The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly decries a warning issued by Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary that foreign media organisations would face “dire consequences” and be “chased out” of the country if they did not behave “responsibly”.
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa accused three international news organisations - CNN, Al-Jazeera and the BBC- on February 1 of partisan reporting on the situation regarding civilian casualties and suffering in areas of conflict between government forces and Tamil separatist insurgents, according to news reports.
Rajapaksa also reportedly targeted foreign diplomatic staff and international non-government organisations, which he suggested were giving the insurgency by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) undue sustenance at a time when the LTTE was facing decisive defeat.
“The IFJ deplores this effort to threaten and intimidate foreign media organisations in Sri Lanka. It is an extension of the pattern of official attitudes toward local media, with the specific intent of silencing all independent sources of information on which the public and international community depend,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.
“The IFJ reminds the Defence Secretary and all other officials in Sri Lanka’s Government that the public in Sri Lanka and elsewhere has the right to be informed, through independent reporting, of the humanitarian consequences of ongoing military operations.”
The IFJ notes that the Government has blocked independent access by local and foreign media to the country’s war zones. Any “misinformation” that may exist is a consequence of the Government’s decision to curtail media access to the war zones.
“The IFJ has strongly pressed the case for unfettered media access in the areas in the north of the country where hostilities have been under way for several months,” White said.
Rajapaksa’s warning comes as a sharp deterioration in the media freedom environment in Sri Lanka over the past month coincides with the Government claiming its most significant successes in the country’s long-running civil war.
A climate of anxiety now pervades the local media, and several of Sri Lanka’s most well-known journalists have left the country fearing for their lives.
“Sri Lanka’s Government and authorities are reminded that United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738 obliges all states to be aware that the targeting of journalists in situations of armed conflict is a violation of international humanitarian law,” White added.
The IFJ calls on all members of Sri Lanka’s Government to act decisively to end the campaign of intimidation of local and foreign media, and to acknowledge the right of citizens to free and fair access to diverse sources of information about matters of extreme importance to all Sri Lankans.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries