International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today released the report of a
press freedom mission to Sri
Lanka, identifying key challenges for the
country's journalists and media at the end of 25 years of internal conflict and
the inauguration of a new phase of political contests.
stakeholders who met with the mission during its visit to Sri Lanka in November identified
the current political circumstances as embodying numerous threats and
The entry of
a former army commander into the race for the Presidency next year has thrown
the contest open and provided an opportunity for local media to create more
space for itself. At the same time, the heightened intensity of the political
contest may also engender threats.
flashpoints have emerged in the always fraught relationship between the media
and political power-holders. Any form of reckoning with the tactical decisions
made during the final stages of the war earlier this year and the humanitarian
consequences is actively discouraged. Despite this element of coercion on the media,
this issue has been coming up in the campaign debates between rival candidates
for the presidency.
opposition's common candidate for the presidency, General Sarath Fonseka,
has made special mention about the abuses suffered by the media during the
years of war, especially in its final stages. If elected, he has committed
himself to addressing these abuses in a spirit of candour and reconciliation.
The media community is encouraged by these commitments, though certain among
them recall his own far from spotless record, especially when it involved media
criticism of his war-time role as Sri Lanka's army commander.
record of addressing past abuses has been dismal, with little progress recorded
in the investigation of the most conspicuous cases, including the murder of
Lasantha Wickramatunge in January 2009.
documents the current stage of the investigations into this and other cases. It
inquires into the conviction of J.S. Tissainayagam on terrorism charges and
examines the credibility of the prosecution case, especially in view of the
unconditional discharge of two of his co-accused.
In a climate
of intolerance, several journalists are being induced to give up efforts to
obtain redress for violations of their rights. The mission observed that
journalists are being required to withdraw applications under the fundamental
rights provisions of the Constitution merely to be set at liberty after
prolonged periods in wrongful detention. In the judgment of the mission, this
is a grossly unequal exchange.
by the Government to revive a coercive form of media regulation, embodied in a
1973 legislation, have been opposed by journalists and publishers, who have
renewed their commitment to a code of self-regulation.
report concludes with recommendations that would set the relationship between
the media and the Sri Lankan state on a different course. These include the
return of all exiled Sri Lankan journalists, the unfettering of state media
institutions so that they are able freely and fairly to report on the ongoing
election campaign, the conversion of these institutions into a public service
trust, the enactment of right to information legislation, and the addressing of
all past abuses in a spirit of truth and reconciliation.
the IFJ, the mission team included representatives of the International Press
Institute, Vienna (IPI) and International Media Support, Copenhagen (IMS).
financial support of the European Commission, IMS and UNESCO is acknowledged with thanks.
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The IFJ represents
over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries