Slain TULF MP, Arunachalam Thangathurai's wife Sathyashri, son Ahilan and youngest daughter Dharmini at the funeral last week. Pic. by Sanjeeva Niroshana
The UNP has called for the abrogation of criminal defamation laws and amendments to other laws that impede media freedom, according to a motion already filed with the Speaker of Parliament.
Former Information and Broadcasting Minister Tyronne Fernando has written on behalf of the UNP to the Secretary General of Parliament ,Bertram Tittawella, proposing six amendments to the motion by the government to set up a parliamentary select committee on the legislative and regulatory framework to the country's media.
Among the amendments it has moved are to Section 479 of the Penal Code that relates to Criminal Defamation, the Official Secrets Act, the Public Security Ordinance and the Parliamentary Powers & Privileges Act to create a conducive media culture in Sri Lanka.
Mr. Fernando told The Sunday Times that regarding criminal defamation they were not calling only for amendments, but for an abrogation of the law.
Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera has already agreed to repeal the Parliamentary powers and Privileges Act 1978 Amendment and said the government was prepared to consider the report of R. K. W. Goonesekera Committee which called for the repeal of criminal defamation and press council laws.
Mr. Fernando told The Sunday Times the UNP was also proposing that the parliamentary committee should review all legislation that contain provisions affecting the freedom of expression or the independence of the media.
Mr. Fernando denied state media reports that the UNP had opposed the appointment of the parliamentary select committee to study the proposed reforms in media laws. He said that when the Leader of the House Ratnasiri Wickremanayake moved the motion last Wednesday, the UNP had not opposed it but sought time to introduce amendments.
He said the UNP was now challenging the government to prove its commitment to an independent media by accepting the proposed amendments which the party felt would create a media culture in line with the highest democratic traditions.
The World Association of Newspapers has expressed concern over continuing threats or efforts to impose political or bureaucratic restrictions on the independent media in Sri Lanka.
In a toughly worded resolution adopted at a recent meeting in Amsterdam the association called on the Sri Lanka Govt. to ensure the continuance of a free media, end discriminatory practices against independent newspapers and create climate for the full and free expression of views and ideas on all sides.
The association which referred to legislation such as the disgraced broadcasting bill, offered full support to free media institutions in their campaign to maintain their independence.
The Association said it was aware that the most influential and powerful media organizations in Sri Lanka, which are state controlled, are being utilized by the Govt. to present its views on ongoing issues, and that no restrictions are imposed upon them, whereas there are restrictions on independent newspapers and television stations.
An SLFP MP who faces a disciplinary inquiry for making certain comments about the devolution package, said yesterday he stood by his statement that he was opposed to the division of the country on ethnic basis.
Parliamentarian Jayasena Rajakaruna told The Sunday Times the party had sought his explanation about his comments made before the Sinhala commission in Kurunegala recently.
Mr. Rajakaruna said as a long standing member of the SLFP and having worked with late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike he was totally against dividing the country on ethnic basis as it would be unfair for all communities.
He said the party secretary had called for his explanation about making the statement and on Thursday Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera had been quoted as saying that a disciplinary inquiry might be held against the member who had criticised the peace package. However Mr. Samaraweera did not name the MP.
Srimani Athulathmudali's NDUNLF will skip a two-day meeting on constitutional reforms for PA MPs organised by Minister G. L. Peiris and presided over by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
In what is seen as a retaliation by the NDUNLF for being left out by the PA from a crucial elections related meeting a fortnight ago, the NDUNLF is to boycott the two-day symposium starting tomorrow, The Sunday Times learns.
The NDUNLF, which came under severe criticism from several quarters in the PA, soon after the local elections was left out from some of the mainstream PA activities, during the recent past, in addition to Ms. Athulathmudali losing her cabinet portfolio in the reshuffle last month.
All PA MPs are required to attend tomorrow's meeting at Hotel Tangerine in Kalutara to be given a full awareness and understanding of proposed constitutional reforms.
Constitutional Affairs Minister G.L Peiris, organiser of the meeting in consultation with President Chandrika Kumaratunga, said on Thursday that this two-day symposium would cover all aspects of the proposed caonstitutional reforms.
The meeting to be presided over by President Kumaratunga will require the direct participation of all members who are to be assigned different responsibilities with regard to the proposed reforms.
NDUNLF spokesman Ravi Karunanayake confirmed they had received the invitation, but declined to comment on participation.
In the meantime the SLFP is to take disciplinary action against one of its members who spoke against the government's devolution package within the parliament premises.
Political sources said that avoiding tomorrow's meeting without a valid reason would be seen as amounting to a violation of coalition rules.
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has appointed Colombo High Court Judge Upali de Z. Gunewardena, Panadura High Court Judge T. B. Weerasuriya and Deputy Solicitor General Nihal Jayasinghe as judges of the Court of Appeal. They are to take their oaths shortly.
Dr. G.L. Peiris has drawn attention to our news item of last Sunday titled "Author throws book at GL," wherein Parakrama Wijesinghe, a resident in the USA, has, in a letter of demand addressed to Dr. Peiris, alleged an infringement of copyright law.
Dr. Peiris has informed us he has neither heard of Mr. Wijesinghe or his book, nor come across any reference to it at any time. He adds that up to the time of speaking to us, he has not received Mr. Wijesinghe's letter. In the event of action being instituted Dr. Peiris intends to counter sue.
The news item was published in good faith and on material which we perceived to be a matter of public interest. However we appreciate Dr. Peiris's concern in the matter that the publication of allegations in a letter of demand which may or may not form a preliminary step in a legal process, should in fairness to Dr. Peiris have also carried his views on the matter. Any unintended embarrassment to Dr. Peiris in this regard is regretted.
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