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The Death of Media Freedom in Sri Lanka

Filed under: global islands,media,sri lanka — admin @ 5:49 am

Sri Lanka is a country at war. As a direct consequence of the increase in hostilities between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE), fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression and media freedom, have severely deteriorated over the past year. Despite international condemnation and repeated local protests, the GoSL and LTTE are unable, or unwilling, to put an end to a culture of impunity that has cost some journalists and human rights activists their lives and places other at severe risk. The violence directed against pro-democracy voices in civil society has resulted in a fear psychosis amongst the media community in particular. Hate speech and open threats to even senior journalists are now, perversely, routine by members of the government and highly placed public servants. Abductions, murders and severe erosion of safety for working journalists stunts the growth of investigative reportage and results in a de facto censorship of issues related to justice, the Rule of Law, human rights and democracy.
The situation is already impossible, and unbelievably, getting worse. The Free Media Movement (FMM) considers World Press Freedom Day in 2007 to be a day to mourn, not celebrate, media freedom in Sri Lanka. Facts, which speak for themselves, on the deterioration of media freedom and fundamental rights in Sri Lanka in general, deny us even a cautious optimism on securing and strengthening media freedom in the near future. Calls to clarify the government’s position on hate speech and intimidatory tactics adopted and promoted by members of parliament and senior officials have fallen on deaf ears. Investigations into the deaths of journalists are stalled, unable to continue sans the political will to bring perpetrators of heinous crimes to justice. Journalists have been forced to flee Sri Lanka. Those who remain are in fear of their lives, in a context in which the Rule of Law withers in suspended animation. The threat to media freedom is real and palpable for those working in Sri Lanka and, especially, journalists who advocate the inviolability of human rights and basic norms of democracy even at a time of war. Unfortunately, the timbre of living constantly in fear and repression, and the significant erosion of media freedom and fundamental rights, isn’t always easily communicated to the international community, or can be.
This is our foremost challenge. On the one hand, free media is a vital bulwark against a total erasure of fundamental rights. Media, acting in the interests of the public, have a responsibility to report critically on all actors involved in the on-going conflict, including the Government and the LTTE. To harm the media, to threaten the media or otherwise seek to control free media is inimical to the fundamental tenets of democracy. Regrettably, this is precisely what journalists in Sri Lanka face today. Accordingly, this brief statement by the FMM seeks to a) flag key issues facing the media today and b) propose recommendations to address the significant deterioration of media freedom.
The failure to stop the erosion of media freedom in Sri Lanka is quite simply that the manner in which the State seeks to combat terrorism will itself give birth to a new tyranny and despotism in Sri Lanka. The possibility of deeper cycles of violent conflict that will be the inevitable result thereof is a frightening yet compelling appeal to all democratic stakeholders, local and international, to urge those responsible for the continuation of the on-going violence to desist.
Fundamentally, it is Sri Lanka’s future as a vibrant and viable democracy that is at stake.

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