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A leading editor is killed, a popular TV channel is raided and accused by the state media of "unpatriotic" coverage of the war, an editor and his wife are victims of murder attempts, and still other journalists are forced to flee the country or close down their websites. All this in just one month in Sri Lanka, whose press freedom situation continues to deteriorate - even more so because of government inaction, says a new report by an international press freedom mission to Sri Lanka.

"Media under Fire: Press Freedom Lockdown in Sri Lanka" criticises the government over its failure to take the attacks, murder and assassination of reporters seriously: very few are investigated and the killers of journalists are never brought to trial, the report says.

The report says the culture of impunity and indifference has "led to an almost total blackout of independent and objective reporting from the north and east of Sri Lanka," which have seen the worst of the country's 25-year-old civil war between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Based on its visit to Sri Lanka in October 2008, the International Mission noted three trends relating to the coverage of the conflict: a lack of press access and independent information flow in the conflict zones; a wave of assaults and intimidation of journalists covering the conflict, carried out in some cases by government officials; and increasing self-censorship by the media as a result.

This week, the Sri Lankan army announced it had captured the Tamil Tigers' last major stronghold. The Red Cross estimates that hundreds of civilians have died in the past two weeks and 250,000 are trapped by intense fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tigers. Independent accounts of the fighting are not available because the government has barred journalists from the conflict zone.

The mission is demanding that the government agree to the creation of an international, independent commission to investigate the recent attacks, underscoring requests by Sri Lankan journalists and media institutions.

This was the third visit of the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Sri Lanka, a group comprised of 12 international organisations. The most recent mission in October 2008 was composed of IFEX members the International Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders, as well as International Media Support (IMS) and the International News Safety Institute.

The report and further details on the mission in Sri Lanka can be found on IMS's website:

Also visit these links:
- Mission statement:
- Free Media Movement website:
- IFEX Sri Lanka page:
(28 January 2009)

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