The representatives of the major political parties in the country met on June 17, 2008 on the invitation of the five media organizations affiliated to the Media Centre – Sri Lanka to discuss on the dreadful situation facing the Sri Lankan media.
The representatives of the media organizations briefed on the threat faced by them for the last two years.
List of Issues
• The government has failed to complete any investiga¬tion held into the murders of journalists and threats and intimida¬tion of journalists.
• No investigative report make public on forcible entry into the Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) premises by Minister Mervyn Silva on December 27 and the in¬timidation of media personnel at¬tached to the institution after¬wards. Although the violence against SLRC staff stopped following an order by the President, he continues to attack media personnel attached to the Sirasa. No action has yet been in¬stituted against the Minister.
• The official website of the Defence Ministry branded the media institutions, editors and the media organizations as traitors and warned that the security forces would deal with them. The website issued instructions for a self-imposed censorship on the media.
• Hudson Samarasinghe, who conducts a vindictive radio programme trying to instigate people against certain media per¬sonnel and organisàtions, has been appointed as the head of the State controlled Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
• Defence Secretary who called the president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association Sanath Balasuriya and General Secretary Poddala Jayantha to his office warned them that their lives would be in danger if they continued their activities.
• The fearful suppression of the media in the Jaffna peninsula, where over 200 media personnel func¬tioned at one point, has prevented media personnel from engaging in their profession in the area. The edi¬tor and news editor of the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna have been forced to live in the office premises due to the threats faced by them.
• Journalist IS. Tissainayagam has been held by the CD for over 100 days without being charged. Journalist Parameshwari, who was released by the courts is being still addressed as a terrorist by leader of the government.
• Peaceful protests organised in line with the right to free expression being subject to attacks in Chilaw and Colombo.
The representatives of the media organizations who stressed the need to uphold the media freedom which is an integral part of the democracy promised to support any campaign to pass legislations for media freedom, to implement the 17 amendments to the constitution, to guarantee free and fair elections, to protect trade union rights and to abolish the executive presidency.
UNP Parliamentarian Ravi Kanrnanayake said that there was a plan now to change the manage¬ment of media institutions to make them, loyal to the government.
The media organisations said that when the Free Media Move¬ment met with the President and called for the implementation of the right to information bill, the Presi¬dent had responded by saying it could not be done at a time the country was fighting a war.
Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Rauf Hakeem said that the President’s response was unacceptable and that most countries engaged in warn fol¬low free policies. He reiterated the importance of implementing the right to information bill.
Leader of the Left Front Wickremabahu Karunaratne said that discus¬sions could not be held with repre¬sentatives of a government that was engaged in media suppression.
Minister Dalals Alahappenima, who denied the allegation that the government was suppressing the media, said a min¬isterial subcommittee has been ap¬pointed to address the grievances of the media personnel and that from Friday (20), the committee would meet and decide the solu¬tions to most of the problems.
. The representative of the UNP Democratic faction Minsiter Rajitha Senaratne said that he in no way endorsed the suppression of the me¬dia and that he and several other members in the government have already raised a voice against the issue.
The media organizations accepted the appointment of a ministerial subcommittee as a positive approach to the issue but expressed concern for the failures of the committees appointed by the government. They pointed out that the sub committee inquiring into the incident at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation that failed to submit a preliminary report was one such. They stressed that the ministerial sub committee should build confidence with the parties concerned through its progress. The media organizations requested the sub committee to consider the recommendations of the R.K.W.Gunasekara committee appointed by the People’s Alliance Government of 1995 and the Sidath Sri Nandalochana committee.
Ven. Dayarathana Thero said that the media needs to be more thoughtful when highlighting sen¬sitive issues.
The United National Party, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Sri Lanka Freedom Party ( People’s Wing) Ceylon Workers Congress, Jathika Hela Urumaya, Lanka Samasamaja Party, Upcountry People’s Front, Western People’s Front, United Socialist Front, the Left Front, and the Leftist United Front, that attended the meeting agreed to implement a common programme to protect media freedom and the media personnel.
They decided to issue a joint declaration and to organise a public rally with the participation of the political parties concerned.
JVP that forwarded an excuse letter for their absence from the meeting due to unavoidable circumstances reiterated their commitment to the media freedom and the protection of media personnel.
The Tamil National Alliance informed that they were not in a position to attend the meeting well in time.
(The minutes of the meeting prepared by our organizations was not subjected to the approval of any political party)