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High government official threatens newspaper editor over coverage of conflict

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 17 April 2007 FMM press release:

Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary threatens Editor

The FMM is outraged that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is also the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksha, threatened the editor of the "Daily Mirror", Champika Liyanarachchi, over the telephone on the morning of 17 April 2007.

The defence secretary allegedly expressed his deep displeasure over the conflict coverage by the newspaper. Referring to a front-page news item published the previous day - "Armed Karuna faction running its writ in Pottuvil" ( http://www.dailymirror.lk/2007/04/16/front/1.asp ) - the defence secretary said the story had angered the Karuna faction and furthermore was written against the government.

He went on to say that Champika should not be surprised if the Karuna faction turned violent against her. In such an eventuality, he said that she should not expect any security from the government to protect her.

Citing another article, by "Daily Mirror" reporter Uditha Jayasinha, "Mutur IDPs: Battling a man-made tsunami in the guise of war" ( http://www.dailymirror.lk/2007/04/17/feat/01.asp ), the defence secretary continued his vicious tirade by castigating the reporter and expressing his severe displeasure that the article carried negative remarks by internally displaced persons regarding the Sri Lankan Army.

These statements of the defence secretary beggar belief. This gross misconduct of a highly-placed public official clearly demonstrates the challenges facing free media in Sri Lanka today. The FMM unequivocally deplores the threat made by the defence secretary and condemns what is tantamount to advocating violence against the media. We strongly feel this latest assault on free media essentially ridicules this government's promises to uphold and strengthen media freedom. Given the volatile situation in the country, the FMM also fears that this threat sends a chilling message to the media community at large in Sri Lanka

The FMM notes that on previous occasions as well, government leaders had criticized "Daily Mirror" over its coverage of the conflict. It is an open secret that government leaders and close allies are pressuring independent media to toe the official line on war and peace. We see this latest development as a calculated process of coercion by the government to force media to abandon its role watchdog of democracy, and instead adopt the supine role of a lap dog to those in power.

The government can no longer abdicate the responsibility to prevent a further erosion of media freedom in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, the FMM urgently and firmly requests the government to make its position public regarding this incident and also call upon the government to take remedial steps to ensure that loose tongues and wild imaginings of its ministers and allies are kept in check by educating them on the need to secure and strengthen free media as a vital foundation of democratic governance.

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