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IFJ questions government moves on media ethics

(IFJ/IFEX) - July 26, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that Sri Lanka's Government proposes to establish a body to examine the ethics of journalists, a move which stands to further impede media independence in the country.

The Media Development Authority proposal comes as Sri Lankan media personnel mark six months since the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, the online reporter and cartoonist who disappeared on January 24, two days before the country's presidential elections. Grave concerns are held for his welfare.

The IFJ has joined its affiliates in Sri Lanka and international organisations in repeatedly calling on Sri Lankan authorities to ensure a proper investigation into Eknaligoda's disappearance.

News of the authority also came as it was reported that a provincial journalist was hospitalised after a brutal assault on July 23. P.A. Anthony, a contributor to the Daily Mirror and Sudar Oli newspapers, was admitted to hospital after an attack by two masked men in Mannar.

The proposed Media Development Authority ostensibly will aim to promote journalistic ethics and help journalists to enhance their skills in this area. However, senior journalists believe it is an attempt to further suppress the media, where high levels of self-censorship already exist.

"The IFJ urges Sri Lanka's Government to acknowledge the value of independent codes of ethics, and to promote continuing independent self-regulation in the interests of ensuring ethical journalism can flourish in an environment free from intimidation, censorship and government control," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

The IFJ further encourages governing authorities in Sri Lanka to observe and heed the principles of the 2005 Tholangamuwa Declaration, in which Sri Lankan journalists and their organisations committed to support a democratic and pluralist media culture, including adherence to the independent Sri Lankan Professional Code of Conduct.

Lankadeepa editor Siri Ranasinghe said that such an authority was unnecessary as several media foundations look after media ethics in Sri Lanka, according to reports. "We have the Editor's Guild, the Free Media Movement and the Sri Lanka Press Institute to ensure and guide media ethics, so why worry about setting up an authority? The initiative is certainly dubious," he told The Sunday Leader.

Information Department Director-General Ariyaratne Athugala has said the authority's purpose is to help journalists in the print and electronic media to enhance their journalism skills and not to impose any harsh regulatory mechanism.

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