Sri Lanka media groups call for end to ‘war on journalists’

June 05, 2008 (LBO) – Sri Lankan and international media right groups Thursday said they were outraged by recent military criticism of journalists covering the war and urged the government to stop what they called its ‘hate campaign’.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to which it is affiliated said a recent editorial on the Ministry of Defence website that was critical of defence reporting in the media was an unwarranted attack on journalists.
“The Free Media Movement is outraged at the recent statement by the Ministry of Defence that incites violence by claiming that the FMM and other independent media support terrorism and the LTTE,” it said in a statement.

” . . . the statement is the latest from a government increasingly intolerant of investigative and independent journalism.”

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in a separate statement, said: “Enough is enough. The government must end the war on journalists.”

Sri Lankan defence authorities have in recent weeks become increasingly critical of the coverage of the war against Tamil Tigers which they say is often inaccurate, unfair and undermines morale.

They have said the media reveals unnecessary details about the war that could help the enemy and that criticism of war plans by those who do not know the real aims is unfair and misleading.

The media has responded by saying that inaccurate reporting could be corrected by the military through legal means, and not by ‘bashing up’ journalists.

The FMM said the defence ministry website editorial “levelled dangerous charges” against number of newspapers, the FMM and its officials and newspaper defence columnists.

The FMM said the defence ministry had distorted the facts and that its accusation that the media group was biased towards the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) was incorrect.
“We have been consistent in our criticism of the LTTE and its deplorable understanding of and approach to media freedom in particular. In all our reports to local and international fora we have made it clear that there is no media freedom for independent journalism in LTTE controlled areas.”

It said the government is both “unwilling and unable to prevent wanton violence against media personnel, evidenced by the shocking number of attacks and murder of journalists in 2008 alone.”

The FMM said: “We are deeply fearful that these charges are in effect a death warrant to journalists and editors of the media mentioned in the statement.

“These allegations criminalize independent media and viciously clamps down on their ability and democratic right to question tactics, promotions, procurements and allegations of significant corruption in matters related to defence and governance.”

It said the defence ministry website editorial was a continuation of the violence against journalists, the latest of which was the abduction and assault of a senior editor of the Nation newspaper earlier this month.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in a separate statement, said government must order an end to “anti-media slanders”.

It appealed to the government to order Ministry of Defence and defence personnel to end immediately their campaign of “slanderous attacks and threats against independent journalists and media.”

The IFJ said it was “alarmed” by the latest attack by the editorial.

“The Government of Sri Lanka must show it has the authority to order an end to these hate-inspiring attacks by defence personnel against independent media voices,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.