so they largely leave it out.
Story over history
Throughout it all there's this underlying agenda that this latter
phase of war shouldn't have been fought at all, that the LTTE should
have gotten away with their hostage maneuver, and that - in effect - the
war should have gone on. I disagree, but it's also a shame to wrap this
agenda in a humanitarian flag. That was the deception the LTTE tried to
pull, and it's what Channel 4 is continuing, I think through decent if
The problem with Channel 4 is that they put their agenda before the
trial, and ultimately before the facts. They frame a five-year phase of
war as if it was the war, ignoring the history that brought such a
brutal impasse to pass. They frame the LTTE's human shield as if it
happened naturally, which it didn't. Thus they completely ignore the
context of 30 years' of war and terrorism and the wholesale suffering it
caused, making the terrible last phase of the war still proportional,
which is the horrible calculus of a just war. Not whether suffering
happens (it does), but whether it achieves a worthy objective - most
notably ending war.
What about the good of Sri Lanka?
What of the people in the middle, like the people that died in the
war and continue to live here?
So within that context, this documentary is bad. Channel 4 put their
predetermined agenda ahead of inconvenient circumstances and facts, and
it does a disservice to Sri Lanka. They've made a lazy doc, using agenda
and 'experts' to fill in for complexity and actual research. I still
think we need to talk about the subject, but this documentary sucks.