For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

Gang torches Sri Lanka broadcaster’s office

30 Jul 2010 11:Source: Reuters
By Ranga Sirilal and Dinuka Liyanawatte

COLOMBO, July 30 (Reuters) – An unidentified gang set fire to a Sri Lankan broadcaster owned by a businessman who had backed the opposition in a presidential election, destroying its main control room, police said on Friday.

The arson attack on the Siyatha media group forced broadcasting to stop and hurt at least one person, police and a witness said. Siyatha has a TV channel and three radio stations.

A witness said the gang held one journalist and a news editor at gunpoint before burning the control room.

“Once the gang left, I saw the security guard had fallen unconscious with blood on his head,” said a Siyatha journalist who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal. “They just came, attacked, burnt and went within 15 minutes.”

The attack echoed one that destroyed the main control room of the island nation’s largest private broadcaster MBC/MTV, viewed by the government as a pro-opposition outlet.

Siyatha was a pro-government media channel, but its owner backed the opposition at the last presidential polls, in which President Mahinda Rajapaksa was overwhelmingly re-elected.

The owner has since left the country and his brother was at the time the head of the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, but was replaced soon afterward.

Later, the government stopped all advertising from state institutions to the broadcaster, forcing financially-hit Siyatha to close down a weekly newspaper.

Rights group blame Sri Lanka’s government for tolerating or orchestrating attacks on media institutions and the harassment, assault or even the murder of journalists deemed critical of it.

Rajapaksa has vowed to bring perpetrators to justice, but so far no one has been held accountable for dozens of attacks. (Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Bryson Hull and Sanjeev Miglani)

July 2010
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