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18th July 1999

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Govt., opposition MPs call for greater media reforms

MP from the ruling party and the opposition; including the UNP have given notice of a motion seeking the immediate reformation of the media laws in the country.

The motion has been signed by Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesighe (UNP), Srimani Athulathmudali (ULF), D. Sithadthan (PLOTE), P.P. Devaraj (CWC), M. Chandrakumar (UCPF), S. Sivathasan (EPDP), A.M. D.Rajan ( CWC) and Vasudeva Nanayakkara (PA).

The motion which seeks the overhauling the country's media laws calls for the bringing in of the Sri Lankan media laws closer to international obligations imposed by the International Covenant and Political Rights, the repealing of the criminal defamation and its replacement by provisions in line with modern concepts reflected in the judgments of the US Supreme Court and the European Court.

The motion further advocates the repeal of the Press Council Law and the replacement of the Press Council with a statutory Media Council, introduction of the Freedom of Information laws or Access to Information in keeping with worldwide changes in the area of media law reform.

Excerpts from the motion:

"Necessity of Reformation of Media Laws in the Country, _ Whereas the basic assumption in a liberal democratic polity is that government shall be based on the consent of the governed, and the consent of the governed implies not ony that consent be free but also that it shall be grounded on adequate information and discussion, aided by the widest possible dissemination of information by diverse sources;

And whereas it is acknowledged that media laws in the country stand in need of reform;

And whereas in pursuance of this call for media law reform, the government appointed a committee headed by Mr. R.K.W. Goonesekera to look into the issues in question and the resultant Goonesekera Committee Report called for changes to be made to existing law in order to bring Sri Lankan Law closer to international obligations imposed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

And whereas, it is acknowledged that while citizens irrespective of position or power should be provided with an effective remedy when defamed the law of criminal defamation as it presently appears in Section 479 of the Penal Code should be repealed in its entirety and replaced by a provision that is in line with modern trends in defamation law as are reflected in the jurisprudence of the European Court and the Supreme Court of the United States of America;

And whereas, it is necessary to repeal the stringent and unfair provisions of Section 14,15 and 16 of the Press Council Law, No. 5 of 1973

And whereas, it is also expedient to consider the codification of the law applicable to Contempt of Court including Sub Judice

And whereas, it is necessary that the media and the public should have a general right of access to government and official information which right is secured by a Freedom of Information Act or an Access to Information Act as the case may be, excluding only certain defined and clearly drawn categories that require protection in the interests of the state or in the interests of medical and commercial secrecy in line with the said Freedom of Information Act or Access to Information Act

And whereas,it is expedient to consider the establishment of a statutory Media Council to replace the Press Council, which Media Council shall be representative of the Government, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, the Media, professional bodies and other concerned public interest organisations, with a majority of non-governmental members;

And whereas, the said Media Council should be empowered by law to direct newspapers, where considered necessary after due inquiry, to publish clarifications and/or apologies and/or corrections in respect of errant publications, in instances where newspapers do not voluntarily agree to publish such clarifications and/or apologies and/or corrections;

This House resolves that the Government takes early action to introduce appropriate legislation in Parliament for the purposes of giving legal effect to the matters referred to above.

If they are DMs why not us?

With the number of government backbenchers dropping to a low 35 after the elevation of 18 members to the office of deputy ministers, the PA's rifts have begun to show with individuals conducting their own campaigns for political high office.

The twice splintered Mulberry group comprising PA backbenchers have now reorganised themselves into a Group of 18 to pursue the same objectives, while the Presidential Secretariat is being inundated with protest letters and appeals seeking the appointment of some more deputies.

According to reliable sources, campaigns have been organised by supporters of several disgruntled parliamentarians who were not promoted during the recent shake up while some MPs have conducted their own campaigns.

Sources confirmed that the strongest campaign has been launched in support of Kurunegala district parliamentarian T.B. Ekanayake with letters from the Bishop of Kurunegala Rev. Fr. Reymond Peiris to Buddhist prelates and from electoral organisers expressing solidarity with the MP.

Similar requests, according to reliable sources, have been made in support of ULF Vice President Kesaralal Gunasekera and SLFPers Wijitha Wijemuni Soysa and D.M. Dassanayake.

While dozens of requests have been made in support of several MPs urging they also be elevated to the rank of deputy minister, many protest letters have also been sent demanding the decrease of the number of deputies or the promotion of those whom the protesters deemed deserving.

With the appointment of 18 additional deputies with some assigned to ministries already having deputy ministers, the remaining government members have turned somewhat militant, sources confirmed.

When contacted, many members denied having campaigned for any posts and claimed they never campaigned for higher office at any time and were unaware that such letters or messages had been sent on their behalf.

Athas case put off for Nov. 4

The case against two air force officers who were indicted for intimidating The Sunday Times consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent Iqbal Athas, his wife and others in his residence was put off for November 4, by Colombo High Court Judge Andrew Somawansa on Friday.

The two accused Squadron Leaders H. M. Rukman Herath and Don Pradeep Sujeewa Kannangara are also facing charges of unlawful entry into the residence of Mr. Athas and intimidating him with firearms on February 12 last year.

Squadron Leader Herath was a bodyguard of a former Air Force Commander whilst Sqr. Ldr. Kannangara was a former head of the Special Airborne Force (SABF).

