FMM deplores Sri Lankan Media Minister’s statement

24th December 2007, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is strongly opposed to and deeply regrets the self-styled definition of journalists as put forward recently by the Sri Lankan Media Minister, Hon. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

Responding to the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) report that placed Sri Lanka as the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists to work in, the Minister averred that only those who have obtained media accreditation cards issued by the Government Information Department are considered journalists. He went on to say that according to this criterion, only one journalist has been killed in 2007.

The FMM strongly disagrees with and is appalled by the inappropriateness of this restrictive definition of a journalist. In contradistinction and in keeping with globally accepted norms and standards of journalism today, the FMM believes that anyone who as a profession engages in gathering, editing and dissemination of information, individually or organizationally, in an impartial, accurate and professional manner, is a journalist. This includes bloggers and citizens who create, edit or otherwise disseminate content on the Internet and web dealing with socio-political and cultural critiques, including content on governance, democracy and fundamental rights. This understanding of and approach to traditional and new forms of journalism is the norm in democratic societies today, based on media freedom and the freedom of expression.

Killing or verbally or physically harming anyone who fits into this definition constitutes an action against a journalist and the media community. Accordingly, the FMM is compelled to firmly assert that the Media Minister’s own definition is woefully outmoded and dangerously partial to the government’s concerted efforts to play down and gloss over its own egregious responsibility in severely undermining the security and safety of journalists in Sri Lanka.

  • On 15th February 2007 of journalist Subramaniam Ramachandran, North of Jaffna and near Vadamaradchi, went missing. According to the information collected by the International Mission of Press Freedom and the Freedom of Expression in July this year, Ramachandran left the tuition class he ran in Karaveddy in the early evening of 15th February with a friend. Soldiers stopped them for questioning when they got as far as the Kalikai Junction military camp.  His friend was allowed to leave and Ramachandran was detained. His family has since had no news of him and he is feared dead.
  • On 16th April 2007 Subash Chandraboas (32), who edited his own monthly literary magazine, was shot dead on at about 7.30 p.m at his residence in Thirunavatkulam, Vavuniya. He was former student of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism and had also obtained a month’s training from the Virakesari newspaper after passing out from the College. He has served the London based magazine “Tamil World” as a freelance journalist.  Mr. Chandraboas owned a small printing press in Vavuniya and was known for his passion for literature.
  • On 29th April 2007, Selvarajah Rajivarnam was shot dead as he was cycling to his office in Jaffna Town.  Rajivarnam, 24, had worked at the paper for six months covering crime stories and visiting police stations and hospitals to investigate disappearances. He had worked for three years on Namathu Eelanadu, whose managing director was killed in August 2006.
  • On 1st August 2007 Sahathevan Nilakshan, a journalism student who edited the Chaalaram magazine was shot dead in Kokuvil, Jaffna. He used to report to Tamil diaspora media as well.

None of the above were in possession of media accreditation cards issued by the Media Ministry for 2007. What is more, despite strong local and international condemnation, including from the offices of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and UNESCO, the government obstinately continues to not accept that their targeting of the Voice of Tigers (VOT) radio station on 27th November 2007 was an attack against journalists.  The attack killed 11 civilians and among them were one journalist (Isaivizhi Chempiyan alias Subajini) and two media workers of VOT (Suresh Linbiyo and T. Tharmalingam).

Two more media workers, Anthonypillai Sherin Sithranjan  and Vadivel Nimalarajah, were abducted in November 2007 in Jaffna.

The Sri Lankan Media Minister’s denial of these acts of violence against the media community will strengthen the existing culture of impunity and will not in any way help to find those responsible. On the other hand, whilst quick to denounce and decry the PEC report, the find that the Minister’s telling silence on the attacks on the Standard newspapers and Leader publications, the closure of the ABC radio network, unending harassments to Tamil media and journalists, threats to Editors, government sponsored hate speech campaigns against senior journalist Iqbal Athas, continuing threats and intimidations to provincial correspondents, unofficial censorship, the increasing partiality and political bias of state controlled media as well as inability to ensure legal frame work for freedom of expression in Sri Lanka damning and undeniable indicators of his government inability and unwillingness to address the severe deterioration of media freedom in Sri Lanka.

Recommended action:

Please address your concern to the Media Minster, Hon. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, emphasizing his duty to protect freedom of expression and on the urgent need to expand the his Ministry’s definition of journalists to those who don’t have Government accreditation.

Hon. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa,
Minster for Mass Media and Information,
163, Kirulapona Road, Polhengoda,
Colombo 05,
Sri Lanka.

Fax: +94 – 11- 2513500
Phone: +94 – 11 -2513507
Email: anura.yapa@media.gov.lk
Web: http://www.media.gov.lk/

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