IFJ Fears Press Freedom in Sri Lanka Heading Backwards

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned over recent events in Sri Lanka that indicate the press freedom situation is deteriorating.

“The recent closure of some satellite services by the government and a decision to bring back a state media regulatory body, as well as the continued accusations by members of government and the media against Tamil journalists and their supposed sympathisers are all worrying indications that press freedom in Sri Lanka is heading in a backwards direction,” IFJ President Christopher Warren said.

The Free Media Movement’s (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, submission to the Inaugural Session of the UN Human Rights Council is particularly alarming, documenting numerous instances of journalists being assaulted, harassed and threatened, and citing continued attacks on press freedom in Sri Lanka over the last six months.

“The IFJ strongly supports the efforts of the FMM and other media organisations and unions who continue to struggle to ensure journalists’ are able to report on the conflict in a fair and unbiased manner,” said Warren, “and we send a clear message to those who seek to intimidate, threaten or harm members of the media that the world journalistic community is watching.”

On June 6, the government stopped private satellite station CBN Sat. from broadcasting. A week later, another satellite server, LBN services, was closed down. These closures restrict Sri Lankans from accessing international news and entertainment, which provides an important viewpoint considering the political bias of state and privately owned media within Sri Lanka.

At the same time, the state is increasing its hold over the media, with the Minister for Information Mr. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa announcing, on June 22, the reintroduction of the Sri Lanka Press Council and with it, state controlled regulation of the media.

The Press Council Act prevents the media from publishing a range of information, such as cabinet documents, and its reintroduction jeopardises journalists’ right to freedom of expression and the public’s right of access to information.

“The IFJ calls on the Sri Lankan government to reconsider its decision to reintroduce the Press Council Act, and instead establish democratic and fair methods to strengthen independent media in Sri Lanka,” IFJ President Christopher Warren said.

Meanwhile, hate speech against Tamil journalists and so-called sympathisers to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continues to grow.

“Journalists play a key role in creating dialogue between the LTTE and the government and, by doing so, help to bring about a negotiated peace settlement,” Warren said. “We urge all parties to ensure this crucial role is not compromised.”

For more information please contact IFJ Asia Pacific +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries