All major political parties will soon sign a joint declaration calling upon the Government to protect media freedom and ensure the safety of journalists, an activist said yesterday.
Free Media Movement convenor Uvindu Kurukulasuriya said the move followed a meeting his and four other media organizations held with representatives of both Government and Opposition parties last Tuesday.
|The poster which appeared after Keith Noyahr’s abduction
The other organizations are the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, the Free Media Employees’ Trade Union, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum and the Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists’ Association.
The event was held at the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) premises at Narahenpita. Originally leading Opposition political parties were invited to meet the representatives of the five organizations. The Sunday Times learnt that a Government official sought permission of the sponsors for two of their representatives to take part. Thus Ministers Dallas Allahapperuma (representing the Government) and Rajitha Senaratne (representing the UNP – D group) attended.
Mr. Kurukulasuriya said he told participants of the various problems faced by the media including harassment and intimidation. He said the Deputy Labour Minister had walked into the Rupavahini Corporation premises and threatened employees there but no action had been taken. The Defence Ministry’s official web site was branding journalists as ‘traitors’ for exposing corruption or pointing out weaknesses in the ongoing separatist war. Hudson Samarasinghe who has been slandering journalists in a radio channel had been named as Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Chairman. Two media activists – Sanath Balasuriya and Poddala Jayantha – had been summoned and allegedly abused by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Minister Allahapperuma denied there was an ‘organized threat’ from the media against the Government. “We acknowledge that there have been incidents that suppressed the media. Neither has the Government organized it or condoned it,” he said.
The main opposition UNP was represented at the meeting by MPs Ravi Karunanayake and Dayasiri Jayasekera. Rauff Hakeem, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader took part on behalf of his party, Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne on behalf of the New Left Front, Mano Ganeshan for the Western People’s Front and Alfred Perera for the LSSP. Though the JVP did not take part, its General Secretary Tilvin Silva had written to say his party would extend its fullest support to any move to protect media freedom and the safety of journalists.
Meanwhile the Free Media Movement said Frederica Jansz, a senior journalist, had received death threats from an anonymous telephone caller.
She had been warned that if she did not stop all her ‘unnecessary work,’ within a short period of time she would have to face the consequences.
‘Respect rights of journalists’
Twenty nine media organizations worldwide have urged United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to ensure that Sri Lanka, as a member state, respects the Security Council resolution (1738) calling upon parties to conflict to respect “the professional independence of and rights of journalists.”
These organizations include the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, Index on Censorship and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
In a joint letter to the UN Secretary General last Friday the organizations have drawn his attention “to the alarming situation in Sri Lanka where statements associated with the Government and the military have, in our view, put journalists in grave danger.”
The letter points out: “In commentaries published on its website on Thursday June 5 2009 the Defence Ministry labelled journalists critical of the war effort against Tamil rebels as ‘enemies of the state’ and said it would take ‘all necessary measures to stop this journalistic treachery.’
The letter adds: “The global survey of news media casualties, presented to you by the International News Safety Institute last December, placed Sri Lanka 14th out of more than 70 countries where journalists died trying to do their jobs over the past decade. Journalists continue to work there in conditions of fear and harassment.
“We seek your support in urging all United Nations member states to respect Resolution 1738 in letter and spirit, and specifically request your help in persuading the Government of Sri Lanka to withdraw these statements and immediately stop all actions which undermine the independence and safety of the news community.”