For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Press release/ 09 Nov 2011
Last Friday (04th November 2011) the Government of Sri Lanka took the unprecedented step of demanding that all internet based web sites which cover Sri Lanka news and views should register with the information ministry. Sending a strong message of intended action against websites which do not register in accordance with the directive of the GOSL official internet provider, Telecom and its subsidiary Mobitel blocked seven web sites immediately without any prior warning. These two providers cover more than 80% of internet connections in the country.
In Sri Lanka internet was becoming the widespread and uncontrolled free space to voice critical and probing news and opinions against the present semi dictatorial rule of Rajapaksha clan. In general electronic media in Sri Lanka – both TV and Radio –has become his master’s voice. Few print media has been able to remain independent with self censorship has becoming the catch word among print media journalists. Social media and web based news sites are popular among the Sri Lankans in spite of their location and NfR Sri Lanka considers this internet censorship as a further extension of arresting free expression in Sri Lanka.
Registering its strong condemnation of these draconian media directive NfR Sri Lanka, NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders, express its hope that alternative internet media reporting on Sri Lanka will take up the challenge thrown by the GOSL and continue its work.
The websites blocked since last Friday include http://www.srilankamirror.com/english/ ; http://www.srilankaguardian.org/ ; http://www.lankanewsweb.com/english/ ; http://www.lankawaynews.com/ ; http://www.paparasinews.com/ ; and http://www.gossip9.com . http://www.lankaenews.com/English/ news site was blocked by the same internet provider weeks earlier. Although most of these sites publish news and views in all three languages (Sinhala, Tamil and English) of the country, their main audience has been the Sinhala community. The selection of the sites to be banned as a warning shows that at this moment the focus of GOSL media censorship is on the South if Sri Lanka.
The Second biggest political party in the country the United National Party made a statement that the site http://www.lankawaynews.com/ is its new web site and was on a test run before being launched officially. The web sites Lanka e News, Sri Lanka Guardian and Lanka News Web are operated form abroad. Sri Lanka Mirror site does not show any overt political applications and cover new form all sides. Taken together these news sites provided popular and 7/24 alternative news and views on social, political and economic development of Sri Lanka.
According to the media ministry directive : ”If the content of a publication on a website is deemed to be a potential violation of the privacy of an individual, such publication positively goes against the accepted norms and noble ethics of a responsible media practice.
Such slanderous publications should not only be discouraged, but also acts of this nature would have to be effectively prevented in the interest of the general public.”
If the GOSL is serious in implementing its veiled threat that ”acts of this nature would have to be effectively prevented” first of all it should close down all state controlled media outlets. It is a well known fact that it is State controlled media that continues to publish and air slanderous news and opinions, often resulting in those such tarnished having to face life threatening situations. NfR is ready to provide evidence of news and opinions published by the state media in recent times. NfR is of the opinion that this government does not have any moral right to force media ethics upon anyone until and unless state media cleans up its act.
The directive further states: ”In view of the above, the Ministry of Mass Media & Information intends to request all news casting websites to maintain accepted ethical standards of Mass Media and conform to the laws of the country, in producing and publishing the contents of their websites, which are uploaded from Sri Lanka or elsewhere. Such websites are also requested to communicate with the Ministry of Mass Media & Information and register their accreditation at their earliest.”
NfR Sri Lanka views this so-called request as a directive without any legal basis. There is no law in the country under which internet based news and views sites have to register.
As mentioned in the earlier NfR Sri Lanka statement a new round of media control is in the offing in Sri Lanka. The clear target is the internet. In this context NfR calls upon national and international democratic forces to make fresh endeavours to find ways and means to defend and strengthen internet freedom in Sri Lanka and ensure its people have access to free and fair reportage.
Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka