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Independent media outlets, journalists put at risk following accusations of having LTTE ties

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 30 August 2008 FMM press release:

Sri Lankan State media used to promote hate and harm against independent media

30 August 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is outraged to note and expresses its serious concern over completely unverified and unsubstantiated pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) allegations by State controlled media against independent media and journalists in Sri Lanka. This has been a recurrent occurrence in State media used as a tool by the Government to name and shame journalists who report inconvenient truths as those who are partial to or in the pay of the LTTE.

In the latest attempt to vilify independent journalists, the State controlled Sinhala language daily "Dinamina" carried a front-page headline story on 28 August alleging that high level investigations were underway on a group of journalists who supported LTTE though the "Hiru" newspaper. The news story with the by-line of Wijayani Edirisinghe used anonymous "sources" to speculate that the group of journalists who run the "Hiru" newspaper might have colluded with the LTTE intelligence section. Further, the news report claims the LTTE had given 6 million Sri Lankan rupees (approx. US$55,684) to the newspaper.

"Hiru" is a Sinhala language weekly with an editorial line supportive of a political solution to ethnic issues in Sri Lanka based on the right to self determination. It ceased to exist in early 2005.

These unproved, unverified allegations were given a wide publicity by State controlled electronic media on the same day, putting the lives of the journalists associated with the story at grave risk.

On 26 June 2008, "Dinamina" carried a lead story, also by Wijayani Edirisinghe, alleging that "police intelligence has received information on a group of members connected to the LTTE sent to Norway through Denmark as journalists by the Sri Lanka Press Institute. This foreign tour has taken place in 2007." In a press release issued on the same day, the Sri Lankan Press Institute (SLPI) said in response that it strongly refuted this story and that it was baseless, misleading and factually incorrect.

On 25 June, Tamil female journalist Parameshwari was released without any charges filed against her after months of detention by the infamous Terrorist Investigation Department (TID); "Dinamina" carried a news item, again by Wijayani Edirisinghe, stating that Parameshwari will be charged for aiding and abetting terrorism.

There are a number of other disturbing examples where journalists and media institutions were labelled as pro-LTTE by State media without a single shred of evidence and any credible sources or facts.

Given the incarceration and charges levelled at journalist J.S. Tissainayagam under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), it is clear the government of Mahinda Rajapakse is targeting independent journalists and media with a vengeance. The systematic and repeated inflammatory allegations levelled by "Dinamina" against independent media are a case in point.

The FMM stands by the right of "Hiru" and its journalists to voice their opinion. The Freedom of Expression and the Freedom of Thought are not those that can be governed by the arbitrary diktat of the Executive or at the whim and fancy of a government under its control. They are, fundamentally, the pillars of democracy.

Unscrupulous and sordid journalism along the lines of the "Dinamina" news stories creates a fear psychosis that stifles free expression and encourages self-censorship. A government that never fails to claim that media is free in Sri Lanka is tellingly completely silent when media it fully controls viciously attacks independent media.

This must stop.

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