Professional Journalism in Conflict: South Asian Editors in solidarity with beleaguered media in Sri Lanka

In response to the recent deterioration of the security situation in the country, which has contributed to an uncertain environment in which the media operates, a group of editors and journalists from South Asia is visiting Sri Lanka from October 23-25, 2006.


The Mission members included: Bharat Bhushan, Editor (Delhi), The Telegraph; Prateek Pradhan, Editor, The Kathmandu Post, Nepal; Mazhar Abbas, Bureau Chief, AFP, Karachi, and Secretary General of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists; K. Venkataramanan, Special Correspondent, The Pioneer, Chennai; Jacqueline Park, Director, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Asia Pacific; and Laxmi Murthy, IFJ Asia Pacific.


The Mission highlighted the grave situation faced by journalists in Sri Lanka and was a show of solidarity towards the media community that is working under tremendous stress.


The Mission shared experiences of reporting in conflict situations, encouraged the highest standards of professional and independent journalism in conflict, and advocated respect for independent media and journalists’ safety in Sri Lanka.


The Mission noted with deep concern that the escalation of violence between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has created a climate of insecurity and uncertainty for the media community. The silencing of voices from Tamil society, particularly the targeting and killing of Tamil media workers, must be condemned in no uncertain terms, and the perpetrators brought to justice.


Stressing the crucial importance of unity in the media community, the Mission was appreciative of the efforts of Sri Lankan journalists and media organisations including the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, Tamil Media Alliance and Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Union, in promoting press freedom and upholding journalists’ rights.


Recommendations:


Following intense discussions with editors and journalists in Colombo and telephonically in Jaffna, the Mission recommends:


End Attacks on Media Workers, in particular Tamil media

All threats, harassment, abductions and attacks against media workers and media outlets by the government, security forces, LTTE, political parties, paramilitary and militia groups must be halted forthwith. In particular, targeting of the Tamil language media, silencing these voices, and obstructing freedom of expression must immediately halt, and these attacks be dealt with under due process of law.


End Culture of Impunity: Investigate Murders of Media Workers

The government must conduct complete, transparent and timely investigations into the murder of media workers and death threats issued against media workers and their families, with an end to impunity for these acts. These investigations must include the murders of Subramaniyam Sugirdharajan, Suresh Kumar, Ranjith Kumar, Lakmal de Silva, Mariathas Manojanraj, Sathasivam Baskaran and Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, all of whom were killed in 2006. In continuation of the assurance to the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission on October 10, the South Asian Mission met the Government Defence Spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella and handed over a list of these cases (as well as the murders of Darmaratnam Sivaram and Relangi Selvarajah in 2005). Mr Rambukwella has given an assurance that these cases will be investigated, and the culprits brought to justice.


Assure Free and Safe Movement of Media Workers

The government, security forces and LTTE must allow media workers unrestricted access to all parts of the country, and ensure safe passage and mobility to all editors, journalists and media workers.


End Hate Speech

The Mission took serious note of the dangerous trend to publicly target and slander journalists and other members of the media in a manner likely to imperil their lives and those of their families. The Mission was particularly concerned about the use of parliamentary privilege in this regard and the government must take a clear stand in parliament against such attacks and in support of independence of media.


Promote Independent Media, End Censorship

The crucial role of the independent media in this environment, presenting diverse views and opinions of all ethnicities and social groups is imperative in the search for a just and sustainable peace. Exposing the humanitarian crisis - particularly in the north and east - is the responsibility of the media, which must not be restricted. All threats, intimidation and interference in editorial policy must immediately end, in order to promote public dialogue and representation of diverse views. In particular, the state-owned media must not be misused to represent only one point of view. State-controlled media must be transformed into genuine public service media in order to encourage fair and balanced representation.


Ensure Unimpeded Distribution of Newspapers

The Mission noted with concern that in the eastern provinces of Batticoloa and Ampara, all three privately owned Tamil newspapers are facing real difficulty in distribution due to the “ban” imposed, allegedly by para-military groups. This deliberate targeting and the consequent silencing of opposing views must be immediately tackled. Simultaneously, the stoppage of flights to the north has resulted in the complete halt of the distribution of Colombo-based newspapers. The shortage of newsprint creates a real apprehension that printing of newspapers in Jaffna will soon be impossible, The mission stressed the importance of allowing a free flow of news and views, and encouraging pluralism.


Reporting on Human Rights Violations and building partnership with civil society

The Mission also encouraged the media in Sri Lanka to report extensively on human rights violations, irrespective of religion or ethnicity, and build a partnership with civil society organisations advocating peace and reconciliation. This alone can increase the constituency for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Sri Lanka through a process of dialogue.


The Mission was organised by the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU), Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).


For more information contact:


Podalla Jayanta, Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association: +94-0773112649


Sunanda Deshapriya: sunanda@cpalanka.org, +94-0777312497


IFJ Asia Pacific: ifj@ifj-asia.org, +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries