ARTICLE 19 slams Sri Lankan censorship

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 20 January 1999, 22:59 GMT]
ARTICLE 19, the London-based international anti-censorship organisation today accused the Sri Lankan government and military of using the emergency regulations “to conceal from the Sri Lankan people the true cost of the continuing war” against the LTTE.

ARTICLE 19 called on the Sri Lankan government to immediately lift its censorship and take other “long-promised steps” to guarantee press freedom in a new report, “Fifty Years On; Censorship, conflict and media reform in Sri Lanka” unveiled today.

In a statement issued by the organisation, Andrew Puddephatt, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director said that censorship being used to conceal the “high number of casualties” and “the extent of civilian displacement”.

"Clearly, the re-appointment of an official censor to vet media reporting of the conflict and related affairs is having a severe 'chilling effect'. This seriously impedes the free flow of information about issues of key public interest, including the high number of casualties on bath sides and the extent of civilian displacement” he said.

“This has exacerbated a long standing problem of lack of information arising from the military's denial of effective access by journalists to the war zones" he added.

ARTICLE 19’s report also criticises the government’s retention of criminal defamation laws and their continuing use against leading editors and journalists who take issue with official policy.

"When the People's Alliance government came to power four years ago it promised a whole series of media reforms, to break with the repression of the past and guarantee respect for freedom of expression and other basic rights. At first, there were some positive signs but four years on very little of the reform agenda has been achieved” according to Andrew Puddephatt:

“Furthermore, the government has shown an increasing tendency to target its media critics through the use of lawsuits and other kinds of harassment" he added.

ARTICLE 19 was skeptical about the government's appointment last year of a parliamentary select committee to examine the case for media reform.

"We hope that this is a genuine process even though the select committee will he covering much ground which government-appointed expert groups already examined more than two years ago and no firm date has been set for it to make its recommendations. Only time will tell” he added.

“But it would be tragic for the future of Sri Lanka's democracy if it turns out to be no more than a recipe for further delay” he said.

On 9 December 1998, the President appointed a new, civilian 'Competent Authority'- the Director of Information - to administer the censorship on reporting of various security matters under emergency regulations.

Direct censorship under emergency regulations had been reimposed in Sri Lanka in June 1998, when for the first time a military censor (the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army) had been appointed.

ARTICLE 19 noted that the content of Sri Lanka's emergency regulations, which govern censorship, remains unchanged.


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