Another nail in the coffin: The open militarisation of State owned media in Sri Lanka

21st March 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is outraged that the government has appointed retired Army Major General Sunil Silva as Additional Director General (Administration) of the State controlled TV station Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC).  Major General Sunil Silva retired in January 2008.  

This appointment beggars belief, especially less than 48 hours after a key meeting with the President of Sri Lanka and SLRC Trade Union leaders and journalists on the spate of brutal physical attacks against colleagues who stood up against the brutish intrusion by Government MP Mervyn Silva into its premises late last year. No one at this meeting was consulted about or told of this appointment.  

Though retired, the appointment of ex-military personnel to a key post in the SLRC is particularly revealing. The militarisation of State apparatus under this regime is not new, but this is the first time it has extended to the media. Not only does this set an extremely disturbing precedent, it irrevocably vitiates the independence of State media from regressive party political patronage, influence and coercion.  

The FMM vehemently protests this appointment on a point of principle. We have nothing against Major General Sunil Silva. We are deeply concerned that the office of a civilian is now in the hands of someone from whom independence and impartiality is simply too much to ask or expect. This is a damning indictment of the President’s bona fides to support and strengthen media freedom and a chilling indicator of the regime’s duplicitous nature.  

We believe that this appointment was made in the context of SLRC journalist unions threatening trade union action if the government did not take action to hold the deranged Government MP Mervyn Silva accountable for his actions in a court of law. Given that on the 17th of this month military and police cordoned off SLRC premises to prevent any trade union action we are in no doubt that this military appointment is directly linked to the emerging crisis situation within SLRC and intended to intimidate the institution’s journalists and other staff. 

We demand that this appointment is immediately rescinded. The media community represented by our organisations will accept no alternative and will not negotiate on this matter. It is simply a point of principle – the militarisation of media institutions is tantamount to the curtailment of media rights. The President had, at the conclusion of the recent meeting with journalists, promised to look into the unprecedented intimidation of media personnel in Sri Lanka.

Sadly, this appointment is grossly incompatible with that promise.

Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka.

Convenor – Sunanda Deshapriya ( 0777 312457) – Secretary – Sunil Jayasekara ( 011 2851672/3)  spokesperson S. Sivakumar 0777 315665

No. 237/22, Wijeya Kumaratunga Road, Colombo – 05., Email : fmm@sltnet.lk  ;

For more alerts and reports on media freedom in Sri Lanka, visit our blog – https://freemediasrilanka.wordpress.com

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Another nail in the coffin: The open militarisation of State owned media in Sri Lanka

21st March 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is outraged that the government has appointed retired Army Major General Sunil Silva as Additional Director General (Administration) of the State controlled TV station Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC).  Major General Sunil Silva retired in January 2008.

This appointment beggars belief, especially less than 48 hours after a key meeting with the President of Sri Lanka and SLRC Trade Union leaders and journalists on the spate of brutal physical attacks against colleagues who stood up against the brutish intrusion by Government MP Mervyn Silva into its premises late last year. No one at this meeting was consulted about or told of this appointment.

Though retired, the appointment of ex-military personnel to a key post in the SLRC is particularly revealing. The militarisation of State apparatus under this regime is not new, but this is the first time it has extended to the media. Not only does this set an extremely disturbing precedent, it irrevocably vitiates the independence of State media from regressive party political patronage, influence and coercion.

The FMM vehemently protests this appointment on a point of principle. We have nothing against Major General Sunil Silva. We are deeply concerned that the office of a civilian is now in the hands of someone from whom independence and impartiality is simply too much to ask or expect. This is a damning indictment of the President’s bona fides to support and strengthen media freedom and a chilling indicator of the regime’s duplicitous nature.

We believe that this appointment was made in the context of SLRC journalist unions threatening trade union action if the government did not take action to hold the deranged Government MP Mervyn Silva accountable for his actions in a court of law. Given that on the 17th of this month military and police cordoned off SLRC premises to prevent any trade union action we are in no doubt that this military appointment is directly linked to the emerging crisis situation within SLRC and intended to intimidate the institution’s journalists and other staff.

We demand that this appointment is immediately rescinded. The media community represented by our organisations will accept no alternative and will not negotiate on this matter. It is simply a point of principle – the militarisation of media institutions is tantamount to the curtailment of media rights. The President had, at the conclusion of the recent meeting with journalists, promised to look into the unprecedented intimidation of media personnel in Sri Lanka.

Sadly, this appointment is grossly incompatible with that promise.

Three Journalists Released as Military Man Appointed to SLRC- IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that Sri Lanka’s Government has appointed a recently retired army Major General to a senior position at the troubled state broadcaster, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC).
 
The appointment came as authorities released three journalists who had been held without charge for almost two weeks. Two other journalists arrested at the same time remain in custody.
 
According to IFJ affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM), Maj. Gen. Sunil Silva has been appointed as Additional Deputy Director General, Administration, at SLRC. FMM reports this is a newly created post.

Maj. Gen. Sunil Silva was head of the Army Signals Regiment before retiring officially on January 18, 2008. He is expected to assume his duties in coming days.

The appointment follows threatened strike action by staff at SLRC to demand protection in the face of a series of threats and attacks on staff allegedly linked to a melee at the station’s office on December 27, when Labour Minister Mervyn Silva assaulted SLRC news director TMG Chandrasekara.
 
