For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Press release/ 03 May 2011
Networking for Rights, the network of exiles for media freedom and human rights in Sri Lanka calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to re-establish the peoples’ right to information by restoring their right to the freedom of expression in order to debate and discuss one of the most important issues facing Sri Lanka today - accountability to what happened during the last phase of war.
The report of the Panel of Experts of the UN Secretary General on accountability during the war in Sri Lanka which was released officially on 25th April 2011, has already generated diverse views and opinions, locally and internationally.
While the government of Sri Lanka has rejected the report as biased and fundamentally flawed, Tamil political parties have welcomed the report and requested that its recommendations be implemented. Some political parties have raised the issue of re-establishing the rule of law and addressing the ethnic conflict as a response to the report. Some civil society groups too have raised the issue of accountability as a necessary pre- condition for any reconciliation.
The people of Sri Lanka have a right to know the diverse views and opinions on this issue as well as on other issues to make informed judgments. Generally, opinions that differ from that of the government and particularly opinions of Tamil political parties, do not get effective coverage in the Sinhala mainstream media.
In Sri Lanka, independent media remains unofficially gagged or strict self censorship imposed. Persistent intimidations and threats to media have resulted in influential electronic media institutions also having to follow the official line. Since most resources are at the disposal of the State media today, it has become the propaganda machine of members of the ruling party. Consequently, it has lost its role as an independent public service media. The promise to re-establish freedom of information by the enactment of legislation to that effect has gone the same way as the promise to uphold the rule of law.
Independent and critical internet news sites remain banned. Sinhala and Tamil language journalists and media personnel are not poorly paid. Sri Lanka holds the record as the country in South Asia where media professionals are paid the lowest. Private media does not permit any unions within their institutions. The community of journalists in the country is the lowest professionals sector which does not have a union. All these factors contribute to unbalanced, one sided and biased media coverage on politically sensitive and important issues.
Post-war Sri Lanka has been at cross roads with regard to the rule of law, justice and equality on the one hand and autocracy, injustice and inequality on the other. The Report of the UN Panel of Experts has highlighted these issues in the way of accountability. No country which emerges from decades of war can create genuine sustainable peace unless it confronts the truth and addresses the issues concerned. Today Sri Lanka needs a free media environment to debate, discuss and decide on issues of accountability including rule of law.
On the occasion of the World Press Freedom day, NfR calls upon local and international democratic forces to focus on the right to the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka as one of the most important issues that needs to be re-established. The government of Sri Lanka must address this issue urgently by introducing political and legal reforms in accordance with international standards.
Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka