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Ethnic Entanglements: The BBC Tamil and Sinhala services amidst the civil war in Sri Lanka

The BBC has a major presence within the Sri Lankan media landscape and critical reporter on its longstanding ethnic conflict. In this article, the BBC’s two regional language services in Sri Lanka, BBC Tamil and BBC Sinhala are examined. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in BBC Tamil and Sinhala Services at Bush House in London, and archival research at the BBC’s Written Archives in Caversham, UK, the article suggests that the BBC, far from being a global dispassionate observer, is imbricated in Sri Lanka’s fractured ethnic landscape. It argues that the two services became both ethnicized but also ethnicizing ‘love objects’. The two audiences, and the exchange of confidences between diasporic journalists and audiences, are analysed as constituting separate ‘knowable communities’, in Raymond Williams’ terms. Through an analysis of a mutual mirroring – or the ways in which BBC journalists imagine Sri Lanka, and how Sri Lanka’s ethnically segmented audiences imagine the BBC, I explore how the BBC World Service both mediates and is structured by local cultural and ethnic identities.

Project contact

Sharika Thiranagama, thiranas@newschool.edu
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Project members

Sharika Thiranagama is an assistant professor at the Eugene Language College. Her doctoral and postdoctoral work has focused on various aspects of the Sri Lankan civil war. Primarily, she has conducted research with two different ethnic groups, Sri Lankan Tamils and Sri Lankan Muslims, and the effects of protracted civil war on ideas of home, kinship and self. She has also conducted other research on the history of railways in Sri Lanka, on the political culture of treason amongst Sri Lankan Tamils, the BBC World service in South Asia etc. Her new research will focus more broadly on the South Asian region and the south Indian state of Kerala in particular. She is currently working on a book project entitled In my Mother’s House: the Intimacy of War in Sri Lanka which will be forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Core theme reference: 
Politics of Translation
Cross theme reference: 
Regional focus: Greater Middle East