Written by Tharushan Fernando
30 Oct, 2015 | 6:42 pm
Freedom House, an independent watchdog organisation, in its annual report titled Freedom on the Net 2015, records a significant improvement in Sri Lanka’s internet freedom, access and penetration
The internet has been a rapidly spreading form of communication and a platform for expression globally, and Sri Lanka is not immune to its reach.
The summarizing numbers of the report state that, on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 being the most free, Sri Lanka scored a 47 which is a significant improvement from the 2014 report’s score of 58.
Sri Lanka has also recorded a 26% internet penetration which means there are approximately five million internet users in the country. Though this number is not completely satisfactory in comparison to a population of 20.7 million, it still shows the internet is reaching out in throughout the country.
With the defeat of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January, the media and the press were able to operate more freely – and the same can be said for the internet.
The new leadership was based on a commitment to fair and open society and in line with these assurances,websites that were previously inaccessible have been unblocked by May 2015.
The report notes that there is a greater freedom of access of internet for Sri Lanka. However, infrastructure is still in developing stages. The report highlights that concerns still exists regarding the transparency of the regulatory framework for ISPs and the independence of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC). Legal and regulatory reform is still essential in order to consolidate and create an opening for new found internet and media freedom
Internet penetration continues to increase, and is a result of affordable internet rates and with the increase use of smartphones.
However low digital literacy stands in the way of widespread ICT use. Internet penetration has gone up since 2013 from 22% to the current rate of 26% with growing demand of youth for online services and currently one out of five people in the country use smart devices and in early 2014 Sri Lanka’s mobile market surpasses the ‘100% subscriber penetration’ milestone according to the report.
According to the report, as a national regulatory body the TRC’s actions have lacked in terms of transparency and independence and over the year, the TRC’s intervention to restrict online content and pronouncement on strengthening online regulations have been partisan, extra legal and repressive.
The internet has also provided a platform for expression and is reflected in the nation’s significant level of digital activism and engagement on political issues. In 2014, the former President reaffirmed his intent to regulate social media and stated that the government would take the necessary steps to prevent the internet from spreading “political and social unrest” but under President Sirsena, no such attempts have been made to regulate social media.
The report also states that under the previous regime, authorities actively encouraged self-censorship “on matters that would damage the integrity of the island”. But under the leadership of President Sirisena, traditional and new media outlets have become more expressive and has the capacity to criticise on both sides of the political divide. This is a notable difference, since opinions and reports expressing criticism would not have been tolerated by the previous regime.
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