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Government minister organises protest against, calls for banning of, private television station

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an 11 August 2008 FMM press release:

Government Minister organises anti-media protest and calls for ban on TV station

The Free Media Movement (FMM) notes that the notorious government Minister Mervyn Silva organised a protest against the MBC network's Sirasa TV television station in Colombo on 11 August 2008. Approximately 100 men, women and children were bussed into the city centre from the minister's constituency of Kelaniya. The protest was given wide publicity by all state media outlets, which justified, in their commentary and reportage, the allegations made by the minister against the private media station.

Among the minister's demands articulated at the protest was that a ban be implemented against Sirasa TV. Sirasa TV has consistently covered the minister's violent actions against the media, most notably the attack against the state-owned broadcaster Rupavahini in December 2007. For this reason, the station has borne the brunt of the minister's wrath, with journalists repeatedly abused and violently attacked at public functions attended by the minister and covered by the station.

Supporters of the minister at the orchestrated rally in Colombo shouted slogans asserting they were the president's indomitable force and alleged that the Sirasa TV is "pro-LTTE" (referring to the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).

This allegation has been repeatedly leveled against all government critics and protest movements, including trade unions, for a range of initiatives agitating for higher wages and human rights protection. Although several complaints have been made by Sirasa TV against the minister, none have been investigated in any meaningful manner.

The FMM considers the disingenuous rally and spurious allegations by the minister to be a continuation of his attacks against independent journalists in Sri Lanka. We note that the minister, his supporters and those of his ilk in government enjoy the spoils of unprecedented impunity, coupled with the inability and unwillingness of the president, the government and the police to rein them in. As it is very clear that the minister enjoys presidential patronage, the FMM holds the president and his government responsible for his unpunished actions against the media.

The FMM appeals to all democratic forces and political parties to campaign for the removal of Minister Mervyn Silva from the cabinet and to demand that police initiate impartial and speedy investigations into all the attacks he has perpetrated against journalists.

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