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State-controlled newspaper publishes dangerous allegations against Sri Lanka Press Institute

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

State media level dangerous allegation against Sri Lanka Press Institute

Free Media Movement expresses serious concern that a state-controlled media outlet has levelled dangerous allegations against the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) without verifying the story with SLPI.

State-controlled Sinhala-language newspaper "Dinamina", which is considered as one of the mouth pieces of the government, said in a lead story that "police intelligence has received information saying that a group of members connected to LTTE were sent to Norway through Denmark under the journalist label by the Sri Lanka Press Institute. This foreign tour has taken place in the year 2007."

In a press release issued on 26 June, SLPI responded: "the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) strongly refutes the prominently displayed front page story of today's 'Dinamina' newspaper titled: 'Eight Tigers sent to Norway under journalist label' as baseless, misleading and factually incorrect."

According to SLPI there was no training program carried out by the SLPI in Denmark in 2007 as reported by the said newspaper. A call for applications was put out on 5 September 2007 for a training program in the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen, titled "Media and Democracy".

Approximately 100 journalists from television, radio and print media applied, out of which 20 were selected. The 20 journalists attended a training course from 1 April to 3 May 2008. All of them returned to the country on 4 May on board the same flight.

SLPI plays an important role in bringing members of media organisations together in press freedom advocacy in Sri Lanka today and, in this context, FMM views this cooked up story as another attempt to intimidate the media and media organisations.

Further this story implies that the Tamil journalists who took part in the training programme are LTTE supporters. This allegation coming from a state media outlet is equal to an unofficial death sentence passed on those journalists. FMM holds the government and the "Dinamina" newspaper responsible for the dangerous situation that has been created for these journalists by this story, regardless of who planted it.

FMM requests that the media minister make a formal apology to the SLPI and those journalists mentioned in the story without delay.