‘17th April 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) expresses its serious concern on discriminatory practices meted out to media institutions by state institutions, politicians and political parties of late.
As reported by www.lankaenews.com, the JVP (People’s Liberation Front) leadership did not allow a Lanka-e-News journalist to cover a press conference held on 11th April at the National Library on the internal rift in the party. Guards employed by the JVP blocked the entrance to the Lanka-e-News journalist stating that no uninvited media would be allowed to participate. The JVP has threatened a number of media institutions in the past and this incident shows that they still do not tolerate critical media reportage on the party.
Sri Lanka’s infamous Labour Minister Mervyn Silva, who claims amongst many other fantastic things to be a devout Buddhist, viciously abused media personnel in front of a leading prelate and ousted them from a function he was a Chief Guest of in Kelaniya on April 10th. MP Silva’s bodyguards drove out cameramen from Maharaja Television Network from the scene and also threatened the journalists from ‘Daily Mirror’ and ‘Lankadeepa’. Sri Lanka’s Labour Minister has a sordid history of having verbally and physically threatened and abused media personnel. No action has been taken to bring him to book. A week earlier, the same minister threatened Sirasa journalists, belonging to the Maharaja Media Network that he is not above using his own hands to stop them from covering issues in his electorate.
Demonstrably, media freedom in Sri Lanka is not in good hands.
On 5th April, the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) did not allow correspondents from BBC, Associated Press, Sirasa/MTV and Tamil language news papers to join the media tour it organized to Jaffna. We deeply regret that the MCNS has not shown any transparency when inviting media for tours to war affected areas. Its highly discriminatory process of selection allows it to pick and choose only the most supine journalists to augment its propaganda, a practice that we have consistently opposed. Critical media commentary is essential in war and we strongly feel the MCNS should invite and actively support the participation of all media in efforts to open up the front lines of war to public scrutiny through the media.
Incredibly, the MCNS also had the gall to warn journalists taken on such tours against what it considers to be unfavourable coverage of the Government’s war efforts. As noted in The Nation on 13th April, Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara had in a telephone conversation said that in future the military would not consider inviting journalists from The Bottom Line newspaper for government sponsored tours, because of his extreme displeasure over a news-feature that appeared in The Bottom Line on the situation in the embattled Jaffna Peninsula.
The freedom of expression is fundamentally about the right to express opinions that are open to contestation but not to censorship or censure. The government and all political parties have a duty to strengthen and support the diversity of opinions so that citizens can make informed judgments on vital social, political and economic issues in the country. Registering our strong disquiet on these incidents, the FMM firmly and urgently request all relevant stakeholders to meaningfully uphold the freedom of expression and media freedom in Sri Lanka.