Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Media unite against re-establishment of Press Council

By Nizla Naizer - Re-establishing the Press Council will render the public blind, deaf and dumb, was the message sent out by a collective force of media organisations yesterday as they implemented a petition against the move.

The Conference organised by members of the Sri Lanka Editors Guild, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka Muslim Journalists Guild, Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Guild, Association of Media Workers Unions and National Guild of Journalists brought together journalists, politicians and civilians concerned about media freedom to the Jayawardene Centre yesterday.

The petition signed by all gathered will be submitted to the President requesting the abolishment of the Press Council which is seen as a direct threat to media freedom in Sri Lanka and a step back in the democratic process.
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking at the Conference said that the Press Council was an outdated and unnecessary legislation which would curb the voice of the people if implemented. He said that since 2002, they have been working towards abolishing the Press Council but due to changes in the Government it did not come through.

“Those who support the Press Council which will lead to media suppression and suppressing the right to expression are traitors to the state while those who oppose the Press Council and support media freedom are patriots.”

He said that a self regulatory media is the ideal model in a democratic country while the Press Complaints Legislation which has successfully dealt with 700 complaints since its inception, manages to deal with the media in terms of complaints.

However, he urged the media community to come together and stand unafraid in its opposition to the Press Council. “It is unfortunate, but within the media too there are those who stood firm and then changed their stand.”

Free Media Movement President Sunil Jayasekera said that in order to be implemented the Press Council requires two representatives from the media organisations. “The nine media organizations in Sri Lanka unanimously decided to refuse to nominate representatives from within our organisations.”

His views were echoed by other journalists including Lanka Prelis and Tissa Withanage who said that if the Press Council was implemented the media cannot report on any Ministry activity unless provided with written approval by the Ministry secretary, a task that would result in no information on wrong doing revealed to the public even if the Government officials had misappropriated public funds or misused resources.

“Members of the present Government including the President himself once fought to defeat the Press Council,” Prelis declared, “And we can’t believe that these same individuals are bringing it back.”

“The Government is legalising the terror of the media with this law,” Withanage added, “It cannot be allowed and as responsible citizens we must stand up against it.”

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