[Editors note: Watch SBS Dateline’s Sri Lanka’s New Wave, broadcast first in Australia on 28 August 2012, here.]

Dear Mark,

I am intensely troubled by the tenor of your report on Sri Lankan Tamil refugees on today’s Dateline.

The picture you painted of the country doesn’t accord with any of the accounts I’ve heard, nor with well documented reports by international and local sources (eg. the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Diocese of Jaffna, Sri Lanka report). The government’s refusal to implement the findings of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the reception of the subsequent U.N Resolution alone should tell you something about the triumphalism and arrogance with which the state approaches the process of rebuilding.

The program of Sinhalisation and militant Buddhism now underway in Sri Lanka (including recent attacks on a Mosque) were not even mentioned, nor was the corruption within the ruling family and the sense of impunity with which it operates, as evidenced by the continuing disappearances of government critics (of all ethnic groups) – e.g. Ganesan Nimalaruban: A damning murder, funeral and silence and Not In Our Name: Campaign update and video. The interview with the Information Minister, one of a series of Comical Ali type apologists for the regime, was nothing less than grotesque.

Although I know you are not responsible for the promos for your report, I was extremely disturbed by the footage of two little children saying they wanted to go to Australia for a “good education” and “a good life.” It turned out this was a selective extract from a much more complex interview, but even had that not been the case, what else are parents supposed to promise their children? Do we really need to turn the words of little children against them, in order to support the line that they and their parents are exploiting Australia as a soft touch?

And speaking of a soft touch, haven’t you seen the other kinds of commercials that the Australian government runs in Tamil and other regional languages? I find it chilling that my government, the Australian government, could promote such images of terror to already traumatised refugees in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. That people are drawn to seek refuge here is a measure of their need, not an indicator that we are a soft touch.

Is your account SBS’s attempt at “balance” to counter the effects of “Go back to where you came from?” If so it is a sad and dishonourable one.

Suvendrini Perera

Professor Suvendrini Perera
Director, Research & Creative Production, School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts
Deputy Director, Australia-Asia-Pacific Institute
Curtin University