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Government urged to repeal registration fees for news websites

(IFJ/IFEX) - 20 July 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is informed by partner organisations and affiliates in Sri Lanka of an alarming decision by the Ministry of Mass Media and Information to levy a registration fee on news websites and charge them an annual fee for renewal of registration.

According to a press release published on the website of the Ministry on July 13, the cabinet had two days earlier approved the proposal to levy a registration fee of LKR (Sri Lankan rupees) 100,000 (approximately USD 750) on websites that carry news and current affairs content on the country. These websites would moreover be liable to pay an annual renewal fee of LKR 50,000 (approximately USD 375).

Sri Lanka's Minister of Mass Media and Information, Keheliya Rambukwella has stated on record that amendments will soon be enacted to the Sri Lanka Press Councils Act to allow the levy of a registration fee on news websites. The main objective of this amendment would be, in his words, "to ensure (that) contents of the websites do not harm defenceless individuals".

"We view this move as the third stage in a crackdown on user generated content on the web, following the ban of four websites in November last year for their failure to register with the Ministry and the police raids carried out on the office premises of two news portals in June", said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

The IFJ had issued warnings, first when the registration norms were introduced and again in May this year, when Sri Lanka's Supreme Court declined to hear a fundamental rights petition challenging the registration rules, that "the power of regulating the flow of information, once granted, could easily be misused".

"We call on the Sri Lankan government to reverse course", said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

"The protection of privacy, personal reputation and the public interest is much better achieved through post facto corrections and sanctions, rather than by imposing prior restrictions and erecting increasingly formidable barriers to entry into the world of information flows".

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