Free Media Movement E-Bulletin: December 2007

  • 1st December: IPI adds Sri Lanka to watch list
  • 2nd December: UNESCO condemns bombing of Voice of Tigers (VOT)
  • 02nd December: Tamil journalists detained for 12 hours
  • 2nd December: Government conjures up definition of journalists
  • 07th December: Journalists asked to report to police station
  • 9th December: Popular TV channel accused being pro LTTE
  • 10th December: Jaffna communication centres under military scrutiny
  • 10th December: Protest march by media community
  • 10th December: Reporting rights and minorities in Sri Lanka
  • 13th December: Three journalists intimidated in Polonnaruwa
  • 15th December: Tamilnet accessible again from Sri Lanka
  • 16th December: Police enter journalists home in disguise
  • 17th December: Minister asked his ministry to disregard media exposures
  • 19th December: MAMS held is first public meeting for media freedom
  • 19th December: Hate speech against Human Rights defender
  • 22nd December: Media Minster says only one journalist killed in Sri Lanka
  • 24th December: French TV crew arrested for videoing a roadblock
  • 27th December: Government Minister runs amok in State run TV station in Sri Lanka
  • 28th December: protest over Government censoring SLRC evening news bulletin
  • 28th December: Provincial Journalists protest ministers behavior
  • 30th December: WEE radio propaganda team assaulted by Minster Mervyn de Silva’s supporters

1st December: IPI adds Sri Lanka to watch list

The International Press Institute (IPI) once again added Sri Lanka to its list of countries where media freedom is under fire. The decision was taken at the IPI Executive Board Meeting in Mainz, Germany, on 17th November 2007. IPI said Sri Lanka, which has been on the watch list before, was included again because journalists were being targeted as a consequence of the ongoing civil war.

2nd December: UNESCO condemns bombing of Voice of Tigers (VOT)

The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura has condemned the air strike on the Voice of Tigers radio station that killed five of the station’s staff. “I condemn the bombing of the Voice of Tigers radio station, regardless of the content of the broadcasts aired by the Voice of Tigers, there can be no excuse for military strikes on civilian media” he said. On 27th November 2007, VOT was bombed by Sri Lanka fighter jets killing one journalist two media workers and 8 civilians.

2nd December: Tamil journalists detained for 12 hours

A journalist with the Tamil daily Sudaroli, Ranga, was arrested in a cordon and search by the Rajagiriya Police and detained for 12 hours. He was released after representations made to the Police by the newspaper and the FMM. Mr. Saravanaphavan, Managing Director of the Uthayan Group of newspapers that published Sudaroli, had to personally sign the bail papers in order for Ranga to be released. To date, no charges has brought against Ranga.

2nd December: Government conjures up definition of journalists

In an interview with state controlled English language weekly The Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka Media Minister Hon. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said that the Government is thinking about classifying who a journalist is.

Q: You agreed that we do not have a classification to identify who a journalist is. So are there any plans to classify journalists?
A: I believe that the Government has to do something about it. We have already thought about it.

In a related development, please see the Media Minster’s statement on 22nd December below.

7th December: Journalists asked to report to police station
A senior journalist of the Sinhala newspaper Divaina, Mr. Norman Palihawadana was asked to report to the Kiribathgoda Police for an interrogation on a ransom case he had reported. This was a deviation from the usual practice of police officers making an appointment and coming to media institutions to record statements from journalists when necessary. After protests by Media organizations, the Media Minister advised the Police to not ask journalists to report to police stations in similar situations.

9th December: Popular TV channel accused being pro LTTE
Sirasa, a popular TV channel was labeled as pro LTTE by a Sinhala weekly that is widely regarded as an unofficial mouthpiece of the extreme nationalist party, the JVP. In a report that didn’t have a single named source, the weekly Lanka said that a a police inquiry has been launched to ascertain whether the video footage of a bomb explosion that took place on 9th December was given by the LTTE to Sirasa TV for broadcast. Contrary to the wild claims of Lanka, It was disclosed that the footage was filmed by a citizen journalist and given to Sirasa.

10th December: Jaffna communication centres under military scrutiny
The security forces in Jaffna have instructed telecommunication centers in Jaffna to register the names and NIC numbers of those who take telephone calls. Telecommunication centers have also been asked to register the telephone numbers to which customers dial out.

10th December: Protest march by media community
The media community of Sri Lanka held a joint protest march to the Media Ministry on the World Human Rights day. They handed over a letter singed by Editors and leading journalists demanding an end to the culture of impunity and to speed up investigation into journalist’s killings, abductions and assaults. The letter also requests the Ministry to establish a proper legal frame work that secures and strengthens the Freedom of Expression in Sri Lanka.

10th December: Reporting rights and minorities in Sri Lanka
The preliminary results of an islandwide survey to assess the views of journalists and representatives civil society organisations on reporting on human rights and minority rights issues in Sri Lanka was released by Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). Over half of the journalists and civil society groups surveyed identified discrimination against minority groups as the most pressing human rights issue in Sri Lanka. Both groups identified official and unofficial government censorship as the primary impediment to accurate and impartial reporting on the disadvantaged and minority communities.

