Censorship Imposed on News Alerts by Sri Lanka’s Military Authorities

 

By – IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins affiliates in Sri Lanka in sharply denouncing the latest move towards news censorship in by the country’s authorities.

 

In a letter addressed to various news and media organisations, the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) a body which operates under Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence, has demanded that “any news related to national security, security forces, and the police should get prior approval from the MCNS before dissemination”.

 

The letter is signed by MCNS Director-General Lakshman Hulugalle and dated March 9. It will apply to all news alerts issued through text and SMS over the phone network.

 

Emergency regulations in force for much of Sri Lanka’s quarter-century long civil war allowed for prior censorship of news platforms. Since the lifting of the state of emergency in August 2011, there no longer appears to be a clear legal sanction for censoring news flows.

 

The MCNS directive follows an incident in the north of the country in which three soldiers of the Sri Lankan army were killed. Rumours soon emerged, suggesting that the insurgent army that had waged a quarter-century long civil war against the Sri Lankan government was regrouping. These rumours were soon dispelled by an official statement clarifying that the incident involved a soldier of the Sri Lankan army who had shot two colleagues before turning the gun on himself.

 

There were also news alerts that were sent out at the same time regarding a police officer being arrested while demanding a large bribe, and a botched abduction attempt involving personnel of the armed forces.

 

Sri Lanka’s Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, has warned that the MCNS directive could be the first step towards re-imposing a comprehensive regime of censorship over the media.

 

“We urge the Sri Lankan government to reconsider this move, which does little to rebuild an atmosphere of trust between the country’s ethnic communities after a quarter century of strife”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

 

“The Sri Lankan government should also be aware that the world is waiting in anticipation for it to initiate long overdue gestures of reconciliation that would contribute towards a long-term peace in the island-nation”.

 

“Yet far from implementing the comprehensive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) — a body appointed with a mandate from Sri Lanka’s President — the Government seems set upon a course of heightened confrontation”.

 

“We call on the Sri Lankan government to withdraw the latest moves towards censorship, and urge serious engagement with all representative bodies to see that the LLRC recommendations, which include significant measures on freedom of speech and the right to information, are implemented”.

 

 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950

 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

Advertisements

Sri Lanka blocks SMS on Independence Day

From an AFP news report:

“…..Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s telecom networks blocked text messaging on mobile phones as part of security measures for the national celebrations marking 60 years of independence from Britain, the phone operators said.

The main mobile service provider Dialog, in a message to its subscribers, said SMS (short message services) would not be available from 6.00 a.m. to noon, the duration of independence day festivities.

“We regret to inform subscribers that SMS services of all mobile operators will not be available…,” said the company, a unit of Malaysian Telekom.

Officials said Sri Lanka’s telecom regulator had ordered the suspension of SMS messages, fearing Tamil Tiger rebels could use them to scare people into staying away from celebrations.

Security has been raised to unprecedented levels across the country after a suicide bombing at the main railway station in the capital Colombo killed at least 12 people and injured more than 100.”

Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Executive Director of the highly respected and well known telecoms policy think tank Lirneasia had this to say about this most recent act of mindless censorship by the Rajapakse administration:

The lack of strong opposition to their censorious actions has now led the government to take another step: to shut down SMS use on Independence morning. Censorship is coming close to home.

Mobile or fixed phones (the million plus CDMA phones can also for this while people are moving around) can be used to convey messages and coordinate actions. So can SMS. If the government believes that SMS poses a security threat, it should come out and tell us exactly what that threat is, before shutting down a service we have paid for and are entitled to use.

The Telecommunications Act lays down specific provisions for these kinds of actions. I want to know whether these lawful provisions were followed. Were these provisions followed when the phone networks were shut down for long periods in the North and the East?

If not, the actions taken last night to shut down SMS were unlawful. The shutting down of the phone networks in the North and East were illegal. I believe that it is necessary to protest these unlawful and arbitrary actions if we are to prevent the extension of the Great Firewall to this country as well. Otherwise we will not end up like China; our fate will be that of Burma.