Sunday, January 31, 2010

Five media organizations condemn the repression against " Lanka" newspaper

The five prominent media rights groups in Sri Lanka have issued a joint statement condemning the government's decision to close down the 'Lanka' newspaper office and to arrest the editor of the paper, Chandana Sirimalwatte. The statement signed by the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) and Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) denounced the government's decision stating "that sole reason behind the repression of the Lanka newspaper and its editor Chandana Sirimalwatta is the role played by the newspaper during recently concluded presidential election."

On Saturday (30), the Sri Lankan Government took steps to seal off the pro-opposition "Lanka" newspaper office after arresting and detaining the editor of the paper on Friday (29) afternoon.

The full text of the joint statement follows:

"We, 5 media organizations of Sri Lanka consider the steps taken by Criminal Investigation Department of Sri Lanka police to seal the Lanka newspaper office and arrest/detain its editor Chandana Sirimalwatta as a fatal blow to media freedom and democracy in Sri Lanka. We demand that government stop immediately the repressive acts launched against media with critical and opposing content. It is clear that sole reason behind the repression of the Lanka newspaper and its editor Chandana Sirimalwatta is the role played by the newspaper during recently concluded presidential election.

The promises made during the presidential campaign to defend press freedom and speed up the investigations on assassination of journalists have evaporated within days. Instead the repression against journalists and media that does obey government orders and express dissenting voices has now culminated in acts unleashed against Lanka newspaper.

Existence of a vibrant political opposition and unfettered space for media to carry their ideas and opinions to the people is a necessary component of a healthy democracy. Hampering the role played by the Lanka news paper is violation of the people’s right to think, hold and express their opinions.

In our opinion this is not a isolated act but another grave incident of post presidential election media suppression. The signal sent by suppressing Lanka newspaper is that critical media and journalists should shut up.

It is a common knowledge that in a society that values democracy media should not be suppressed. If this trend of suppression of dissent and oppositional views is not halted we are afraid that Sri Lanka may slip in to a dictatorial political system. That is why we urge again national as well as international democratic forces to do their utmost to protect media freedom and democratic values in Sri Lanka.

We would like to remind that during the last few year’s dozens of journalists and media workers were killed, large number of them faced various threats and intimidations, number of media institutions were set on fire in Sri Lanka. Because of these anti media actions Sri Lanka was named as the third dangerous country for journalists in the world. Not only our people’s right to information was curtailed but also our name of motherland was degraded internationally.

We, 5 media organizations’ earnest request to the government is to remove all suppressive measures imposed on the Lanka newspaper and to release its editor Chandana Sirimalwatta immediately."

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

MEDIA MATTERS: Time for an independent press?

Photo Courtesy of

Sevanti Ninan - With the re-election of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka, many will be watching to see what his next term will mean for the government's policy towards private media. The persecution of the Sri Lankan media has been a long-running international story, particularly after the killing in January last year of Lasantha Wickramatunga, the editor of the Sunday Leader. Several journalists fled to seek asylum in the West, and an expatriate group called Journalists for Democracy has helped to keep Western media attention focused on the vulnerability of journalists in Sri Lanka.

Organisations such as Reporters Without Borders have been putting out releases in the run-up to election day, alleging on the day of the polls that news websites were being blocked. Even though one managed to access an allegedly blocked website, the story was that the servers were blocked so that further material could not be uploaded.

Propagandist programmes

The elections saw State-owned media, both print and television, run news favouring the incumbent, and devote most of the coverage to him. When the State media runs propagandist programmes in that country, it seems to be a real issue, because they are more watched than our State media are. And in the subcontinent, Sri Lanka is possibly the only country to have State-owned newspapers.

Al Jazeera's Listening Post reported in its last programme before the Sri Lankan elections that President Rajapaksa had greeting the country's entire population on New Year's Day through an sms. The State's communication commission had apparently ordered telecom companies to send out that message free. The programme also reported what it suggested was extended misuse of the State media during the poll campaign. It did not quote anybody in government on what they thought of the media's reporting in Sri Lanka, whereas Indian observers, both here and in Colombo, say that there is also a real problem of partisan media in Sri Lanka. J.S. Tissainayagam, who was sentenced to a 20-year jail term on charges of “supporting terrorism and inciting racial hatred in his articles”, became an international cause celebre, but was let out on bail a few days ago. Like him, several other Tamil journalists have been accused by the government of being pro-LTTE, over the years. But it is not only Tamil journalists that the government has targeted. As many as 34 scribes and media workers, both Tamil and Sinhala, have been killed in recent years.

