A mission of seven INGOs and IGOs working on media freedom recommended today a package of reforms in the post-election media environment of Sri Lanka.
The mission which has been meeting with media, government and civil society stakeholders since 8 May, welcomed the positive changes made in the country since a new government came into power in January 2015.
“The mission found a considerably freer environment and a drop in the level of threats and intimidation that had become the norm under the Rajapakse government”, said Thomas Hughes, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
In meetings with various ministers, the government also showed a strong desire to reform controversial and restrictive laws that silence civil society and the media, including the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The proposed Right to Information Bill agreed by the cabinet is also close to being tabled before parliament.
“There’s a long way to go to reverse the decades of authoritarian rule that has impacted on the media in so many ways. ARTICLE 19 is looking forward to working with all stakeholders to take advantage of the will to protect the right to freedom of expression”, added Hughes.
A number of concerns remain. The legal framework for the media is far from adequate. There is no systematic regulation of the broadcast media and regulation of the print media is open to abuse. The broadcasters often do not reflect Sri Lankan society or its needs. Ownership has also become excessively politicised.
Despite the government’s commitment to investigate two of the most notorious cases of killed journalists, there remain numerous unresolved cases of attack and intimidation. In one media house visited, the mission discovered that not one of 40 attacks, including killings, have been investigated effectively nor independently, or the perpetrators brought to justice. The mission visited Jaffna, a city still recovering from being at the heart of the civil war, and was concerned to hear that journalists still feel like they are being watched and are at risk.
The mission made a series of nine recommendations to the government covering legal change, capacity building, and the reform of state media.
The mission also called for an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate attacks on journalists and bring perpetrators to justice. The Prime Minister in the mission’s meeting with him supported the idea.
See below to read the full statement.
The mission comprised of ARTICLE 19, Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Media Support (IMS), Open Society Foundations (OSF) Program on Independent Journalism, South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) and UNESCO, with support from the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI).
Joint Statement: International Media Assessment Mission to Sri Lanka.