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Health minister says media is "rabid" and needs medical help, following critical coverage of health ministry

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 12 April 2007 statement by FMM and other organisations:

Inoculating and chastising the media: The Sri Lankan Health Minister's statements against the media

Our organisations strongly decry the recent statements made by the Health Minister in Sri Lanka, Nimal Siripala De Silva, against the media. Publicly stating that the media in Sri Lanka shows symptoms of rabies and, accordingly, is in need of urgent inoculation, the minister went on to propose special identity cards for journalists to avail themselves of medical faculties in state hospitals. These are deranged and grossly irresponsible statements that in no way help strengthen media freedom in Sri Lanka.

We note that these statements may be on account of investigative stories that appeared recently in the media on the activities of the Health Ministry. These stories alleged gross corruption in the Health Ministry through a series of exposés that highlighted the shortcomings and failings of the Ministry of which Nimal Siripala de Silva is in charge. A responsible minister committed to public accountability and the eradication of corruption would have supported an urgent, open and fair investigation into these allegations, instead of turning against the media.

As citizens of Sri Lanka, all journalists have a right to the medical care without need for special identification. Our organisations do not believe there is a need for favouritism or preferential treatment over and above that which ordinary citizens receive at state medical institutions.

While it is true that journalists in Sri Lanka are increasingly in harm's way, preferential medical treatment is no solution to the crisis facing media in Sri Lanka today. What is instead needed urgently, and which we have repeatedly called for, are measures to secure and strengthen media freedom and an enabling framework for all journalists to carry out their work without fear, hindrance or worry.

Recognising the avowed commitment of the government to media freedom, and yet acutely aware that media freedom and the security of journalists continues to deteriorate at a disturbing rate, we firmly and respectfully ask the Minister to desist from statements of this nature in the future and urge him and his government to redouble efforts to strengthen media freedom in Sri Lanka.

Signed:
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA)
Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU)
Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF)
Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance (SLTJA)
Free Media Movement (FMM)

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