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It was a disgraceful day in 1978 when two senior journalists were hauled into the well of the House of Parliament for what was virtually a mob trial. That Parliament with its five-sixth majority was the complainant, the prosecutor, the jury and the judge all in one making a mockery of the basic tenets of natural justice.
The PA government, always at breakdown point with the media, made a sudden and surprising announcement on Thursday that it would repeal the horrible 1978 amendments to the Parliamentary Privileges Act.
While no doubt welcoming the government move we must also quickly say that the timing left some room for people to read between the lines and raise some suspicion about what it was aimed at.
We'll leave that at that for legal and other reasons. The bigger question we wish to ask today is what the government intends doing about other media reforms proposed by the PA appointed R.K.W. Goonasekera Committee which handed over its report more than one year ago.
In case the government has forgotten already may we remind it that the R.K.W. Committee recommended that the 1953 Parliamentary Privileges Act be restored fully. While proposing that the 1978 amendment which gave Parliament the power to try, convict, fine or jail offenders be repealed, the committee also proposed that subsequent amendments be scrapped. They included an amendment under which MPs could utter in Parliament statements which would otherwise amount to a contempt of Court. While calling for a repeal of the Official Secrets Act and the Criminal Defamation Clauses in the Penal Code the committee proposed the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act which would give the people and the media free access to government held information.
Lest it forgets, may we also remind the government that the committee proposed the repealing of the Press Council Law and the appointment of an independent Media Council together with guidelines for the imposition of any censorship in times of emergency.
What has happened to all these recommendations and the comprehensive package to protect and foster an independent media? Why was there a Cabinet announcement only on one aspect of this multifaceted issue?
Minister Mangala Samaraweera was quoted by the SLBC last night as saying that some of these recommendations would be implemented soon. We hope that would be done and it won't be like one of the infamous PA promises.
At the stroke of midnight tomorrow, Asia's little economic powerhouse Hong Kong will be born again. For the past few years, western propagandists have apparently been trying to paint a picture of the golden egg being swallowed by a huge red monster. But we believe the people of Hong Kong- including thousands of Sri Lankan lawyers, doctors, teachers and journalists who live and work there would be better-off under China with its practical "one country two systems policy" flowing from the vision of Deng Xiaoping.
What takes place from July 1 is the first step of a process to make right a historical wrong when the Empire building British waived a lot of rules to annex Hong Kong by military force after the Opium War 100 years ago. We believe that Tony Blair's Labour administration will be more accommodating than the Thatcher-Patten approach which started highlighting democracy in Hong Kong only when the time for the handover drew near.
We wish Hong Kong - China all the best in its new identity and a new era.
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