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