Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Websites that criticise the Government to be dealt with

The attention of NfR  has been drawn to a conversation that  is  reported to have taken place  at a breakfast meeting  hosted by President Mahinda Rajapakse for senior media personnel in Colombo on the 13th of January, 2011.
According to media reports the President has told those who had attended the meeting  that  a separate unit is investigating the  activities of certain websites with a view to  ‘take action’   against them.


The President's remark was reportedly in response to  a suggestion by the Editor of the Silumina Newspaper Mr Karunadasa Sooriyarachchi.   Mr Sooriyarachchi is reported to have pointed out to the President that there are websites "attacking the Government,  the  Country, the President’s family and sometimes his own Institution’  and had  asked,  “Why measures should not be taken against  those websites".  Following the President’s response,  the  Silumina,  a State controlled Sinhala weekly, carried a lead story last week titled   “Some websites are a threat to national security”. 

The President is also reported to have said that the biggest challenge he faces is the media.  In a democracy,  media is considered to be  an asset  and not a challenge.  Assets are to be cherished  and challenges are to be surmounted.  The very foundation of democracy hinges on the right to free speech. The publication of news items and articles both favourable and critical of  the government, are very much part and parcel of that freedom.

It may be recalled that many government controlled media outlets have on earlier occasions too, labeled some journalists as "traitors".  These  malicious  allegations resulted in many  journalists being abducted, assaulted, jailed or  murdered as in the case  of  the editor of the Sunday Leader,  Lasantha Wickrematunga.

It is also disconcerting to note that the  President is reported to have  chosen to malign the Tamil newspapers by  alleging  that "Tamil newspapers are still partial to the LTTE and  are  supportive of the LTTE sympathizers and their actions".  If this report of the President's allegation is true, then the free hand given to the Sinhala and other media outlets which continue to publish mischievous news items  against those whom they see as traitors, needs to be questioned.    In fact, to build a united Sri Lanka all media institutions should  be treated equally. NfR is deeply concerned of the President's remarks in this regard.

With the conventional print and electronic media in Sri  Lanka shackled by various coercive methods, both legal and illegal,  websites provide an alternative  space  for  reporting news, critical of the government or otherwise, and is an essential adjunct to free speech in Sri Lanka.

The free exchange of ideas on the internet,  is given much importance  in many countries other than  in the most repressive of regimes  such as China and Iran. It is a matter of concern that Sri Lanka too, is now  heading  in that direction.

Issued by

Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka
Steering committee : Kshama Ranawana ( Canada) Lionel Bopage ( Australia), Nadarasa Sarawanan (Norway), Nadarajah Kuruparan(UK) Padmi Liyanage (Germany), Raveendran Pradeepan (France), Rudhramoorthy Cheran (Canada), Saman Wagaarachchi ( USA), Sunanda Deshapriya ( Switzerland)

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