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Complainant Name:
de Silva/Wijeyesinghe

Clauses Noted: 1, 2

Publication: The Sunday Times

Complaint:

Mr Neville de Silva of Harrow and Mr Bodipala Wijeyesinghe of Carshalton complained separately that a number of articles published in The Sunday Times in April and July 2001 on the subject of the civil war in Sri Lanka were inaccurate and that no opportunity to reply had been given in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 2 (Opportunity to reply).

The complaints were upheld.

The complainants said that some of the reports about the history of Sri Lanka were inaccurate. They pointed to the date and circumstances of the emergence of the Tamil Tigers, to the number of people who had been killed by them since 1983, and to an account of their methods. The reports had apportioned to the Sinhalese a role in the conflict which was historically inaccurate. Furthermore, the reporter's accounts of her surreptitious movements into government territory, having spent time with a terrorist organisation, were so biased as to be misleading under the Code.

The newspaper said that they had omitted the full circumstances of the 1983 conflict in order to explain why the Tigers emerged with such force in that year. It had published a clarification in an article in August explaining that references to the number of deaths and to tiger footprints in the July article were inaccurate. It defended the use of the term “ambush” by its reporter to describe a situation in which her group was fired on suddenly and in darkness.

Decision:
Upheld

Adjudication:

As in a number of previous cases, the Commission recognised that most history – including the accounts in this case – is open to interpretation and comment. Readers would have recognised the articles in question as the partisan of an individual journalist. Such matters of historical comment and journalistic conjecture could not be censured under the Code. However, the Commission was concerned at two aspects of the complaint. First, it had taken the newspaper a number of weeks to clarify acknowledged inaccuracies: while the record had been set straight, the Commission did not believe this had been carried out with the speed required under the Code and therefore found a breach of Clause 1. Second, it noted that no opportunity to reply had been given to those disputing the newspaper’s historical account of events. Readers’ letters supporting the articles had been published, but none giving a contrary view. This was not within the spirit or letter of Clause 2 of the Code, and the Commission found a breach accordingly.

Report:
56



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