Sri Lankan Government Must Reconsider Move to Introduce Ethics Code for Media

Media release: Sri Lanka

June 14, 2013

 

 

The International Federation of Journalists

(IFJ) joins partners and affiliates in Sri Lanka in calling on the Government

of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to reconsider its move to introduce a code of ethics for the

country’s media.

 

Early in June, the Ministry of Mass Media and

Information in the GoSL introduced a three-thousand word document titled “Code

of Media Ethics” in Parliament. There is as yet no official explanation on the

exact status of this code. Media commentary in Sri Lanka though sees this

initiative by the GoSL as the prelude to enforcing an intrusive set of norms that

could considerably worsen the environment for free journalistic practice.

 

The Sri Lanka Press Councils Act of 1973 has a

provision which enables the government to notify a code of ethics for the

media. A code was in fact introduced in 1981 though never enforced since the

Press Council itself lapsed into a phase of inactivity. The newly introduced

code is seen by media observers in Sri Lanka as a refurbished version of the

1981 version, though this has not been acknowledged by the GoSL.

 

The introduction of this code comes in the

wake of the revival of the Press Councils Act in 2010, despite serious concerns

among Sri Lanka’s journalists about its many harsh provisions, including the

power to prosecute under criminal law for any perceived violation of the laws

in force.

 

Despite active government efforts to

reconstitute the Press Council as a functioning body, it remained inactive for

long, since few journalists were willing to accept the invitation to join. This

changed in 2012 and in October, the Press Council issued a directive that was

promptly acceded to by the Sunday Leader,

to publish an apology for a story it had done on the Defence Secretary in the

GoSL.

 

This newly introduced code covers the print

and electronic media, news websites and advertisements published in all forms

of media. It incorporates strong language requiring that it should be “honoured

in letter and spirit” and introduces thirteen specific grounds on which media

content could be prohibited. Well over half of the code deals with explicit

prohibitions on advertisement content. Many of its clauses are vaguely phrased

and would allow for broad interpretations.

 

The IFJ observes that the Press Complaints

Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL) which is in its tenth year of fairly successful

operation, has been promoting self regulation and a Code of Professional

Practice written up by the Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka. This code is reviewed

every two years and is adopted by the independent print media and online

newspapers.

 

“We fail to see how the GoSL effort to

introduce a media code to supersede the existing practices in the profession

will contribute to the public interest”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

 

“From our partners and affiliates in Sri

Lanka, we gather in fact, that the immediate priority lies elsewhere: in reforming

the government-owned media so that it functions truly as a public service”.

 

“Much of the deterioration of the media

environment in Sri Lanka today could be attributed to the government’s tendency

to use the platforms it controls for launching partisan political attacks

against opponents and the independent media. This has created a climate in

which the news websites have felt themselves free of any obligation to play by

a fair set of rules”.

 

“We urge the GoSL to withdraw the proposed

code of ethics and instead lend its support to the professional code drawn up

by the Editors’ Guild and endorsed by IFJ partners and affiliates”.

 

 

For

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

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