‘Media Freedom’ – soon to be added to the list of forgotten promises? (VIDEO)

‘Media Freedom’ – soon to be added to the list of forgotten promises? (VIDEO)

Written by Lahiru Fernando

05 Jul, 2017 | 3:11 pm

The media in Sri Lanka has been through dark times, especially in the recent past with number of attempts to subdue journalists.

Cases of attacks on journalists  like Keith Noyahr, Lasantha Wickrematunge, Prageeth Eknaligoda. and the attack on our own network years ago stand as solid examples to this matter.

However, come the previous presidential election, known as the ‘January 8 Revolution’, the present Government of Good Governance’s one promise, among many, were to ensure the media freedom.

But two years on, right now as you read this, there are efforts to undermine this promise.

‘The Independent council for News media standards’

There are consultations and discussions going on about a draft document in circulation titled ‘Independent council for News media standards‘.

It is happening under the watchful eyes of British Canadian national Toby Daniel Mendel and Dr. Pradeep N. Weerasinghe.

The draft claims to ‘safeguard media freedom’ and has been dubbed a ‘first discussion draft’.

It is prepared by Wijayananda Jayaweera (World Bank Consultant to the Government of Sri Lanka)

However it contains a few eyebrow-raising points…

  • The independent council for news media standards will be headed by a retired judge or a lawyer.
  • 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.
  • It 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 names during the registration. Such new media outlets are also expected to make a payment to the council.
  • The bill 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 up-to one million rupees.
  • Any journalist who intentionally provide false information or fails to appear before the council when required could face a fine of upto one hundred thousand rupees and a three months imprisonment following a trial.

Who is Toby Mendel?

Toby Daniel Mendel, a British Canadian national, works closely with the NGO known as ‘International Media Support’ (IMS).

He is the Executive Director of the ‘Center For Law and Democracy’. An institution which aims to promote, protect and develop human rights.

The IMS has previously employed the current Director General of Government Information Ranga Kalansuriya as a consultant.

Kalansuriya and Toby Mendel have worked closely on numerous occasions.

A blast from the past – somewhat literally….

The previous regime led by Mahinda Rajapaksa took a number of efforts to suppress the media. Even they brought in proposals to establish an ‘Independent Media Regulatory Commission’.

During this era, Journalists like Poddala Jayantha were assaulted. Keith Noyahr was shot at. Sanath Balasuriya had to live in exile due to death threats. Lasantha Wickramathunga was gunned down. And our own Depanama Studio Complex was destroyed using Claymore.

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

The Government of Good Governance took over in January 8, 2015 – and they promised to being about reforms. However, they too attempted to engage in the very act…

And then, a media suppression -which was to be legalized through the 19th amendment to the constitution- was halted due to a case filed by us.

All these events, present and past begs the question…

Is the government trying to take another crack at suppressing the media with this ‘Independent Council’ – which is being created in consultation with a foreign national?

Food for thought….

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