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Army commander pressures newspaper to cancel defence columns

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a joint press release by FMM and four other media organisations:

Army commander warns newspaper to censor defence columns

5 August 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - It has been reported to our organisations that Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka told staff journalist Indika Ramanayake, of "Lankadeepa" newspaper, that he would not cooperate with the paper if it did not put an end to its two regular defence-related columns. The regular columns in question are a defence analysis by Duminda Sanjeewa, which appears in the paper's Sunday edition, and a Sinhala translation of the security situation column by Iqbal Athas, associate editor of the "Sunday Times".

Lt. Gen. Fonseka made the statement when Ramanayake called him on 5 August to seek his permission to obtain certain information from another officer.

We, the five undersigned media organisations, strongly condemn the reported warning by the army commander.

Our organisations consider this incident an act of indirect intimidation aimed at censoring the media. When a military officer of the highest order, such as an army commande,r makes such a request, it automatically becomes an indirect order and creates fear among the targeted journalists. Furthermore, this request - or rather, order - is a breach of the people's right to information. In this context, we express our disappointment over this incident.

We urge the army commander to change his hostile approach towards the media and to accept the democratic right of the people to hold and express different opinions and interpretations on any issue of public interest, including the war. If the media is forced to change its manner of reporting at the whims and fancies of military officers, or any other official, then it will not be a free media but a gagged one. In a democratic society, a journalist's first obligation is to the truth and to nothing else.

Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA)
Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU)
Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF)
Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance (SLTJA)
Free Media Movement (FMM)

For previous indications of the army commander's hostility toward the press, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95807

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