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FMM concerned for press freedom as state institutions, politicians and political parties mistreat media

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an FMM press release:

JVP and the Government stifle the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka

17th April 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The Free Media Movement (FMM) expresses its serious concern on discriminatory practices meted out to media institutions by state institutions, politicians and political parties of late.

As reported by http://www.lankaenews.com , the JVP (People's Liberation Front) leadership did not allow a "Lanka-e-News" journalist to cover a press conference held on 11 April 2008 at the National Library on the internal rift in the party. Guards employed by the JVP blocked the entrance to the "Lanka-e-News" journalist, stating that no uninvited media would be allowed to participate. The JVP has threatened a number of media institutions in the past and this incident shows that they still do not tolerate critical media reportage on the party.

Sri Lanka's infamous Labour Minister, Mervyn Silva, who claims amongst many other fantastic things to be a devout Buddhist, viciously abused media personnel in front of a leading prelate and ousted them from a function he was a Chief Guest of in Kelaniya on 10 April. MP Silva's bodyguards drove out cameramen from the Maharaja Television Network from the scene and also threatened the journalists from "Daily Mirror" and "Lankadeepa". Sri Lanka's Labour Minister has a sordid history of having verbally and physically threatened and abused media personnel. No action has been taken to bring him to justice. A week earlier, the same minister threatened Sirasa journalists, belonging to the Maharaja Media Network, warning them that he is not above using his own hands to stop them from covering issues in his electoral riding.

Demonstrably, media freedom in Sri Lanka is not in good hands.

On 5 April, the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) did not allow correspondents from the BBC, Associated Press, Sirasa/MTV and Tamil-language newspapers to join the media tour it organized to Jaffna. FMM deeply regrets that the MCNS has not shown transparency when inviting media outlets for tours to war-affected areas. Its highly discriminatory process of selection allows it to pick and choose only the most supine journalists to augment its propaganda, a practice that FMM has consistently opposed. Critical media commentary is essential in war and we strongly feel the MCNS should invite and actively support the participation of all media in efforts to open up the front lines of war to public scrutiny through the media.

Incredibly, the MCNS also had the gall to warn journalists taken on such tours against what it considers to be unfavourable coverage of the government's war efforts. As noted in "The Nation" on 13 April, Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara had, in a telephone conversation, said that in future the military would not consider inviting journalists from "The Bottom Line" newspaper for government-sponsored tours, because of his extreme displeasure over a news feature that appeared in "The Bottom Line" on the situation in the embattled Jaffna Peninsula.

Freedom of expression is fundamentally about the right to express opinions that are open to contestation but not to censorship or censure. The government and all political parties have a duty to strengthen and support the diversity of opinions so that citizens can make informed judgments on vital social, political and economic issues in the country. Registering our strong disquiet on these incidents, the FMM firmly and urgently requests that all relevant stakeholders meaningfully uphold freedom of expression and media freedom in Sri Lanka.

For further information on Silva's previous attacks on the press, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91886/
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89407/
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89328/

For further information on previous attacks on journalists by JVP members, see http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/90357/
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/71985/

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