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Government minister and supporters assault state television station news director over failure to broadcast his speech

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 27 December 2007 FMM press release:

Government Minister runs amok in State run TV station in Sri Lanka

27 December 2007, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The FMM is outraged, not for the first time, at the behaviour of Government Minister Mervyn Silva today. In a wanton act of violence, the Minister stormed into the State-run television station Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC) this morning with a group of his thugs and assaulted its news director, Mr. T.M.G. Chandrasekara. MP Mervyn Silva ostensibly entered the SLRC premises to protest that a speech made by him the previous day at a public meeting was not broadcast in the channel's TV news bulletins. According to SLRC sources, Mr. Chandrasekara was assaulted twice and then dragged to the chairman's office.

The FMM notes with deep regret and alarm that this unprecedented attack against a journalist in Sri Lanka by a politician of the ruling party is deeply indicative of the desultory attitude of the government towards media freedom. Further, we note that MP Mervyn Silva's behaviour in particular and the context within which such hooliganism is allowed to persist in general clearly demonstrates the significant breakdown of law and order in Sri Lanka today. In this regard, we note that it is a matter of public record that the Minister in question has repeatedly and vituperatively threatened media personnel, particularly journalists from the MTV and Sirasa TV channels and the Sinhala newspaper "Divanina".

The media community, in a fitting demonstration of solidarity, were unequivocally united in their condemnation of the Minister's actions. The FMM recognises the courage of the journalists working at the SLRC and their colleagues from media organisations outside to barricade the Minister and his thugs until the arrival of the police and the measures taken to demand a public apology live on camera.

The ignoble retreat of the Minister was a victory for free media and a significant show of strength by journalists with a clear message to respect the right of journalists to be treated with dignity. The FMM has for a number of years strongly lobbied for the transformation of all State-run media institutions as public service media, free from political and commercial pressures. We trust that this revolting attack is a turning point in this regard.

In reiterating its shock and dismay at MP Mervyn Silva's obnoxious behaviour, we affirm that the only meaningful manner in which the Government can address this issue is to address the larger and marked deterioration of media freedom in Sri Lanka, recently ranked by the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) as the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

We also call upon the ruling party and the President to facilitate an urgent and full investigation into this incident with punitive measures taken against the Minister and meaningful assurances given that he will not be placed in any position to threaten or harm journalists in Sri Lanka henceforth.

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