British scribe deported for biased, distorted, irresponsible reporting

British journalist Jeremy Page was deported from Colombo as he had been blacklisted for biased, distorted and irresponsible reporting on Sri Lanka’s battle against LTTE terror, Immigration and Emigration chief P. Bandula Abeykoon said yesterday.

"We will not allow foreign journalists who defy the sacred ethic of balanced reporting to come here and file warped reports", he insisted. "That’s why we have blacklisted many of them".

Page, the South Asia Correspondent for The Times in the United Kingdom was detained on arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport and deported the following day.

In a report in the Times Online edition of April 18, 2009, Page says that when his details were keyed into a computer at the airport’s immigration office, a message "DO NOT ALLOW TO ENTER THE COUNTRY" flashed up on the screen.

"My passport was confiscated, I was escorted to a detention room, locked up for the night, and deported the next day", he complained in his report headlined, "How I was barred from reporting Tamil Tiger conflict".

"We have been provided with a list of blacklisted foreign journalists by the Defense, Foreign and Media Ministries and other relevant authorities", Abeykoon explained. "They will not be allowed to enter Sri Lanka".

He said that Page had arrived in Colombo on a tourist visa, which was contrary to the accepted rules, where the foreign media should apply for a journalist’s visa from their home country.

When told that the British scribe had been denied a journalist’s visa despite multiple applications since last August, according to the story he had filed, Abeykoon said that it only proves he has been blacklisted and is not wanted in Sri Lanka.

"Journalists who do not believe in fair, balanced reporting can only cause destruction through their twisted accounts of men and matters", he pointed out.

"Why did you call me for my comments on deporting this journalist – that’s because The Sunday Island firmly believes in well balanced reporting which means giving both sides of the story", Abeykoon said.

"Otherwise, your newspaper could have merely published Page’s account".

"We cannot allow these journalists to come here, just write anything and get away", he stressed. "They come here on tourist visas and try to end up in Kilinochchi".

Page says in his report that the Sri Lankan Government has prevented most independent reporters from getting anywhere near the military campaign against the Tamil Tigers. "So I was trying to enter as a tourist to write about the 150,000 civilians that the UN estimates are trapped in a no-fire zone with the remnants of the Tigers. The only other countries that I can think of where foreign journalists have to pose as tourists are Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan and North Korea".

"I am blacklisted because the Government thinks that the British press, support the Tigers because of the large Tamil community in Britain. That is nonsense: I have no personal connection to either side of this 26-year civil war. The Times has repeatedly reported that the Tigers are banned in the EU, US and India as a terrorist group. It has also reported criticism of the Government’s strategy and tactics from ethnic Tamils and Sinhalese".

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He says that he regularly interview members of the Taleban in Afghanistan. In Russia he reported on both sides of the Chechen conflict. In China he interviewed dissidents and Tibetan independence activists. To do the equivalent in Sri Lanka is not only forbidden, it is highly dangerous.

"The last time I visited Sri Lanka, it was to write about Lasantha Wickrematunge, a newspaper editor who was murdered in January. He left behind a part-written obituary in which he accused the Government of assassinating him because of his criticism of the war. The Government denies this.

"Another story that annoyed the Government was about its plan to keep Tamils who are fleeing the fighting in camps, ringed by barbed wire, for up to three years. The Government denounced me personally at a news conference, but the most surreal response came in a letter from Rajiva Wijesinha, head of the Government’s Peace Secretariat, who accused me of sensationalizing the use of barbed wire in the camps.

"Unfortunately, a man from a cold climate does not realize that, in the sub-continent, barbed wire is the most common material to establish secure boundaries, to permit ventilation as well as views," Wijesinha had written.

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