Meanwhile, the IFJ welcomed the release on March 19 of three journalists and media workers associated with www.outreachsl.com. However, it remained extremely concerned for the safety and well-being of two other people connected with www.outreachsl.com who remain in custody.
 
The three who were released are journalist K. Wijesingha, cameraman Ranga Lasanatha and visual editor Udayanan. They were arrested by the Terrorist Information Department (TID) between March 7 and 8.
 
Journalist J.S Tissainayagam, editor of www.outreachsl.com, and N. Jasiharan, the owner of E-Kwality Printers and a writer for the website, are still detained.
 
Jasiharan was arrested by TID officers on March 6. His laptop computer and printed material from the printing press were also confiscated.
 
Tissainayagam was arrested by TID officers on March 7. He was detained under emergency regulations for 30 days. On March 19, an application was filed on his behalf with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka regarding alleged unlawful arrest and detention.
 
The IFJ and its affiliates, the FMM, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU) and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), as well as the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance (SLTJA), demand that authorities make transparent the reasons for the arrests and follow due legal process in the cases of Tissainayagam and Jasiharan.
 
“The IFJ joins its affiliates in appealing to the Sri Lankan Government to release J.S. Tissainayagam and N. Jasiharan if they are not brought to court or charges are not laid in due time,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
 
“The IFJ is also very concerned for the safety of all journalists in Sri Lanka. For example, the series of attacks and threats against SLRC staff since December have been permitted to continue without any intervention by authorities.
 
“In times of conflict and insecurity, a military appointment to the state broadcaster raises concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and association at the state broadcaster.
 
“The appointment of Maj. Gen. Sunil Silva to the SLRC does nothing to allay concerns for the well-being of SLRC staff and press freedom in general in Sri Lanka. Rather, the IFJ is disturbed that the appointment of someone closely associated with the military has been made immediately following the in-house union’s demands that staff be protected, as is their right.”
 

National television under permanent military control

(Lanka e-news 20 March 2008, 3.40 PM)It has been decided to hand over the total control of administration of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation to the Military control with effect from today (20). The ruling of the control room of SLRC was already handed over to the Military on 17th March.

A new designation will be created as Deputy Director General (Administration) and a retired Major General will be appointed for the said post. The new Deputy Director General (Administration) will be retired Major General Sunil Silva from Sri Lanka Army Signals Corp. The Director General (SLRC) has been informed by written order regarding this new appointment, by the President’s Secretariat today.

Major General Sunil Silva who is having a fair knowledge of Radio Waves, has retired from the Sri Lanka Army in last January and after the retirement, he was appointed as an Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Defence. He was highly recommended for the above post at SLRC by the Secretary Defence, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapakshe.

President has decided to hand over the control of administration to a Military Officer after the discussions he had with the members of trade unions of SLRC and other Government Media Institutions. The new Director Board will also be appointed shortly and it is reported that another Army Officer will be appointed as a Chairman of the Corporation.

In the meantime, Mr. Sathkumara, Deputy Director General who is a Civil Servant seeks permission to resign from his post.
 

Journalists on public TV allowed to resume work, under the orders of army general- RSF

Reporters Without Borders noted on 20 March the withdrawal of security forces from the premises of state-run Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), allowing journalists to resume work.
The police and army seized control of the corporation on 17 March and locked out staff that had been planning strike action in protest against a series of politically-motivated assaults against the corporation’s employees.
The worldwide press freedom organisation however deplored the appointment of retired general, Sunil Silva, a close associate of the presidential family, as deputy general director of the SLRC, a post especially created for him.

“This appointment of a military figure as a media head, unprecedented for decades, will obstruct presidential plans for the state-run press” it added.

Despite President Mahinda Rajapakse’s meeting with corporation representatives no steps have been taken to protect employees or to punish those responsible for five physical assaults on staff attributed to henchmen of Labour Minister, Mervyn Silva.
The minister was involved in a further incident on 19 March, when he threatened a crew from Sirasa TV, which was covering the construction of a bridge in Kelaniya, near Colombo.
“This time I am just lifting a finger, but next time I will lift my hand, if you come back,” the minister shouted at the journalists. The head of Sirasa TV has reported the incident to the Inspector General of Police, Victor Perrera.
Mervyn Silva has a history of open hostility towards journalists and led a brutal raid against SLRC staff on 27 December 2007.
Three journalists on Outreachlk website released
Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release on 19 March of three journalists working for the website Outreachlk. They were held by anti-terrorist police for 12 days.
Journalist Kithsiri Wijesinghe, photographer Gayan Lasantha Ranga and cameraman Udayanan, were arrested by anti-terror police on 7 March, after coming under suspicion of receiving money from the Tamil Tigers. Some of them were beaten in the first days of their detention in an attempt to extract confessions. Reporters Without Borders has obtained evidence that the money in question came chiefly from a German foundation, without any link with the Tamil rebels of the L.TTE.
Owner of the printers and Tamil writer, V. Jasikaran, as well as the director of the website and journalist on the Sunday Times, J. S. Tissanayagam, are still in police custody. The latter has appealed to the Supreme Court for his release and complained of “inhuman conditions” of detention