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Crisis in "Siyatha" newspaper, resignation of four journalists, highlights need for editorial independence, says FMM

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 15 September 2008 FMM press release:

Crisis in Siyatha newspaper highlights the need for editorial independence

15 September 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) expresses its serious concern over the resignation of four senior journalists from the Sinhala language weekly "Siyatha" over the lack of editorial independence and the flagrant violation of the professional rights of journalists.

In a letter collectively signed by them, they allege that "Siyatha" management completely and repeatedly disregarded, inter alia, policies of editorial independence agreed upon at the launch of the newspaper. They go on to note that the management was more interested in commercial gains over independent and accurate news coverage.

The journalists who resigned were Chief Editor Manjula Wediwardana, Deputy Editor Athula Withanage, Features Editor Jayasiri Jayasekara and Chief Sub Editor Sisira C. Vithange. Editorial Coordinator Chanaka Krishantha has also signed the letter.

The FMM strongly believes media owners have a shared responsibility in ensuring media freedom in Sri Lanka. The respect for editorial independence is paramount in this regard and cannot be held hostage to the partisan political interests of owners. We recognize that commercial advertising and profits support the media industry in Sri Lanka, but this cannot be at the expense of independent journalism.

Interfering with editorial work and changing the content and layout of pages, displaying advertisements at the expense of news and features coverage and a complete disregard of the proper working conditions of journalists at the "Siyatha" by its management are some of the allegations found in the letter signed by those who resigned.

These are practices designed and enacted to block independent journalism. Those who fight for a free media cannot condone them and it is in this light that we find the alleged behaviour of the "Siyatha" management reprehensible.

The FMM strongly urges the "Siyatha" management to immediately explore the possibilities of renegotiating its contract with those who resigned that must include a written and clear framework that guarantees editorial independence and the working rights of journalists. Failure to do so sends the clear message that "Siyatha"'s management places partisan political rhetoric and gain over professional standards and ethics.

For more alerts and reports on media freedom in Sri Lanka, visit FMM's blog: http://freemediasrilanka.wordpress.com

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