Senior journalist and a TV channel labelled as a terrorist by a minister

9th January 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is seriously alarmed by the statements made in press conference  on 7th January 2008 in  by the Minister of social services and social welfare Mr. K. N. Douglas Devananda  inciting hate against the “Minnal” programme on Shakthi T.V. and it’s presenter Sri Ranga Jeyarathnam.

Basing his statements in response to a programme broadcasted by the Shakthi T. V. with late parliamentarian Mr. T. Maheshvaran. the  Minister branded Mr. Sri Ranga a traitor and accused Sri Ranga is working for the LTTE terrorists. In a context of murdered, abductions, harassments and virulent verbal attacks against journalists and an escalation of politically motivated violence and crime, these statements are disturbing for the opportunities they create for corroding of media freedoms in Sri Lanka.

The statement by Mr. Devananda undermines the media’s role to hold those in public office accountable. In erroneously conflating the right to criticize with complicity, Mr. Devananda curtails the right of the media to question the alleged security threats and death threats against politicians. This in effect is a censorship of media.

That the Shakthi T.V. and Mr Sri Ranga are conspiring with the LTTE to promote its terrorism is a serious charge to level and contributes to a heightened climate of fear amongst journalists in Sri Lanka in recent times. Fear of grievous bodily harm, death and a culture of self-censorship are obviously detrimental to a culture of media freedom.

Mr. Devananda’s audacious statements in the press conference may well contribute to death threats on Mr. Sri Ranga’s life in the context of deteriorating safety for journalists in Sri Lanka today. As before, we staunchly uphold the right of every citizen to criticize the media and media reports, provided that such criticism is democratic.

With all rights come responsibilities – in this instance, Mr. Devananda’s inability to exercise his right to expression in a responsible manner, resulting in hate speech in press coference, is a deeply disturbing development that questions his ability to hold high political office.

We strongly urge Mr. Devananda and the Government to desist from irresponsible statements and instead constructively engage with media to strengthen democracy in Sri Lanka

Recommended action:

Please write to Minister Douglas Devananda expressing your concern

Hon. Douglas Devananda, MP
Minister of Social Services and
Social Welfare
Tel: 94-11-2584373, 2584374
Fax: 94-11-2584375, 2585255
E-mail: deva@slt.lk

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