For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Press Release. 09/04/2011
The Free Media Movement (FMM) is deeply concerned about recent government moves to ostracise the independent Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna and restrict its coverage of state events, and views it as not only an attempt to suppress media freedom but also deprive the people of Jaffna their right to be informed.
According to information received by the FMM, the Jaffna Municipal Council has prohibited all government offices, departments and establishment, including libraries, from subscribing or purchasing the Uthayan newspaper and has ordered government officials not to invite any journalists from the newspaper to cover state events, interact with the journalists, provide any information or send press releases.
The Uthayan newspaper is one of the very few independent voices in Jaffna respected for its unbiased stance. It has given equal space for government news and dissenting views. During the war and despite numerous restrictions and safety issues, the paper continued its publication, often being the only sources of information to the Jaffna populace.
Over the years, the Uthayan staff, including its editor, has been under constant attack. Several of its journalists have been killed and more have been threatened with death. The office has been attacked time and again and its editor has not left the premises in over four years. The distributors of the newspaper have also been under constant attack.
More recently, unidentified persons riding motorcycles have issued notice to the staff warning them against publishing reports and photographs not favourable to the government or politicians affiliated with the ruling United People’s Freedom Party. Journalists were also warned against covering the funeral of V. Prabakharan’s mother and the subsequent desecration of the grave.
Undeterred by the threats and attacks, the Uthayan newspaper continued to be published, frequently reporting on events other mainstream newspapers overlook or censor and as a consequence has become the lifeline for information of events happening in the North for the Jaffna populace.
However, the latest attempt by the Jaffna Municipal Council to ban the newspaper from all government establishments and deny its reporters access to information, most of which has an impact on the day to day life of the Jaffna citizens, comes at a time when the security situation in the Peninsular has deteriorated and the people are being subjected to numerous hardships.
The FMM believes banning the Uthayan newspaper from government office and denying its staff access to information, is a serious violation of the democratic right of the people to be informed. It also impedes their rights to make informed decisions.
Information, especially information that impacts the day to day life of a person is not a commodity that a state body can use to penalise those they are displeased with. Furthermore, the Jaffna Municipality is an elected body and is therefore answerable to the people who elect its members. It has no right, legal or moral to decide on which newspaper government offices should subscribe to and which journalists should be privy to official information.
The FMM, while unequivocally condemning the decision of the Jaffna Municipal Council, fears that given the existing security situation, the move may be the beginning of an all out attempt to silence the independent Jaffna media.
It also highlights the serious threat to media freedom in Sri Lanka and showcases that the government rather than promoting media freedom and democracy, is actively promoting media suppression depriving the people of their right to know. The FMM, urges the Jaffna Municipal Council to reconsider its directive and calls upon all citizens who treasure the freedoms that democracy entails to rise against this injustice.