Sri Lanka Government Must Explain Defence Minister's Comments



The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Free Media Movement (FMM), in calling on Sri Lanka’s Government to explain chilling and inflammatory statements by Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary suggesting independent media should be prevented from running reports allegedly detrimental to the security forces.


The Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was quoted in a local newspaper calling for the ban and alleging that critical media reports amount to treason.


Rajapaksa has made a series of anti-media comments last year and early this year in response to media reportage with which he disagrees, including reports about civilian war casualties.


His latest reported call for a media ban follows another public attack by the Defence Ministryon Iqbal Athas, defence correspondent for The Sunday Times.


According to the FMM, an article published on the ministry’s website on World Press Freedom Day on May 3 accused Athas of bias toward the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in his coverage of the latest clash between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army. The article accuses Athas of “misleading the public”, intending to demoralise troops and promoting “terrorist” propaganda.


In September 2007, Athas’s security was withdrawn and senior government figures launched a hate campaign against him after Athas wrote an investigative report on a multi-million-dollar MiG-27 attack aircraft purchase involving government officials. In October, the Defence Ministry accused Athas of assisting the LTTE in psychological warfare operations. 


The IFJ and the FMM unequivocally condemn the Defence Secretary’s statements and the Government’s “naming and shaming” of journalists who report in the public interest.


The IFJ joins the FMM in seeking urgent clarification from the Government and the President about the Defence Secretary’s comments.


“The Defence Secretary must be held accountable for his words and reined in. Independent media today faces unprecedented challenges in Sri Lanka in the pursuit of accurate, responsible and impartial journalism. Sadly, the most significant of them come from the Government in the South,” the FMM said in a statement.


The IFJ reminds the Government that all complaints about media coverage, including complaints made by the Government, must be processed through appropriate mediatory channels.


“The IFJ has repeatedly asked Sri Lanka’s Government to stop the war on journalists in Sri Lanka,” said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park. “The Government may disagree with claims made by journalists, but it has no right to provoke hatred and endanger the lives of journalists and media workers with inflammatory comments.”


For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919


The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries