Sri Lanka censors BBC's programmes on UN Human Rights Council

The state-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) has repeatedly censored its FM retransmission of the BBC’s Tamil-language broadcasts since 16 March, a day after the start of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council’s latest session, which has been looking at the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

“The replacement of the BBC’s coverage of the Human Rights Council’s activities by completely unrelated programming is a direct violation of the Tamil population’s right to information,” Reporters Without Borders and its partner organization, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), said.

“Those responsible for this censorship are also directly undermining the national reconciliation process, which has already been weakened by arbitrary control of news and information and by violence targeting journalists who try to cover this process.

“It is unlikely that the SLBC decided to meddle with the BBC’s programming on its own. Everything suggests that it was a political decision taken at the highest government level. We call for an investigation into this censorship and we warn the judicial authorities against any attempt to place sole blame on the SLBC.”

Disruption of the BBC’s Tamil-language service began the day after the Human Rights Council began its Universal Periodic Review of the situation in Sri Lanka on 15 March.

The SLBC replaced programmes about government responsibility for serious human rights violations during the 1983-2009 civil war. Reports about the political situation in India, especial the state of Tamil Nadu, were also censored.

After more censorship on 25 March, BBC World Service director Peter Horrocks announced the next day that the BBC was suspending retransmissions by the SLBC altogether.

“We regret the disruption in service to our loyal audiences in Sri Lanka, but such targeted interference in our programmes is a serious breach of trust with those audiences, which the BBC cannot allow,” Horrocks said.

The BBC previously suspended SLBC retransmissions on 9 February 2009 after registering 17 cases of interference with its Tamil-language programmes and eight cases of interference with its Sinhalese-language programmes between 27 November 2008 and the start of January 2009.

Ranked 162nd out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Sri Lanka is also on the Reporters Without Borders list of “countries under surveillance” for censoring news websites.

Sri Lankans can continue to listen to the BBC on the shortwave and on the Internet.

BBC Tamil:

25 meterband 11965 Khz 31 meterband 9855 khz 49 meterband 6135 khz 41 meterband 7600 khz

BBC Sinhalese:

49 meterband (6135 kHz) 31 meterband(9615 kHz) 41 meterband(7699 kHz)

BBC World Service English content is broadcast on SLBC at GMT - 0300 to 0430; 1130 to 1230 and 1330 to 1430 (all GMT)

And via its websites