A call to Sri Lanka to establish a free media environment to discuss accountability issues

Press release/ 03  May 2011
On the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day

Networking for Rights, the  network of exiles  for media freedom and human rights in Sri Lanka  calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to re-establish the peoples’  right   to information  by  restoring their right to the  freedom of expression  in order to debate and discuss one of the most important issues facing Sri Lanka today –  accountability to what happened during  the last phase of war.

The report of the Panel of Experts of the UN Secretary General on accountability  during the war  in Sri Lanka which was released officially on 25th April 2011, has already generated  diverse  views and opinions,  locally and internationally.

While  the government of Sri Lanka has rejected the report as biased and fundamentally flawed, Tamil political parties have welcomed the report and requested that its recommendations be implemented. Some political parties have raised the issue of re-establishing the rule of law and addressing the ethnic conflict as a response to the report. Some civil society groups too have raised the issue of accountability as a necessary pre- condition for  any  reconciliation.

The people of Sri Lanka have a right to know the diverse views and opinions  on this   issue as well as on other issues to make informed judgments.   Generally, opinions that differ from that of the government  and particularly opinions of Tamil political parties,  do not get effective coverage in the Sinhala mainstream media.

In Sri Lanka,  independent media remains  unofficially gagged or  strict self censorship imposed. Persistent  intimidations and threats to  media have  resulted in  influential electronic media institutions also  having to  follow the official line. Since most resources are at the disposal of the State media today,

it has become  the propaganda machine of members of the ruling party.  Consequently, it has lost its role as an independent  public service media.  The promise to re-establish  freedom of information by the enactment of legislation to that effect has gone the same way as the promise to uphold the rule of law.

Independent and critical internet news sites remain banned. Sinhala and Tamil language journalists and media  personnel  are not poorly paid. Sri Lanka holds the record as the country in South Asia where  media professionals are paid the lowest.   Private media does not permit any unions within their institutions. The community of journalists in the country is the lowest  professionals sector which does not have a union.   All these factors contribute to unbalanced, one sided and biased media coverage on politically sensitive  and important issues.

Post-war Sri Lanka has been at cross roads  with regard to the  rule of law, justice and equality on the one hand and autocracy, injustice and inequality on the other. The  Report of the UN Panel of Experts has highlighted these issues in the way of accountability. No country which emerges  from  decades  of  war can create genuine  sustainable peace unless it confronts  the truth and addresses the issues concerned. Today  Sri Lanka needs a free media environment to debate, discuss and decide on issues of accountability including  rule of law.

On the occasion of the World Press Freedom day, NfR calls upon local and international democratic forces to focus on the right to the  freedom of expression in Sri Lanka as one of the most important issues that needs to be re-established.  The government of Sri Lanka  must address this issue urgently  by introducing political and legal reforms in accordance with international standards.

Issued by
Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka

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