Independent Council for News Media Standards raises questions about media freedom

Independent Council for News Media Standards raises questions about media freedom

Written by Keshala Dias

04 Jul, 2017 | 9:22 pm

There have been a number of attempts to subdue the media, that came in the recent past, in various forms.One of the main promises given by the new government that came into power through the January 8 revolution, was that media freedom would be ensured.

However,  there are efforts to undermine this promise, as we speak.

A document titled the Independent Council for News Media Standards is currently in circulation.

Consultations and discussions regarding the draft of this document are already underway under Toby Daniel Mendel, a British and Canadian national and Dr. Pradeep N. Weerasinghe.

The draft has been prepared by Wijayananda Jayaweera, who is presently working as the World Bank Consultant to the Government of Sri Lanka.

The document which claims to safeguard media freedom and has been dubbed a first discussion draft contains a number of eyebrow raising points.

According to the document, the Independent Council for News Media Standards will be headed by a retired judge or a lawyer.

In addition, the Council is to be vested with powers to hold inquiries into violations of the codes of practices adopted by the Council and issue decisions in case of complaints.

The Council will not be subject to liability civil or criminals in a backdrop where even the Executive President of this country has proposed the removal of the immunity before the law.

All news outlets need to be registered with the council, with a spokesperson and an Editor in Chief being named during the registration. Such news media outlets are also expected to make a payment to the Council.

The Bill also grants the council powers to call for any information held by a news media outlet and also call on any journalist to produce any information in their possession.

Any news media outlets that refuses to comply with the Council could face a fine of upto one million rupees. In addition, any journalists who intentionally provide false information or fails to appear before the Council when required could face a fine of upto Rs. 100,000 and a  period of imprisonment of three months, following a trial.

Toby Daniel Mendel who is involved in the creation of this document is an individual who works closely with international NGO, International Media Support (IMS) which previously employed current Director General of Government Information Ranga Kalansuriya as a consultant.

Toby Mendel currently serves as the Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy which aims to promote, protect and develop human rights.

Ranga Kalansuriya and Toby Mendel has worked closely on numerous occasions.

There were a number of efforts by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration to suppress the media. There were proposals brought forward to establish an Independent Media Regulatory Commission, while numerous journalists, including Lasantha Wickremetunge, were gunned down.

Journalists such as Poddala Jayantha, Keith Noyahr, Sanath Balasuriya were assaulted during the same time period while the Depanama Studio Complex in Depanama was destroyed using claymore bombs.

The administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa fell from grace and ceded power.

The administration that took over on January 8, 2015 promised to bring about numerous reforms. However they too attempted to engage in the suppression of the media.

Media suppression that was to be legalised through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was halted due to a case filed by us.

Is the present administration attempting to take another crack at suppressing the media through this so called Independent Council which is being created in consultation with a foreign national?

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