Sri Lanka Defense Ministry must withdraw media guidelines

Jul. 01, 2008

Sri Lanka-The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) notes with alarm that Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry proposes ‘guidelines’ for the media that would effectively throttle media independence and deprive the public of the right to reliable and authentic information on public issues.

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, the guidelines are proposed in an editorial on the ministry’s website which argues that critical media scrutiny of military issues risks national security and is akin to supporting terrorism.

The IFJ joins the FMM in calling on the Sri Lankan government and the Ministry to withdraw the guidelines immediately.

The editorial was posted after a May 31 post called on all members of the armed forces to unite and guard against a treacherous media campaign [being run] against them. Journalists were accused of terrorist propaganda.

Journalists who report on defense issues have been subjected to a series of attacks, threats and intimidation in the past month. On May 22, Keith Noyahr, deputy editor and defense writer for The Nation, was abducted and violently beaten. On May 29, the home of senior defense reporter Sirimevan Kasturiarachchi, of the Divaina, was stormed by an unknown group and he was warned to stop reporting on all matters related to the Sri Lankan army and defense personnel.

The latest editorial expresses serious concern over the unethical measures used by so-called defense writers to obtain information. It reiterates the earlier threat that any journalist who writes critically about the conduct of the armed forces and the security establishment in Sri Lanka will be branded by the government as a traitor.

The proposed guidelines stipulate, among other things, that the media should not:

Be critical of military strategy or seek to analyse it.

Scrutinise promotions and transfers within the armed forces.

Question military procurements and the processes adopted for these.

Espouse or discuss anti-war positions.

Obtain information from military officers other than officially designated spokesmen.

The IFJ endorses the FMM’s characterization of these proposals as unacceptable and inconsistent with democratic values and accepted practices of reporting on military and security issues.

Rather than place more restrictions on media freedom, the IFJ urges the Sri Lanka’s government to address the environment of fear, intimidation and violence faced by journalists in the country.

The media has an essential role in questioning military strategies and policies, and indeed to question policy options other than war. This position is consistent with the IFJ’s belief that the freedom to speak and to seek information can be an effective antidote to endemic conflict, said IFJ Asia-Pacific.

Communal and ethnic antagonisms can be resolved by promoting a process of social dialogue in which all aspects of public life, including the policy options favored by the government in power, are freely discussed and debated.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries

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