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Former general's appointment to key media post signifies militarisation of media, threat to state media's independence, says FMM

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 21 March 2008 FMM press release:

Another nail in the coffin: The open militarisation of State-owned media in Sri Lanka

21 March 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The Free Media Movement (FMM) is outraged that the government has appointed retired Army Major General Sunil Silva as Additional Director General (Administration) of the state-controlled TV station Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC). Sunil Silva retired from his army position in January 2008.

This appointment beggars belief, especially coming as it does less than 48 hours after a key meeting with the President of Sri Lanka and SLRC Trade Union leaders and journalists on the spate of brutal physical attacks against colleagues who stood up against the brutish intrusion by government MP Mervyn Silva into its premises in late 2007. No one at that meeting was consulted about or told of Sunil Silva's impending appointment.

The appointment of an ex-military figure to a key post in the SLRC is particularly revealing. The militarisation of the state apparatus under this regime is not new, but this is the first time it has been extended to the media. Not only does this set an extremely disturbing precedent, it irrevocably vitiates the independence of state media from regressive party political patronage, influence and coercion.

The FMM vehemently protests this appointment on point of principle. The FMM has nothing against Major General Sunil Silva. The FMM is deeply concerned that the office of a civilian is now in the hands of someone from whom independence and impartiality is simply too much to ask or expect. This is a damning indictment of the president's promises to support and strengthen media freedom and a chilling indicator of the regime's duplicitous nature.

The FMM believes it relevant that this appointment was made in the context of the SLRC journalist unions threatening action if the government did not take action to hold MP Mervyn Silva accountable for his actions in a court of law. Given that, on 17 March 2008 military and police cordoned off SLRC premises to prevent any trade union action, the FMM is in no doubt that this military appointment is directly linked to the emerging crisis situation within SLRC and is intended to intimidate the institution's journalists and other staff.

The FMM demands that this appointment immediately be rescinded. The media community represented by our organisation will accept no alternative and will not negotiate. It is simply a point of principle - the militarisation of media institutions is tantamount to the curtailment of media rights.

The President had, at the conclusion of the recent meeting with journalists, promised to look into the unprecedented intimidation of media personnel in Sri Lanka. Sadly, this appointment is grossly incompatible with that promise.

Updates alert on the retired general's appointment: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91848/

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