27th January 2002

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Consensus reached on new media culture

The abolition of the laws of criminal defamation, the setting up of an independent Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act among other issues as a matter of high priority was agreed to at a meeting between the Government and Press representatives this week.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe chaired the meeting on Tuesday at Temple Trees where issues relating to the media were presented by the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, the Editors Guild and the Free Media Movement.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the new UNF government had already drafted the bill for the repeal of penal provisions relating to defamation and he would make it available to media representatives before tabling it in parliament next month.

A decision whether to include retroactive provisions to the Penal Code amendment would be taken later, he said.

It was agreed to set up a self-regulatory Press Complaints Commission which would replace the existing quasi-judicial government-appointed Press Council noted for its time-consuming inquiries and partisan probes.

The government would study the possibility of closing down the Press Council and transferring the funds and personnel for the setting up of the PCC. It would comprise media and public representatives and would be devoid of government directives. The PCC would give the public quick and inexpensive redress to grievances against the media which would abide by a Code of Profesional Practice already drawn up by Editors.

A draft Freedom of Information Act was also presented for study by the government. The premier had earlier told parliament that the government would introduce an Act to provide the media and the public greater access to information.

A draft Contempt of Court Act to protect sources by law and define parameters of contempt and an Act relating to the reporting of parliamentary debates also received agreement.

The long absence of and therefore the establishment of a Media Training Institute and a Press Centre in lines with such venues in most democracies throughout the world was discussed.

The Prime Minister explained that the government was currently cash-strapped and would have to consider financial assistance other than by way of providing buildings by next year. The assistance of foreign donors supporting the role of the media as part of good governance was to be explored jointly by the Mass Communications Ministry and the media.

A Media-Military charter was also discussed with the premier. It would include guidelines relating to the reporting of racial and religious issues, he said.

A committee headed by Bradman Weerakoon and media representatives would go into several other issues including media law reforms, Emergency Regulations, the PTA and the setting up of a Broadcasting Authority.

An appeal by the publishers for the reduction of duties on the import of newsprint was to be taken up by the Prime Minister with Treasury officials.

Mass Communications Minister Imtiaz Bakeer-Markar, Justice Minister W. J. M. Lokubandara, Constitutional Affairs Minister G. L. Pieris and Prime Minister's secretary Bradman Weerakoon together with chairmen and CEOs of independent newspaper publishing houses and electronic media, members of the Editors Guild and representatives of the FMM participated in the talks with the Prime Minister.

Pay up or deliver call from Customs

By Tania Fernando
While the Ceylinco Group has paid a fine for having used duty free permits issued to a hotel, the wife of the former cricket captain is yet to pay the penalty imposed on her.

Three of the four duty free vehicle permits issued to a hotel down south was given to the Ceylinco Group and the other to Samadara Ranatunga.

The duty free vehicles had been issued to Koggala Beach Hotel and Tissara Hotels Ltd. 

The fines were paid to the Customs and the three vehicles had been released later. The vehicles are reportedly now being used by the Ceylinco Group and are in the process of being transferred to them.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times learns that the wife of the former cricket captain who had imported a Benz car using the duty free permit was yet to pay a penalty imposed by the Customs.

The fine was later reduced on President Kumaratunga's instructions. 

The Sunday Times learns that the Customs would make a written request to Ms. Ranatunga to pay the penalty or hand over the vehicle. She had reportedly agreed to produce the vehicle but had not done so yet.

When The Sunday Times contacted Ms. Ranatunga she declined to comment.

ST Editor's appeal

SC fixes april 1 for settlement

By Laila Nasry
The Supreme Court last Monday acceded to the defence request for further time in the special leave to appeal application filed by The Sunday Times Editor against his conviction of criminal defamation of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. 

Attorney Ronald Perera stating that his client's senior counsel Tilak Marapana was now a Cabinet minister told court there was a possibility that the law of criminal defamation would be repealed as a matter of government policy. 

He said his client required more time to consider the settlement offered by the Chief Justice.

