Sunday, February 07, 2010

Eight Media organizations write to President

Eight media institutions. including the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka, the South Asian Free Media Association and the Federation of Media Trade Unions, have written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa over the recent attacks on media personnel and related issues.

The letter states: “As someone who has repeatedly expressed commitment to upholding the values of a free media as an essential component of democratic society, we wish to bring to your attention the grave situation that has arisen with regard to media freedom in the country. We have already pointed out incidents that took place during the Presidential Election campaign where the media faced suppression and was prevented from expressing diverse and opposing views. We observe that the situation has deteriorated further after the conclusion of the presidential elections. The following incidents provide evidence of this trend.

1.The whereabouts of well-known political commentator Prageeth Eknaligoda remain unknown since his disappearance at midnight on January 24 ,2010. A regular contributor to the Lankaenews website and a father of two children, Eknaligoda suffers from a diabetic condition and has undergone open heart, bypass surgery for which he requires daily medication. His wife has lodged a complaint with the Police and has been informed that investigations are on -going. At a media conference on January 25, 2010, Minister of Information Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene stated that the Government has information regarding his disappearance. Media organizations have called for any information relating to his disappearance and for his early release but have not received a favourable response so far.

2. The Lankaenews website was blocked on the eve of the presidential elections. After complaining to the elections commissioner about it, and following his order to Sri Lanka Telecom not to prevent access to the website, the editor and staff of Lankaenews received threatening phone calls. The continued presence of unknown persons in the vicinity of the Lankaenews office has also been noted and the Welikada Police have been duly informed.

3. On January 28, Programme Producer Ravi Abeywickreme of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation was assaulted by the Transport Co-ordinator, in the presence of the Chairman and the Director General. Other programme producers Kanchana Marasinghe, Herbert Kumara Alagiyawanna, Gamini Pushpakumara and Daya Mahinda Gunatilake were verbally abused. Subsequently, Herbert Kumara Alaguyawanna has been dismissed and the others have been interdicted. They have been informed of this decision by their SLRC Employees Union. They are officers and member of the SLRC Producers’ Association and Free Media Movement.


4. On January 30, Chandana Sirimalwatte editor of Lanka, a weekly newspaper was asked to call over at the CID to make a statement. Following questioning he was detained by the CID. The office of the newspaper was sealed thereafter, but was subsequently removed following a court order.

5. Among the reports of post election violence in various parts of the country is the attack on the residence of provincial reporter from Kurunegala, Gunaratne Liyanarchchi, by an unidentified group on the night of January 28.

6. On February 01, an unruly crowd attacked a group of media employees from Lake House. Reports indicate that two people have been hospitalized.

7. We would like to remind you of the behaviour of the state media during the lead up to the presidential election. The elections commissioner has also expressed his displeasure on the manner in which the state media behaved. Even after the election concluded the state media continues to harass certain media institutions and organizations by publicizing false statements using abusive language. The state media has also broadcast reports saying that in the event of the Opposition candidate winning the election, he would assassinate you and others, and that he would use journalists and resources of the state media to create a state of confusion in the country.

Your Excellency, all these incidents taken as a whole are creating a sense of terror within the media industry in the country due to the intimidation and suppression taking place in different parts of the country by unruly groups targeting members of the Opposition. We believe that if this escalating situation is not brought under control immediately there will be unforeseen repercussions.

If your election victory is to be celebrated in a democratic manner it should not be only limited to your voters, and should not include the suppression of selected media institutions and journalists. We believe that if this situation continues it would not bring you repute but disrepute instead.”

© Lakbima News

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