Saturday, July 11, 2009



Sri Lanka is planning to revive the now defunct Press Council amid
continuing tension between the authorities and independent newspapers,
report the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters
Without Borders (RSF).

Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena confirmed on 24 June that the
government plans to resurrect the council, which was created in 1973 but
suspended in 2002.

The council has the powers to heavily fine journalists and publishers and
send them to prison. According to IFJ, the council can also prohibit some
content, such as internal government communications and stories that might
be deemed "prejudicial to national security."

"Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in Asia to decriminalise press
offences. Now the government wants to turn the clock back and impose
controls that that will be a permanent threat hanging over the media," said

According to CPJ, eight Sri Lankan media rights groups, including IFEX
member FMM, wrote a letter last week to President Mahinda Rajapaksa
condemning the council's comeback. "A media culture cannot be based on
slapping charges against journalists, fining them or sending them to jail.
Instead the modern world has accepted a self-regulatory mechanism by media
persons as the way forward," they wrote. The letter reminded the President
that he had himself defended the decriminalisation of press offences to
parliament in 2002.

According to RSF, the President's brother, Defence Minister Gotabaya
Rajapaksa, has publicly voiced regret that Sri Lanka abolished jail
sentences for press offences. He brought a libel suit against the Leader
Publications newspaper group that led to the group being ordered to publish
nothing about him. Nonetheless, "The Sunday Leader" published a profile of
him in May and as a result its editors have been ordered to appear in court
on a contempt charge later this month.

CPJ reports that the pressure on Sri Lankan journalists is as intense as it
was during the height of the war with the Tamil Tigers earlier this year;
many of them have stopped writing and others have fled the country. The
revival of the press council is not surprising, says CPJ, as it's "the sort
of tool we've seen in many countries where the government is intent on
silencing critics."

Abeywardena said the decision was taken after a parliamentary committee
"discovered" that the government was still paying for the council even
though it was not doing anything.

Related stories on
- Government revives harsh press law:

More on the web:
- With Press Council, Sri Lanka revives a repressive tool (CPJ):
- Press Council's restoration would be "dangerous step backwards" (RSF):
- Profile of Gotabaya Rajapaksa (The Sunday Leader):

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