Additional Solicitor General Rienzie Arsecularatne told court the proposed repeal of the law was irrelevant and had nothing to do with the conviction. 

In the wake of the developments the Bench comprising Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, D. P. S. Gunesekera and C. V. Wigneswaran granted time until April 1 for the Editor to consider the settlement offered by the Chief Justice. 

On the previous occasion the Chief Justice suggested that the Editor tender a general statement to court and not to any person in particular taking into consideration the fact that the Editor has already admitted that the article was factually incorrect and that it was not written by him. 

The Editor maintained throughout the trial and first appeal that though the article concerned was incorrect, that it was not defamatory.

The Editor was convicted on two counts of criminal defamation of President Chandrika Kumaratunga for a story published in a gossip column of The Sunday Times of February 15,1995. 

Tilak Marapana PC with S. L. Gunesekera, Nalin Laduwahetty, Ronald Perera and Upul Jayasuriya instructed by Asoka Samararatna appeared for the Editor. R. I. Obeysekera PC with Wijaya Wickremaratne PC, Ashley Herat and A. W. Yusuf appeared for the virtual complainant President Kumaratunga. 

Additional Solicitor General Rienzie Arsecularatne PC with state counsel Gihan Kulatunga appeared for the Attorney General. 

Hameed commemoration

The second commemoration of Dr. A. C. S. Hameed will be held at 4 p.m on January 31 at the BMICH conference hall.

The event is organised by the A. C. S. Hameed Peace Foundation. 

The chief guest will be Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. 

Former Swedish Minister and European Union Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallstrom will deliver the keynote address.

Other speakers include Ministers G. L. Peiris, Imthiaz Bakeer Markar, Ven. Kamburugammuwe Vajira Thera and TULF vice president Ananda Sangari. 

Tamil Nadu to celebrate Lanka's Independence

For the first timeTamil Nadu will celebrate Sri Lanka's independence on February 4 with a cultural event and lectures discussing various aspects of the freedom struggle. 

The celebrations organised by the Sinhalese and Tamil communities based in Tamil Nadu would be a show of support for the current peace process. 

The keynote address "The impact of Indo-Lanka relations to the Independence movement" will be delivered by S. Mohan, former Governor and Chief Justice of Karnataka. He is also a retired judge of Supreme Court of India. 

Prof. J. B. Disanayaka will also deliver a lecture on the contribution of the language to a freedom struggle followed by a sitar tribute to Sri Lanka's independence by Visharada Pradeep Ratnayake. 

Visharada Dayaratne and Amara Ranatunge duo will present "Homage to Sri Lanka." 

The celebrations will be held at 6 p.m. at the Maha Bodhi Society Hall in Chennai. 

The celebrations are organised by the Sri Lanka Maha Bodhi Society in association with Tech Sri Lanka.

Beware of mod itinerant salesmen

Police have warned the public to beware of a sales racket being carried in the guise of a market promotion.

They said a leading importer of electrical items was involved in the racket.

A well-dressed team of young men would arrive in a van and announce the sale of household goods at relatively cheaper prices. They would inveigle unsuspecting consumers by offering goods on an easy payment scheme and issue a receipt carrying the name of Gold Star Marketing Services (Pvt) Ltd., 123 Galle Road, Colombo 3.

Chandra Kanthi of Moratuwa fell a victim when she paid Rs. 7,050 and was given a receipt for it. She said on January13 she had paid the money for a gas cooker and a rice cooker. They had reportedly told her when she bought a gas cooker she would get a free cylinder and a pipe for the cooker. She said they had agreed to deliver the cylinder and the rice cooker on January 19 after obtaining a permit.

She had also been told any repairs could be done at any Aban's showrooms free of charge on production of the receipt. She said the items had not been delivered up to January 25.

She said the salesmen had told her if they sold more items they would win a ticket to Italy. "I felt sorry for them and decided to help," said Ms. Kanthi while making a complaint at the Kollupitiya police station.

The Kollupitiya police said the address in the receipt led them to a deserted house at the Rotunda Gardens in Kollupitiya.

Police also said the suspects had used a hired vehicle.

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