Twelve people, including a prison guard and two CID officers have been listed as witnesses in the case.

The two Air Force officers were taken into custody by the CID on a complaint made by Mr. Athas and produced before the Gangodawila Magistrate. They were remanded after Mr. Athas and his wife Anoma, identified them but were later granted bail.

When the case was before the Gangodawila Magistrate, a further 26 airmen of the Special Airborne Force (SABF) were produced four months later (with 200 others) at an identification parade but none of them was identified by Mr. Athas, his wife Anoma Prasani and Marimuttu Subramaniam, an aide.

President's counsel Daya Perera and Atorney T. G. Gunasekera appeared for Mr. Athas.

LTTE rejects safety zone offer

The LTTE has rejected an offer by the army to create a five - kilometre Civilian Safety Zone (CSZ) in the Wanni region to facilitate food supplies and civilian movements, the Defence Ministry said yesterday.

The offer was made through the International Committee of the Red Cross amidst reports that food and medical supplies to thousands of civilians in the uncleared Wanni region was running low after the main supply route was closed.

The LTTE was offered a choice of three civilian safety routes in the Mankulam area but the rebels have rejected all saying they feared such a move would enable the army to launch fresh operations from the no-war zone.

PA gets hot over cool reaction

With the main opposition UNP poised to move a motion in Parliament against the PA over the infamous Channel 9 bribery issue, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has berated her Cabinet ministers for not defending her when the issue was hotly debated last week in Parliament, authoritative sources said.

The UNP has already decided to seek a full debate on the Channel 9 bribery scandal and to query the alleged involvement of Presidential media consultant Sanath Gunatilleke in it.

The motion which is expected to be tabled in Parliament shortly is expected to coincide with a UNP led massive anti-corruption campaign beginning this Thursday.

Meanwhile, sources said that the President at a recent meeting with the Cabinet criticised ministers for not defending her integrity. However, the ministers have responded that they did not mind defending her but were not willing to defend corrupt officials.

The source added that the President asked about the members who were present in Parliament on the day pandemonium broke out when Dr. Rajitha Senaratne raised the Channel 9 issue and allegedly criticised the business tycoon involved in the deal.

Harry rocks bourse with Rs. 340m deal

Aitken Spence's 2.9 million shares swap provided the thrust on Friday for the Colombo bourse to rise 0.87 per cent.

It is rumoured in the market that an individual connected to Carson Cumberbatch & company sold the stake in Aitken Spence to Harry Jayawardene of Stassen for Rs 340.66 million.

The 2,961,000 shares, about 20 per cent of the company's issued share capital was bought at Rs115.00 gaining 17% for the week.

This transaction was also responsible for the local investor dominated market activity contributing towards 81 per cent of overall activity. The week's transactions resulted in generating a total turnover of Rs. 742 million or an average turnover of Rs. 148 million compared to the previous week's Rs. 163 million and Rs. 32 million, a Forbes ABN AMRO report said.

However, in contradiction to gains, which were mainly distorted by trading on Aitken Spence general investor enthusiasm left much to be desired, the report said.

"This is reflected in the scanty average turnover of Rs. 46 million, excluding revenue generated from Aitken Spence and continued lack of interest by foreign investors."

Therefore Forbes expects this week's performance to be a one - off and the market to retrieve to its former sluggishness within the next couple of days.

Contrary to this market sources say that this is a good sign for the market and expect more large transactions. A key prospect being Multivision International's intention to purchase 51 per cent of the shares of Hotel Services (Ceylon) Limited owned by Asian Hotels Corporation Limited at Rs. 26 per share.

Death of veteran Journalist

The funeral of Dudley Fernando 69, senior journalist took place on Thursday at Negombo.

Dudley joined the Observer in 1959 as a sub - editor often filling in as a feature writer. He moved on to the Daily News where he wrote features and often the editorial. While on the Observer he contributed learned essays yearly to the 'Observer Pictorial'

With the political changes of 1977, he left for the Middle East along with many other journalists. He joined the Gulf News and worked on this paper until his retirement couple of years ago. On the Gulf News he was its leader writer and associate editor.

NMAT can go ahead with anti-Thonda petition

By Nilika de Silva

The Supreme Court has granted leave to proceed in the Fundamental Rights petition filed by the National Movement Against Terrorism and four residents of Nuwara Eliya.

The respondents included Minister and CWC leader S. Thondaman and his grandson, a prominent member of the CWC, and the Inspector General of Police.

The petition alleges that Senior Superintendent of Police Pujitha Jayasundera, was given a politically motivated transfer at the instance of Minister Thondaman.

SSP Jayasundera, while serving as Senior Superintendent in Nuwara Eliya had allowed the petitioner's movement to display a banner titled "The way to defeat the Tigers".

The petition also alleged that CWC's S. Thondaman, S.A.R. Thondaman (MP for Nuwara Eliya), S. Sathasivam (M.P. for Nuwara Eliya) and V. Radhakrishna, (Provincial Minister for the Central Province) initiated the move to get the SSP transferred.

The petitioners have sought a direction from court to quash the transfer of the SSP Jayasundera and also a declaration that their fundamental rights have been violated.

The bench comprised justices R.N.M. Dheeraratne, S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya and Ameer Ismail.

The case will be taken up on November 24.

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