Monthly Archives: November 2011

International day against impunity – NfR calls on Government of Sri Lanka to investigate crimes against media and journalists

H.E. Ambassador Ms. Tamara Kunanayakam,

Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,

Geneva, Switzerland.

23 November 2011.

 Dear Madam,

 On November 23, journalists and media workers all over the world will unite in observance of a day of action against impunity. This is a day when we at the NFR Sri Lanka, Network for Media Freedom and Human Rights in Sri Lanka  in alliance with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) — seek to remind governments around the world of a sad and deeply disturbing record of default in bringing to account individuals, state agencies and non-state actors who have over the last many years, made journalism and the dissemination of information for the wider public good, a deeply hazardous pursuit.

We are joined by a global coalition of journalists organisations and advocacy bodies working for media freedom in this day of action.

 As we write these lines, we are distressed to learn of an arbitrary rule introduced by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) on the need for registration by websites that publish any content on Sri Lanka, and the blocking of a number of news portals on the basis of this rule.

 This is a concern for us, but our greater worry is the failure of the GoSL to bring to account those responsible for the murder of a number of journalists, as also brutal attacks with murderous intent that have left a number of journalists seriously disabled.

 The most recent such incident that we were deeply shocked by, was the near lethal attack on Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, news editor of the Tamil daily Uthayan, in the northern city of Jaffna on July 29.

 Just two months earlier, S. Kavitharan, a reporter with Uthayan, was attacked in Jaffna city in a similar manner while on his way to work. No investigations have since been conducted.

 We believe that these attacks are part of a broader assault on voices that seek to speak up for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. We need hardly remind you of the murder in January 2006, of S.S. Sukirtharajan, a reporter for Uthayan in Trincomalee in the eastern province, in evident retribution for his role in exposing the execution-style killing of five Tamil students by Sri Lankan armed forces.

 

We reaffirm our deep concern at the faltering process of investigations into the January 2009 murder of Lasantha Wickrametunge, a journalist who was greatly respected for his integrity and commitment. The June 2009 attack on the investigative journalist and union leader Poddala Jayantha, carried out in broad daylight, not far from the administrative centre of Colombo city, has left him with disabilities that could prove permanent. We are deeply distressed that this crime remains unpunished.

 

The failure to trace Prageeth Eknaligoda, a cartoonist and columnist with Lanka-e-News who disappeared in January 2010 while on his way home, continues to cause us great worry. We are worried by the attitude recently displayed by as important a functionary as the senior legal adviser to the Sri Lankan cabinet, Mr Mohan Pieris, who remarked after a presentation at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, that Eknaligoda may have taken refuge in a foreign country and that the campaign about his disappearance is a deliberate effort to discredit the Sri Lankan government.

 

We regard this continuing record of violence against our profession as unacceptable and believe that the casual attitude that the GoSL has adopted towards bringing particular offenders to account, has contributed to it.

 On behalf of our partners and affiliates in Sri Lanka, as also the wider region and the global community of journalists, we ask for evidence of concrete action that the authorities in your country intend to take up these criminal acts of violence against journalists and media workers with the seriousness of purpose that is required.

 e respectfully ask you to transmit this letter to your Government and advise those responsible of our deepest concern.

 We remain as always, eager for a discussion with you and your staff on these issues and on means that we could evolve towards addressing them.

 With best regards,

 

Sincerely,

 Steering Committee,

Networking For Rights in Sri Lanka

 

Advertisements

Sri Lanka: The internet, remaining space for free expression under attack

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 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