The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates the Sri Lankan Working Journalist Association (SLWJA) and the Free Media Movement (FMM), along with the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), in strongly objecting and condemning the Sri Lankan President’s decision to reactivate the controversial Press Council.
On July 2, 2015 Sri Lanka’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, reactivated the country’s Press Council by appointing new members by his executive decision. The Council is established under the 1973 Press Council Law that provides wide ranging punitive powers to the body including imprisoning media personnel.
The Council, which had been used by the previous government against media and journalists, had stopped functioning after election of Sirisena as new president on January 8, 2015.
The SLPI called the decision illegal and completely opposite to the election promises to stop direct and indirect threats and intimidation against media personnel and their owners.
The SLWJA said: “We strongly object and condemn to the reactivation of the Press Council. The action is a step back in the reforms that had taken place since January and a major concern for Sri Lanka’s media freedom.”
The SLPI said: “President Sirisena has proceeded to illegally re-constitute the Press Council’s tribunal without even the basic courtesy of consulting stakeholders as he is, in any event, bound to do by law under sections 3(b)(i) and 3(b)(ii) of the Press Council law.”
An International Media Mission to Sri Lanka in May 2015 had recommended the government to repeal the Press Council Law and abolishment of the government-controlled Press Council. The IFJ, the FMM and the SLWJA alongside other media rights organizations in the Mission had called on the government to take steps to ensure that there is an independent and effective system to address complaints regarding the professional conduct of both the print and broadcast sectors.
The IFJ said: “It’s unfortunate that the Sri Lankan government is stepping backward on press freedom. The resumption of the draconian Press Council is a decision that violates the basic principles of the media rights in a democracy, and is contrary to promises made by the new government after election of Maithipala Sirisena.”
The IFJ urge President Sirisena to immediately revoke the decision, and repeal the Press Council law.
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