Sri Lanka: Open and blatant violation of media independence by the President himself

Press release/ 29 Nov 2012/

NfR is shocked and dismayed to hear that the chairperson of the state controlled TV station, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLRC) has been appointed as the official media spokesperson of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Official web site of the GoSL carried a news item confirming the appointment; ‘Mohan Samaranayake has been appointed as the new Media Spokesman to the President in addition to his post as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.’ the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

This is an act heard of even in countries where an open dictatorship prevails. Such despotic rulers at least try to give a semblance of respect for the rights of the people to the freedom of expression as a tactic to deceive their subjects.

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Cooperation was established with an outright grant from the government of Japan in 1979. At the beginning it was expected to maintain editorial independence from the government but over the years all ruling parties have contributed to its politicization. Although its rules and regulations envisaged SLRC to be a public services media, today it has become a mouth piece of the which ever party that is in power.

This process has now been given official authorization by the all powerful President himself by the appointment of the chairman of the SLRC chairman as his official spokesperson.

This appointment will come into direct conflict with public interests especially during any election when SLRC is expected to provide independent coverage of the whole election process.

Leading International press freedom organizations including the International Federation of Journalists have called for the transformation of state controlled media into a genuine Public Services Media. In early 2000 the European Union Election Monitoring Missions to Sri Lanka too had made recommendations emphasizing the importance of transforming state controlled electronic media into an independent public services media.

State controlled media has become the symbol of the continued suppression any criticism of the regime and hate attacks of political as well as civil dissent in Sri Lanka  today. 

NfR views this unhealthy development as one more step towards trampling people’s democratic rights by a regime, which seems to hell bent on tightening its grip on all public institutions and thereby making Sri Lanka an official and  elected dictatorship.

NfR calls upon all international press freedom organisations take note of this situation and consider taking appropriate action to highlight these violations.

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