Sack Sri Lankan Minister for Assault on Media Personnel

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Free Media Movement (FMM), to call for the prompt dismissal of Sri Lanka’s Labour Minister, Mervyn Silva, following his physical and verbal abuse of officials of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC).

According to news reports, Dr Silva assaulted SLRC’s news director, TMG Chandrasekara, at the premises of Sri Lanka’s main public television broadcaster on December 27, 2007. The assault was reportedly because the Minister was annoyed that offensive comments he had made at a rally were not broadcast.

The FMM said that SLRC journalists and staff resisted Dr Silva’s intimidation and abuse in a spontaneous demonstration of solidarity.

In view of well-documented prior instances of the Minister’s abuses against media personnel, the FMM and the IFJ are concerned that Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has made no effort to discipline Dr Silva.

Instead, the President is reported to have initiated a criminal investigation against SLRC media personnel and communicated to the broadcaster his displeasure at the live telecast of events involving Dr Silva at SLRC on December 27. As a result, SLRC’s news management imposed self-censorship in subsequent bulletins.

In a broader policy context, the FMM said this latest incident highlighted the critical need for legal and constitutional reforms to guarantee the independence and autonomy of state media, which have been commonly manipulated by power-holders for propaganda purposes.

The IFJ joins the FMM in urging the President to act in accordance with his acknowledgment in August 2007 of the need for reforms in state broadcasters, in line with a long-running campaign by the IFJ, local media and civil society to promote a genuine public service media in Sri Lanka, devoid of government control and political interference.

“Minister Silva’s the objectionable behaviour shows an alarming lack of respect for and understanding of the basic democratic principles of genuine public service media,” said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park. “The IFJ condemns in the strongest terms attempts by power-holders in Sri Lanka to manipulate and abuse public-owned and taxpayer-funded media institutions such as the SLRC.”

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

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries