Comment from The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka

The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka has expressed great concern over developments in the UK to attempt to control the press.

The attention of The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka has been drawn to developments in the British Press in relation to greater legislative controls that could, and probably would, shackle freedom of speech, expression and publication in the UK.

The British Press, as we know, has unfettered freedom that has long been the envy of peoples in nations with oppressive regimes. It has even been a role model for democratic states such as Sri Lanka which has its own share of restrictions on media freedom. For the first time in nearly 300 years, the free press of Britain is going to be subject to Parliamentary control.

The proposed Royal Charter backed press regulations aims to strike the ‘right balance’ between tough self- regulations and freedom of the press based on the Leveson Report and incorporated into an ominous sounding Crime and Courts Bill.

We find that even in the matter of a Code of Professional Practice for journalists, the editors have been removed from the responsibility of ensuring professional standards be maintained. This responsibility has passed to an independent Board removing any vestige of self-regulation.

All this has already had a chilling effect on the British media and thrown a wet blanket on investigative journalism, the hallmark of the British Press and the envy of the rest of the democratic world.

We understand that there would be through this new regulatory framework a disproportionate impact on small publishers and the regional Press.

Should exemplary damages have to be paid for those newspaper houses that fail to subscribe to the Royal Charter, the new laws would result in the loss of self-regulatory status.

The implications of these new laws would no doubt, reverberate in the rest of the world in general and the Commonwealth in particular. Those of us in Sri Lanka who have for many years admired the independence of the British Press whatever the its aberrations from time to time will question its role model status in the years to come.

Make no mistake, we do not subscribe to journalism practices that have triggered public debate on the need for media law reform in the UK resulting in these drastic measures. However, by and large, the majority of the British Press has had a long and proud tradition of independence and we see its emasculation as a matter of grave concern for us in the Commonwealth.

The almost draconian legislature contemplated in the United Kingdom would serve oppressive governments around the world, and especially in the Commonwealth with a convenient example to maintain tight controls over an independent media.

In the future, any statements from the British Government on the freedom of the press would sound hollow in the face of such legislation.

Siri Ranasinghe