For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The legality of the Press Council was raised by Counsel appearing for the editor of the Sunday Times, when a complaint made against the newspaper was brought before it on Tuesday.
Mr. S.L Gunasekera, Senior Counsel for the editor, raised a preliminary objection on the jurisdiction of the Press Council when a complaint made by Mr. Lakshman Hulugalle against a news feature published in the Sunday Times was taken up for argument.
Mr. Gunasekera said that the Press Council was not legally constituted under the provisions of the Press Council Law of 1973 because two members who are to represent the professional journalists and workers in media establishments were not legally appointed. He said, in view of this, the Council was not properly constituted under the provisions of the law.
He further stated that the Councilís members were also not gazetted, and the public was unaware of the constitution of the Councilís members.
He pointed out that even when a sitting judge was transferred from one jurisdiction to another, the transfer was gazetted.
Chairman of the Press Council W. Dayaratne said that the Councilís quorum was five members and they had five members appointed but that one of the members had declined to sit in a case against the Sunday Times. Mr. Gunasekera said that for one thing there were only four members hearing the complaint so that did not constitute a quorum anyway, and that a quorum of five would only be legal after the full Council had been constituted.
He said that a quorum of five cannot be met with only some members of the Council being appointed because the law says that, apart from the Director of Information who is a government nominee, there shall be six others, two of whom shall be selected from a panel of nominees from media associations and trade unions.
Following these preliminary objections, the parties agreed that written submissions be filed by 10 June.
Shortly afterwards, a complaint against the Lanka newspaper was taken up. The newspaper took up the position that the Press Council was illegal. The editor of the newspaper, Chandana Sirimalwatta protested and left the inquiry without making any further submissions.