October 20, 2005
Press freedom threatened during election campaign in Sri Lanka
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has labelled violence against Sri Lankan journalists in the lead up to the November elections as undemocratic.
Recent threats and attacks against the Sri Lankan press have lead to concern that campaigning political parties are once again resorting to their old tactics of intimidation to stifle public debate on election issues.
The IFJ, the global organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries, called the recent attack on the printing press of the two weekly publications The Sunday Leader and Irudina in Rathmalana, Colombo, a threat to both press freedom and to a fair and free election environment in the country.
On October 16, several armed persons entered the newspapers’ premises threatening to severely harm the manager if he continued to print the newspapers. They then set fire to bundles of returned newspapers, but the staff managed to extinguish the fire before it damaged the printing machine.
“Violent attacks against the media threaten accurate and fair coverage of the up coming election and should not be allowed to continue,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.
“The press must be free to report and comment on the upcoming election on November 17 without fearing hostility or threats to their organisations’ safety,” said the IFJ president.
“We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to protect its citizen’s democratic right to free and unbiased election coverage and to ensure the existence of a free media,” said Warren.
This is not the first time that the Sunday Leader, which has a history of being very critical towards the government and often advocates opposition political views, has come under attack. The newspaper and its editor Mr. Lasantha Wikramatunga have been harassed and threatened repeatedly in the past few years.
The IFJ is concerned that this attack will reinforce intimidation tactics used by political parties in previous elections to try and control the media. In the run up to the April 2004 election, journalists were threatened by representatives of political parties and the state-owned media were used as instruments of political propaganda in favour of the ruling UPFA party.
“Sri Lankan political parties need to allow the press the freedom to report fairly, and support, rather than threaten, the media so that it can move toward a more balanced and fair style of election coverage,” said Warren.
The IFJ condemns any actions that threaten the freedom and diversity of the Sri Lankan media and urges all political parties to respect press rights during the election campaign.
For more information please contact Christopher Warren +61 (0) 411 757 668
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries
Visit www.ifj-asia.org to read the IFJ Sri Lanka Capsule Report: General election violence and anti democratic media environment