What sort of climate for media coverage will be created during the President's next tenure? Will those who fled be able to come back and practise their profession? Or will Sri Lanka continue to remain a media hot spot for some time to come, is what we have to wait and see.

(This column is being written on the afternoon of January 27.)

© The Hindu

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sri Lanka: Facebook users come under scrutiny

By Rathindra Kuruwita - Authorities are monitoring the user activities of Facebook and Twitter social networking sites as some members of these networks allegedly defame prominent personalities and spread false rumours against the government.

A special team at the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) is already monitoring the user activities on Facebook, LAKBIMAnEWS learns. “A special team is randomly monitoring activity on social networking sites. The government is worried about false notes on Facebook that criticize the election results giving false allegations and openly doubting the validity and the legitimacy of the result,” a TRC source said.

“The order has been given by the government to monitor activities of Facebook and Twitter and monitor how the trend continues.”

Already the TRC has tracked down some IP addresses of many Facebook users who have been spreading false allegations. Also the TRC is to receive the support of a special team from China as they are experts in tracking down disgruntled elements.
“Experts have been brought from a Chinese IT firm,” the source said.

Last week media reports claim that the authorities arrested three individuals for spreading misinformation. Facebook has been blocked intermittently in several countries including Syria, China, Vietnam and Iran due to these reasons.

© Lakbima News

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

World media groups express grave concern

The pro-Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) newspaper Lanka was sealed by CID detectives yesterday – while world media rights groups expressed alarm over attacks on journalists and the free media after the presidential election.

Armed with a court order, the detectives turned up at the Lanka editorial office at Delkanda in Nugegoda last evening to seal the premises. This means the newspaper will not be published until this clamp down is withdrawn.

The sealing came a day after Lanka Editor Chandana Sirimalwatte was arrested by the CID. He was questioned by detectives and is to be produced before the Gangodawila Magistrate tomorrow. Mr. Sirimalwatte was questioned about articles published in the newspaper.

He had also been questioned twice last year on reports relating to the construction of a Deniyaya mansion for a VIP. A spokesperson for the newspaper said that detectives on Friday had sought information on the Lanka circulation but they refused to comply saying it was not relevant to the investigations.

Meanwhile, reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda who works for still remains missing a week after he failed to return home from work. His family has had no word from him and the police are yet to come up with any clues to his whereabouts.

In separate incidents Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation programme producer Ravi Abeywickrema is reported to have been attacked by a senior station officer for criticizing the election coverage by the state TV channel, while soldiers are alleged to have roughed up foreign media personnel who had attended a news conference given by defeated presidential candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

In another attack on the free media, a powerful minister is alleged to have threatened the Jaffna-based Tamil daily Uthayan with unspecified reprisals while Swiss Public Radio journalist Karin Wenger was deported for allegedly asking embarrassing questions at a news conference given by senior ministers.
The house of Lake House regional correspondent Gunaratne Liyanaarachchi was smashed up by a mob on the day after the election. In a complaint to police the correspondent had blamed the attacks on government supporters.

The Paris-based media rights group Reporters Sans Borders (RSF) has called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to put a stop to arrests and intimidation of journalists working for privately-owned and foreign media.

“It is quite normal for journalists and privately-owned media to side with a candidate before and during a democratic election but it is unacceptable for them to be the victims of reprisals once the elections are over,” the media rights group said.

The RSF also reminded the President of the assurances he had given on media freedom. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists said yesterday it was alarmed by reports that journalists in Sri Lanka were being subjected to government intimidation, arrests, censorship, and harassment in the aftermath of this week’s presidential election.

“We are receiving reports of government retribution against journalists who sided with the opposition in the election. Given the ugly history of attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka, we call on President Mahina Rajapaksa to ensure the safety of all journalists in Sri Lanka, and to use his new mandate to reverse the repressive trends of the past several years,” CPJs Asia programme coordinator Bob Dietz said.

© The Sunday Times

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