For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
More news websites were blocked yesterday as the Government said those carrying news relating to Sri Lanka should register with it – prompting strong protests by the main opposition United National Party.
Following the ban on lankaenews website, the government yesterday blocked SriLankaguardian.com, paparaci.com, gossip9.com, srilankamirror.com and lankawaynews.com., which is the official website of the UNP.
Information Technology specialist Gihan Mendis said yesterday Sri Lanka did not have the resources to effectively block websites. A user could access any site simply by using a proxy, he said.
“A hi-tech facility to block a website will require a huge sum of money and we do not have the resources at Sri Lanka Telecom, unlike countries such as China and other developed nations,” he said.
Yesterday’s move came in the form of the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) blocking internet access from Sri Lanka. The ban on lankaenews.com prompted the US embassy in Colombo to express serious concern.
In a statement released to the media the embassy said: “While the embassy does not endorse the views of any particular media outlet, the US believes that a free and independent media is vital to ensuring the health and continuation of any democracy.
“Freedom of expression, including unfettered access to internet news websites, is a basic right which must be respected. We therefore call on the Sri Lankan authorities and the management of Sri Lankan telecommunication firms to stop activities aimed at blocking free access in Sri Lanka to all legitimate media websites, including lanka news.”
The UNP also reacted strongly to yesterday’s move. The party’s media manager Mangala Samaraweera said, “This is an undemocratic move. We will continue to campaign against such moves and even take legal action.”
He said that lankawaynews.com was the official website of the UNP. It was currently running on a trial basis and was due to be launched later this month.
“If the Government claims that there is intrusion into the private lives of certain individuals, then there are ways of taking legal action against those responsible. Also politicians must remember that since they are public figures and their actions affect the public they could come under close scrutiny. Even the decision for those carrying any content relating to matters in Sri Lanka to register with the authorities is absurd, and shows that the Government is paranoid,” Mr. Samaraweera said.