Reactivaction of Discredited Press Council Law a Step Backward for Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its

affiliate organisations in Sri Lanka – the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka

Working Journalists’ Association and the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade

Unions – in strongly condemning the Sri Lankan Government’s decision to revive

the Press Council that was established by an act of parliament in 1973.

 

The Sri Lankan Press Council Act of 1973 contains stringent

provisions, including the power to prosecute for contempt and sentence

journalists to extended periods in prison and to prohibit the publication of

certain kinds of content by the media, including:

 

­        Internal

communications of the government and the decisions of the Cabinet;

­        Matters

relating to the armed services that may be deemed prejudicial to national

security; and

­        Matters

of economic policy that could lead to artificial shortages and speculative

price rises.

 

The IFJ notes that four other professional organisations –

the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, the

Newspapers Society of Sri Lanka and the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka – joined

its affiliates in lodging a strong letter of protest with President Mahinda

Rajapakse on June 22 over this deeply worrying decision by his government.

 

“We applaud this demonstration of unity by the media

community of Sri Lanka and urge President Rajapakse to heed the warning that

the 1973 law represents a worrying retreat from an agreed compact that the

media is best served by self-regulation rather than a coercive imposition of

the government’s will,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan

White said.

 

“Clearly, the 1973 law is designed to protect governmental

privileges, rather than serve any public purpose, such as the right of the people

of Sri Lanka to be informed about the processes under which they are governed,”

White said.

 

The professional media organisations in Sri Lanka have recounted in their

letter to Rajapakse, that there was agreement between the media community and

the Government as far back as 1994 that the statutory provisions of the Press

Council law would be kept in abeyance and self-regulation instituted as the

more democratic process.

 

Further,

in 2003, as the then leader of the opposition, Rajapakse had spoken out against

stringent legal impediments to the free functioning of the media. He strongly

urged the passage of a law that made defamation a civil rather than a criminal

offence.

 

It was then

agreed by unwritten consent that the 1973 law would be scrapped. In line with

this compact, the Sri Lankan media community in 2003 joined forces to set up

the Sri Lanka Press Institute, which also established a Press Complaints

Commission to act as a body overseeing the ethical conduct of the media.

 

Sri Lanka’s media

community reminds Rajapakse of the need to honour this compact, and deplores

the decision to revive a lapsed piece of legislation without consulting major

stakeholders.

 

“We stand

by our colleagues in Sri

Lanka in this struggle to defeat the revival

of old habits of thought,” White said.

 

“We are

convinced that the spirit of unity they have shown in lodging their protest

with the President of Sri Lanka will provide a new impetus to the institutions

and processes of self-regulation that began in 2003.”

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents over 600,000 journalists in

120 countries worldwide