It is an apparent fact that the LTTE has greater focus on propaganda than the Sri Lanka government. Exactly how they maximize their propaganda is an interesting topic for discussion. The fact that the LTTE has thousands of internet sites, newspapers and other materials does not completely explain their propaganda machine.
Many of the web based sources, newspapers etc. require content. The content must be generated pro-actively. The most impacting source of LTTE propaganda comes from its audio visual content. The LTTE’s audio-visual productions have never been matched by the state at any time despite having two highly capable television stations.
The LTTE has produced six films and over fifty documentaries about itself (i.e. “Amma Nalama?”, Black Tiger film “Eerath thee (Wet conflagration). Foreign agencies have produced around 20 films and documentaries of the LTTE. The first attempt by a Sinhala filmmaker at making a film against the violence of the LTTE has run into enormous difficulties.
The Director of the film ‘Prabhakaran’ Mr. Thushara Peiris was attacked and knocked unconscious inside Gemini Labs, an Indian film lab in south India recently. Elements loyal to the LTTE have called for a ban on the film which was produced at a cost of $335,000. An Indian studio is currently in possession of the film’s rushes (prints), which probably will never be shown in India or any of the Tamil theaters in Sri Lanka.
Many of the Sinhala medium films produced by famous local film makers have done less. They have failed to represent the LTTE in its real form, but have somehow won international awards for their productions.
How does the LTTE do it?
The LTTE has, both literally and metaphorically, taken the cinema to the battlefield. Traditionally it is the battlefield which comes to the cinema. Hidden among the LTTE’s various units are the Tiger’s Battlefield Camera Unit. The Nitharsanam Unit (meaning Reality in Truth) is the tip of the LTTE’s propaganda machine. It recruits young Tigers and trains them to become battlefield cameramen/women.
The Nitharsanam Unit comes in with the first wave of an organized LTTE attack. A large number of them die in the process. It is one of the few units that receives Prabhakaran’s personal attention and participates in all military operations. Each time they painstakingly document the LTTE’s battle preparations. Each LTTE platoon is provided with two battlefield cameramen/women.
The men of the Nitharsanam Unit meet the Women of the same unit only in battle. This way neither teams are affectionate of the other. The lack of affection and hatred for the Sinhalese taught to them during training, conditions them to video fallen soldiers of the Army in battles like Mulaithivu, Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass.
The mission of the LTTE battlefield cameraman/woman is to recreate the truth based on the lines of LTTE ideology. To make this possible, they reframe the conflict over and over again. Their documentaries often start with various past crimes committed by the Sinhalese.
The footage indicating the fallen soldiers is accompanied by a politically correct expression of sympathy for the ‘poor Sinhala youth who have had to die while fighting on the wrong side’. Like in Pongu Thamil, a message is usually given to ‘our Sinhala brothers in the Army’ to return home and leave the ‘Tamil homeland’. These messages are not just for the 400,000 Tamils living in LTTE areas. They are intended primarily for the eyes and ears of the 500,000 Tamil Diaspora living abroad and their sympathizers.
Quite ironically, the ‘Reality in Truth’ camera unit never show the Tigers capturing injured soldiers alive. This is because the Tigers often kill injured soldiers in many of the biggest battles. They also fail to show females and child soldiers sent to their death in the Ceaseless Waves. In a sense, the Battlefield Camera Unit of the LTTE is also canon fodder. Large numbers, perhaps over 150 have either been killed or seriously injured so far.
But the Nitharsanam Unit achieves something the entire Sri Lanka government has failed to achieve; a well oiled propaganda machine capable of legitimizing itself (brainwashing its viewers) through an audio-visual experience unlike anything they have ever witnessed.
The audiovisual media makes the fight for Eelam a personal experience of the viewer (who is often detached from reality) by recreating reality and truth within the confines of LTTE ideology. The feat of the battlefield cameraman/women cannot be copied by a conventional military whose natural instinct is to protect the lives of its men.
For a section of the western audience sympathetic to the LTTE, the footage of a small rebel force routing an established military in some third world country may have its attractions. For an emotionally charged Tamil Diaspora that contributes between 60 to 100 million Dollars each year, LTTE propaganda is a huge incentive to empty out their pockets.