For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
By Satarupa Bhattacharjya
Sri Lanka’s Mass Media and Information Ministry intends to bring in legislation for broadcast media, government officials said last week. The ministry has initiated drafting a bill seeking to create a development authority for the sector. “There are 52 channels in this country. We need a platform for them,” Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the Sunday Times last Friday. Human resource development and technological up gradation were necessary for existing radio and TV channels, he added.
Bureaucrats in Mr Rambukwella’s ministry told Sunday Times last Friday that “standardising” broadcast media through an institutional framework was the purpose behind the initiative. The officials said that a detailed draft, under preparation for the past two months would be sent to the law ministry and the Attorney-General’s department, once completed. Thereafter, the draft bill would be “forwarded to Parliament,” they added. According to Mr. Rambukwella, it could take up to six months for the draft to be finalised.
“We will also be speaking with different stakeholders,” the minister said, adding that his ministry was studying broadcast laws of other developing countries to draw from their experiences. To what extent would the draft bill then reflect current laws related to the broadcast sector in other countries? “We have our own understanding of the issue but we may also borrow a few ideas from laws of other developing countries,” Mr Rambukwella said. And, what would the bill be called? “It might be called Broadcasting Development Authority Bill,” the minister said.
Although he denied looking closely at Singapore’s Media Development Authority Act 2003, it was reported last month that the government was inspired in particular by that legislation which is considered draconian by liberal media watchers.Mr Rambukwella was also asked if the draft bill was being resurrected from the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Authority Bill that was drafted in 1997 by the Chandrika Kumaratunga government seeking to create a government-controlled body to regulate even privately-owned media. “I don’t know if my ministry had referred to any earlier drafts,” he said.
The minister repeated his answer when asked if his ministry had referred to a gazette notification for broadcast media that was reportedly promulgated by the Mass Media and Information Ministry in 2008.
In May 1997, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court had ruled that the then Sri Lanka Broadcasting Authority Bill was discriminatory in that it established different regulatory authority schemes for public and private broadcasters. While that draft bill had been put in the back-burner in subsequent years by governments, Mr Rambukwella seems eager to have contemporary legislation regulating traditional broadcasters (radio/TV) and new media (online). The print media is also under the scanner.
Mr. Rambukwella had announced at a public meeting in Kandy last month that the government would form a Media Development Authority (MDA) soon.
Director-general, Government Information department, Ariyarathna Athugala was reported to have been entrusted with the work of writing a draft MDA Bill but he declined to comment on the subject last week when the Sunday Times contacted him.