FMM E-Bulletin – September 2007

1. CPJ Asia Programme Coordinator visits Sri Lanka
2. Joint statement on proposed government media policy
3. IFJ supports the call by its affiliates and other Sri Lanka organizations regarding Media Policy
4. Article 19 and CPA request the Government to reconsider the idea of a media policy
5. Attempts to abduct / threaten journalist Parameshawari
6. CID grills journalist to ascertain his sources
7. Provincial correspondent threatened and equipment taken away
8. YA-TV journalist receives death threats
9. Minister threatens TV station
10. New emergency regulations to censor media
11. New tax on mobile phones to cover war budget
12. Four TV journalists sent on compulsory leave
13. YA Tamil programme producer leaves the country on security reasons
14. http://www.tamilnet.com still blocked in Sri Lanka

1.2nd September / CPJ Asia Programme Coordinator visits Sri Lanka
Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator of Committee to Protect Journalists USA will made an official visit to Sri Lanka on 30th August – 6th September . During his visit he had discussions with senior journalists, media activists and leading media orgnisations in Sri Lanka on issues of media freedom and the freedom of expression.

2.6th September / Joint statement on proposed government media policy
A joint statement by 8 media organizations on the proposed government media policy was submitted to the Ministry of Information. The statement averred that the responsibility of the State was to ensure an environment where the freedom of expression is guaranteed. The statement went on to say that in order to achieve this it is the duty of the State to create an enabling legal framework that guarantees these rights and also safeguards the people’s right to information. Further, the joint statement strongly opposed any attempts to bring in guidelines backed by punitive laws contrary to spirit of the freedom of expression.

3. 13th Sep. / IFJ supports the call by its affiliates and other Sri Lanka organizations regarding Media Policy
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on 13th September sent a joint statement with IFJ affiliates the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), to welcome and submit suggested changes to the Sri Lankan government’s proposed National Media Policy. Supporting the joint memorandum of media organisations in Sri Lanka, the IFJ asked that the Sri Lankan government acts to protect journalists’ freedom of expression in conjunction with any National Media Policy.

4. Sep. / Article 19 and CPA request the Government to reconsider the idea of a media policy
In a joint comprehensive note on the draft media policy proposed by the government, Article 19 and Centre for Policy Alternatives requested the government to reconsider the whole idea of introducing a media policy. The note stated that “If the government wishes to proceed with this, it should restart the process by holding wide‐ranging consultations with interested stakeholders as to the direction such a policy should take.”

5. 7th September / Attempts to abduct / threaten journalist Parameshawari
Two unidentified persons followed female journalist Parameshawari and asked her to stop at the Borella junction (Colombo 08) at around 3.00 pm on 6th September. According to Parameshwari these were the men who abducted her soon after she was released from police custody earlier this year and snatched her passport and ID card on a later date. On this occasion, Parameshwari had run into a nearby police station for safety and later lodged a complaint at the Human Rights Commission in Colombo.

6. 14th Sep. / CID grills journalist to ascertain his sources
The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) on 14th September 2007 questioned The Nation journalist Indika Sakalasooriya over his report, published on 9th September, on the controversial Aston Martin super luxury car allegedly owned and bought by a highly placed politician. CID officers questioned journalist Indika on his sources of the information and the photographs of the Aston Martin super luxury car but he refused to provide them with any information in this regard.

7. 17th September / Provincial correspondent threatened and equipment taken away
A Deputy Inspector General (DIG) using abusive language threatened Mr Wijesingha, the Pottuvil correspondent for Lankadeepa and Daily Mirror newspapers, and confiscated his camera and tape recorder. This incident happened on 17th September when Mr. Wijesinghe had gone to cover an on-going police recruitment programme being conducted at the Pottuvil police station, in the East of Sri Lanka.

8. 20th September / YA-TV journalist receives death threats
Young Asia TV journalist Janith Vipulaguna reported to FMM that he has been receiving various threats over phone for last few months. According to his letter released to the public, anonymous callers are now giving him death threats. He has provided 0713-372945 as one of the phone numbers from which he received death threats. The number of his complaint to Mount Lavinia police is CIB – iii – 269 / 213. Mr. Vipulaguna was a Member of Parliament for a short time in 1994 and represented the JVP.

9. 22th September / Minister threatens TV station
Apparatchiks of Minister for Labour Mervyn de Silva threatened the TV crew of the popular Sirasa TV channel and asked them to stop covering a public meeting of the Minster. The Ministry of Labour had sent them an official invitation to cover the event. Minister Mervyn de Silva has himself threatened the station on several occasions, once saying that he is ready to use his official pistol against them. Although his verbal threats have been recorded and shown on Sirasa TV, the government has to date failed to take any disciplinary action against the Minster.

10. 24th September / New emergency regulations to censor media
In a statement the FMM said that it had reliable information that the government is preparing new Emergency Regulations to impose a general prohibition on investigative reporting and media coverage in respect of issues relating to defence procurement. Expressing its fear that the draft new Emergency Regulations egregiously violate the freedom of expression, media freedom and gravely undermines transparency and accountability, it challenged the government to deny or confirm the existence of the draft regulations.

11. 25th Sep. / New tax on Mobile phones to cover war budget
The government proposed an increase on the tax on cellular phones from 2.5 to 10 percent. There are over 5.4 million mobile phone users in the country. Justifying the new tax the government said that “The Defence bill is 140 billion rupees. We need to import bullets and shells.” The tax bill authorizing the increase was signed into law by the Speaker of Sri Lanka’s Parliament on 25th September. A government official said the government hopes to raise two billion rupees per annum from the new charge.

12. Four TV journalists sent on compulsory leave
State-controlled Sri Lankan television station Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) has sent four of its journalists on compulsory leave after they submitted a letter stating that their professional rights had been disrespected and damaged. SLRC Producers’ Union Chairman Kanchana Marasinghe, Organizer Herbert Kumara Alagiyawanna, Athula Peiris and Ravi Abewickrama were the journalists sent on compulsory leave. The SLRC has claimed that the journalists distributed the leaflets during working hours, but the leaflets were distributed outside of the institution and before working hours began.

13. YA TV Tamil programme producer left the country on safety grounds
Tamil programme producer Jeevendran left the country because of continuing death threats he had been receiving. J. Jeevendran an experienced journalist who focused on producing ant war TV programmes was a target of series of hate mail by extreme groups for some time now. In last June he met with the International Mission on Freedom of Expression on Sri Lanka in Colombo and sought help to face threats he was facing.

14. September / http://www.tamilnet.com still blocked in Sri Lanka
Tamilnet – http://www.tamilnet.com – a web based Tamil news website, is still being blocked by all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Sri Lanka on the orders of the government. It was first blocked in mid-June 2007. Hosted abroad, the website is frequented by journalists from all ethnicities, civil society and the donor and diplomatic community as well as the Diaspora for situation updates, analysis and feature articles. Though widely considered to be biased towards the LTTE, Tamilnet offers alternative perspectives, insight and information not often featured on other websites and in mainstream print & electronic media in Sri Lanka.

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