25 April 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: Government officials barred photographers from entering hospitals where soldiers injured in battle are being treated, four photo journalists told the Free Media Movement (FMM) today. Hitherto, photographers have had no problems in entering hospitals to report on the casualties of war. It is highly likely that these measures have been taken after heavy losses (numbering in the hundreds) faced by the Sri Lankan Army earlier this week after fighting intensified in the North.
All government appointed military spokespersons give watered down figures of war casualties and mainstream media are compelled to report these official statistics. Only some foreign wire services and few news websites operating from Colombo reported the battle front casualties independent of government press releases. According to government military statements that have been published by media, the Army has killed more than 3,000 LTTE fighters in 2008. 3,000 was the figure given by Army Commander as the strength of the LTTE military six months ago. In Sri Lanka today the saying that first casualty of war is truth is being proved almost every day.
The FMM believes that the right of the public to know information and news related to the on going war is severely undermined by the restrictions placed on journalists. Both the LTTE and the Government do not allow independent media to cover the war in a manner that accurately reports, amongst other things, the numbers dead and injured. The FMM has demanded both sides to allow media to cover the war independently for nearly 15 years.
We urge the government and the LTTE to respect the right to information. War propaganda is not a substitute for accurate, impartial and responsible journalism that can only be ensured by supporting and strengthening media freedom and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.