We, the leaders and representatives of journalists’ associations and trade unions in the Asia-Pacific region meeting in Hong Kong on 12-13 February 2009, express our deepest concern over continuing violations of media rights in Sri Lanka, and call on Sri Lanka’s Government to uphold the law and live up to its responsibilities.
We note that an already bad situation for the media in Sri Lanka has turned markedly worse in 2009, with the murder of prominent editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, an arson attack on the facilities of independent broadcaster Sirasa TV, a knife attack on a newspaper editor and his wife, and continuing verbal threats by ministers and other senior government members directed against journalists and media workers. Several of Sri Lanka’s most well-known journalists have left the country fearing for their lives.
On February 1, the Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, issued a warning that foreign media organisations would face “dire consequences” and be “chased out” of the country if they did not behave “responsibly”. He accused three international news organisations in particular of partisan reporting on the situation regarding civilian casualties and suffering in areas of conflict between government forces and Tamil separatist insurgents.
However, limited information about the harsh realities of the war in Sri Lanka is due to the Army’s ban on media personnel entering areas of conflict. We therefore demand that Sri Lanka’s Government allow journalists access to these areas.
We remind the Prime Minister, 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.
We are alarmed to learn that the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) has blocked BBC World Service programs that it was contracted to carry over its FM channels. Between November 27 and early January, there were reportedly 17 cases of the BBC Tamil language broadcast being blocked or interfered with. The BBC Sinhala service recorded eight such instances. With formal protests having no substantive effect, the BBC suspended its programming for the SLBC, effective February 10.
In January, Sri Lanka’s Defence spokesman urged journalists in Sri Lanka to inform authorities about what he described as “suspicious activities” by fellow journalists. Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella was reported in local media on January 23 to have called on "journalists and all those attached to media organisations … to be vigilant about those who enter the media field”. He asked journalists to report “any person who appears suspicious".
Rambukwella reportedly asked journalists to help in apprehending cadre of the insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who he alleged are “moving about in the guise of journalists”.
We deplore efforts by Sri Lankan government officials to recruit journalists into a witch-hunt. We affirm our conviction that the role of journalists is to report all sides, fairly and accurately, without fear or favour.
We express our deep concern that several of the journalists who have recently been forced into exile have been directly threatened by people holding senior positions in the Government and the Sri Lankan security services.
Meanwhile, we continue to condemn the detention and trial of senior journalist J.S. Tissanayagam, who has been held in detention since March 2008, and is currently being tried on terrorism charges. Tissanayagam’s charges refer to the content of his journalistic work.
We underline our solidarity with the five main bodies of journalists in Sri Lanka: the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions (FMETU), the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA).
This coalition of organisations should be strengthened and allowed to operate in an environment free from fear, in the wider cause of press freedom and the public right to know.
Signed by leaders of the following organisations, in Hong Kong for the regional meeting of IFJ Asia-Pacific:
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI)
All India Newspaper Employees Federation (AINEF)
Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ)
Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ)
Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, New Zealand (EPMU)
Federation of Media Employee’s Trade Unions (FMETU)
Free Media Movement (FMM)
Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ)
Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA)
Indian Journalists Union (IJU)
Journalists’ Association of Korea (AJK)
National Union of Journalists, Malaysia (NUJM)
Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA)
Minpo Rorem, Japan
Nepal Press Union (NPU)
National Union of Journalists (India) (NUJI)
National Union of Journalists, Nepal (NUJN)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA)
UNI Global Union
United Confederation of Mongolian Journalists (CMJ)
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries