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Media groups condemn re-activation of Press Council Law

(FMM/IFEX) - Several media groups wrote a letter to the Minister of Media and Information, questioning the re-activation of the controversial Press Council.

July 30, 2009

Hon Anura Priyadharshana Yapa,
Minister of Media & Information
Ministry of Media & Information,
Colombo 05

Obtaining a discussion on the re-activation of the Press Council

During a post-cabinet news conference recently, you told the media that the Press Council was re-activated to establish the right of journalists to access information as well as to raise their professional standard.

Your idea on this is very noble. However, we cannot believe that the objectives could be achieved with the Press Council which has the powers to fine and impose fines on newspaper publishers. Ensuring media freedom and improving the professional standards of journalists should not be done by enforcing the Press Council Law, but by repealing the law and introducing a suitable alternative mechanism.

One cannot take steps to provide welfare for journalists while laws to penalize them prevail. In that event the standards of journalists could have been raised and a healthy media culture including a code of ethics could have been enforced during the 30-year period from 1973 to 2003 when these laws remained in force.

In 1994, the government which included the incumbent President, Ministers of the present government and you as a Member of Parliament, approved a media policy submitted to Parliament by the then Media Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake which suggested the formation of an alternative organization to the Press Council as there was no benefit to the media by this Council other than being used to penalize journalists.

The benefits you suggest could be provided to the media by implementing the media policy of the government introduced after 1994. The proposals made by the sub-committee and the media policy introduced after 1994 to ensure media freedom and raise the professional standards of journalists are among the files in the Media Ministry which is under your leadership now. You would be able to achieve your objectives by implementing the above policy. Further to this policy in 1998 (later released in 2008 the Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility was approved with the participation of the then government led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party in the opposition and with your participation. We wish to remind you that in 1998 opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and you as the deputy media minister addressed the inaugural session at the BMICH where this Colombo Declaration was approved.

We therefore urge that you follow the above mentioned media policy. You could still achieve your objectives and this cannot be done by trying to implement laws under which newspaper establishments could be fined and journalists could be jailed. Therefore, we urge you to repeal the Press Council Law and implement the policies you too have approved. We wish to inform you that we could provide the required information and support required for this purpose.

The eight following organizations – the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, Free Media Movement, South Asian Free Media Association (Sri Lanka Chapter), Editors Guild of Sri Lanka and Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, have made written letters to the President. We request that you give the representatives of our eight organizations an opportunity to discuss this matter with you.

Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association
Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance
Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum
Federation of Media Employees Trade Union
Free Media Movement
South Asian Free Media Assocaition (Sri Lanka Chapter)
Editors Guild of Sri Lanka
Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka

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