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security was withdrawn and senior government figures launched a hate campaign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