Rumoured defence regulations threaten press freedom

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today supported a call from its affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM) for the Sri Lankan government to deny it is planning restrictive new regulations for the coverage of defence matters.

The new regulations purportedly attempt to prohibit investigative reporting about all matters relating to defence procurement. Recently the issue has received international attention due to the work of defence correspondent and assistant editor of The Sunday Times, Iqbal Athas, whose exposure of a major arms deal with the Ukrainian Government led to threats against his life.

The already oppressive environment in Sri Lanka makes media freedom and free speech in Sri Lanka difficult and physically dangerous. The IFJ shares the FMM’s concerns that new regulations may be used as an instrument to silence the media and forestall investigations into allegations of government corruption, bribery and malpractice.

“The new regulations, if confirmed, would be a grave violation of Sri Lanka’s international responsibilities,” said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park. “Through the work of journalists like Iqbal Athas, Sri Lanka can continue its path towards transparency and a free media culture.”

Following a protest from the FMM, Cabinet Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella today issued a denial that new regulations were being considered. However, he indicated that the government already believes it has the power to block journalists reporting on matters of defence procurement.

The Sri Lankan government must act to ensure the safety and freedom of journalists working in Sri Lanka. The IFJ calls on the Sri Lankan government to allow journalists to continue their work in uncovering corruption or malpractice without hindrance.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries