For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Sri Lanka’s eight main media organisations once again reiterated their vehement opposition to the establishment of the government appointed Press Council and condemned moves to reintroduce dormant legislation that provides for wide ranging punitive powers including that of jailing journalists.
The Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, Muslim Media Forum, South Asian Free Media Association (Sri Lanka Chapter) and the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions unequivocally objected to the government initiatives to reactivate the Press Council, after ten years.
The above-mentioned media associations comprise the entire spectrum of professionals in the media industry in Sri Lanka, viz., the publishers, editors, journalists and workers and are united in their opposition to this draconian piece of legislation that empowers government appointees to punish journalists selectively, they said.
The government has been unable to legally constitute the Press Council because of this united opposition by all the main professional associations in the media in Sri Lanka.
“On several previous occasions, our organisations have jointly and severally appealed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, both officially and informally, not to proceed with the Press Council but to permit the industry-driven self-regulatory Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL) to continue with its work in addressing complaints from the public, including those of government ministers and officials through a process of arbitration, mediation and conciliation.
“Since its establishment in 2003, the PCCSL has dispensed with over 900 complaints from the public at large through an independent Dispute Resolution Council chaired from its inception by the respected former Secretary General of Parliament, Mr. Sam Wijesinha. “This process incurs no financial burden on either the complainant or the State. The PCCSL is also the implementing arm of the Code of Professional Practice drafted by The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka, and conducts regular training programmes for provincial journalists throughout the country.
“It is disconcerting to note that instead of strengthening self-regulation, President Rajapaksa and his government have reneged on their previous promises and opted to re-activate the Sri Lanka Press Council Law No. 5 of 1973 with powers to imprison and fine journalists, which will have a chilling effect on media freedom in Sri Lanka. These organizations demand from President Rajapaksa an immediate halt to on-going moves to re-activate the Press Council and urge a dialogue with all stake-holders on this urgent issue,” the organizations said in a joint statement.