13th December: Three journalists intimidated in Polonnaruwa
Three provincial correspondents were prevented from reporting an incident related to the abuse of power by government officials. This incident took place at the Divisional Secretariat of Dimbulagala in the Polonnaruwa district on 12th December. Journalists Nimal Jayarathana of the Sinhala Lakbima daily, J.K Jayakody of the Sinhala Divaina daily and Wijerathna Podibabdara of Sirasa TV were harassed and sent away by certain Samurdhi officials when they were covering the handing over of a petition by villagers at the Divisional Secretariat.

15th December: Tamilnet accessible again from Sri Lanka
The Tamilnet website that was banned unofficially by the Sri Lankan Government and all major Sate and private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) earlier in 2007 was once against rendered accessible from local internet connections. Tamilnet is widely perceived to be partial to the LTTE and one of the most widely read websites on Sri Lanka according Alexa web ratings.

16th December: Police enter journalists home in disguise
Purported officers of Criminal Investigation Division (CID) visited the residence of senior Reuters photojournalist Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi at Sarojinee Watta, Ratmalana at 11am on 11th December and questioned his wife. Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi was away covering a cricket match in Colombo. Disguised as telephone repairmen from the State telecoms provider Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), they had questioned his wife at length about his activities in the manner that they would interrogate a suspect of a serious crime.

17th December: Minister asked his ministry to disregard media exposures
Sri Lankan Minister of Health Hon. Nimal Siripala asked officials to ignore media exposures of inefficiency and corruption within his own ministry, according to media reports. Minister Siripala has been at odds with media because of their exposures of rampant corruption and official negligence in health sector in recent times.

19th December: MAMS held is first public meeting for media freedom
The Movement Against Media Suppression (MAMS) held the first of series of public campaigns planned to raise public awareness on the Freedom of Expression in Sri Lanka in Anuradhapura on 19th December under the theme “Freedom of Expression – Foundation of All Freedoms”. Leading journalists, Trade Union and Civil Society leaders address the meeting which was preceded by a protest demonstration.

19th December: Hate speech against Human Rights defender
Tamil MP Mano Ganeshan who has been in forefront in the campaign against abductions and involuntary disappearances was labeled as LTTE arms supplier by pro-government elements. His security was withdrawn although serious threats to his life are well known for his role as the convener of Civil Monitoring Commission involved in monitoring involuntary Disappearances, Abductions, Extra Judicial Killings, Extortions and Arbitrary arrests and detentions in Sri Lanka.

22nd December: Media Minster says only one journalist killed in Sri Lanka
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 Sri Lankan Media 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. In its statement to this incredible claim, the FMM strongly disagreed with this restrictive definition of a journalist and reiterated that 6 journalists and media workers killed 3 abducted during the year 2007.

24th December: French TV crew arrested for videoing a roadblock
Two French journalists detained by the military over a videoing a road block was kept in Police custody over Christmas night in the Rathgama police station, in Galle district. The TV crew of female journalist Capucine Henri and cameraman C. Siomon of the France 24 news-channel were filming a Tamil family visiting their detained relatives on Christmas eve. They were travelling in a mini bus and on the way filmed a road block for 5 seconds and stopped it once the military objected to filming. They were released without any charges on 26th evening after 43 hours.

27th December: Government Minister runs amok in State run TV station in Sri Lanka
Government Minister Mervyn Silva stormed into the State run television station Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC) on 27th morning with group of his thugs and assaulted its News Director, Mr. T.M.G. Chandrasekara. MP Mervyn Silva ostensibly entered the SLRC premises to protest that a speech made by him the previous day at a public meeting was not broadcast in the channel’s TV news bulletins. SLRC journalists and staff barricaded the Minister and his thugs until the arrival of the Police and the measures taken to demand a public apology live on camera. Minister in question has repeatedly threatened media personnel, particularly journalists from the MTV and Sirasa TV channels and the Sinhala newspaper Divanina.

28th December: protest over Government censoring SLRC evening news bulletin
The government ordered Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC) not to broadcast damning footage of Government MP Mervyn de Silva’s intrusion to the institution on its evening news bulletin on the same day and handed over all footage related to the incident to police for an investigation. Media organizations and SLRC staff demonstrated in front of SLRC against the unofficial censorship of its news bulletin and any planned victimisation on of journalists who barricading him and his thugs until the arrival of the Police.

28th December: Provincial Journalists protest ministers behavior
As a continuation of the campaign against Minister Mervyn de Silva’s intrusion, along with his thugs, into the SLRC and the subsequent assault on its News Director, provincial journalists organizations held several protests around the country. They were held on 28th in Galle, 31st in Ampara, Kandy and Matara. Journalists and civil society activists participated in these demonstrations.

30th December: WEE radio propaganda team assaulted by Minster Mervyn de Silva’s supporters
A group of persons putting group posters of the WEE radio station on 30th night was assaulted by supporters of Minister Mervyn de Silva. According to the complaint made at the Kiribathgoda police station a coordinating secretary to the Minister was responsible for the assault.

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