The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is disturbed to learn that the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) has been blocking and in other ways interfering with BBC World Service programs that SLBC has contracted to carry over its FM channels.
The SLBC and the BBC have had a contractual relationship whereby the latter provides programming in English, Sinhala and Tamil for rebroadcast through the former’s FM channels. According to a press release issued by the BBC, the SLBC - Sri Lanka’s national broadcaster - has been blocking and in other ways interfering with these broadcasts, in violation of the agreed contractual terms.
Between November 27 and early January, there were reportedly 17 cases of the BBC Tamil broadcast being blocked or interfered with in other ways. The BBC Sinhala service recorded eight such instances.
A formal protest seemingly made no substantive difference, following which the BBC suspended its programming for the SLBC, effective today.
“The IFJ believes that if the BBC is deemed good for delivering news and information to the Sri Lankan audience in times of peace, it should also be deemed good in a time of war,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.
“The SLBC should fully honour its contractual commitments. This manner of picking and choosing what broadcasts it would like to carry in accordance with the convenience of the moment is contrary to all notions of the right to free speech and the public right to information.”
The BBC’s action comes at a time when reporting by local and foreign media on the war in Sri Lanka is under intense attack from senior government ministers who allege partisan reporting on the situation regarding civilian casualties and suffering in areas of conflict between government forces and Tamil separatist insurgents.
On February 1, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa warned that foreign media organisations would face “dire consequences” and be “chased out” of the country if they did not behave “responsibly”. He singled out CNN, Al-Jazeera and the BBC.
Several of Sri Lanka’s most well-known journalists have left the country fearing for their lives following the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor in chief of the Sunday Leader, on January 8.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries