Critical reform measures must be taken to make permanent a clear perception of increased media freedom in Sri Lanka since the Jan. 8 presidential election, an international media mission to the country said today.
Mission delegates said they observed a sense of optimism among Sri Lankan journalists about the future of their profession, which they said government should build on in the second half of its 100-day platform as well as following upcoming parliamentary elections.
The delegates recommended specific measures, including:
· Passage of a freedom of information act
· Providing structural independence of state owned media
· Ending a culture of impunity through the prosecution of those responsible for past killings and abductions of journalists
· Reinforcing journalists organisations and strengthening the professional capacities of journalists
Participants in the mission, which was invited and facilitated by the Free Media Movement, met with journalists in both Jaffna and Colombo. They also met with journalists from various Sri Lankan provinces, in addition to key government officials and ministers, and representatives of the opposition, members of civil society, and heads of both state and independent media.
The mission participants included Chris Warren of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Scott Griffen of the International Press Institute (IPI) and Siddharth Varadarajan, former editor of The Hindu.
Mission participants welcomed assurances from government ministers that a Freedom of Information bill would be tabled this month and would be passed before upcoming parliamentary elections.
Officials also stressed that they had already requested the police inspector general to carry out thorough investigations into all killings of journalists as well as attacks on media houses, with particular priority given to the 2009 murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and the 2010 disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda.
“We welcome the government’s stated commitment to ending the cycle of impunity and violence that has plagued the Sri Lanka media over the past 25 years,” the mission participants said in a joint statement. “We encourage the authorities to carry out their investigations into all of the attacks on journalists and media houses as swiftly and transparency as possible so as to send a clear signal to Sri Lankan journalists that the government takes their safety seriously.
“We also welcome assurances from the government that the editorial independence of both print and broadcast state media will be respected. However, we reiterate our view that the only way to guarantee the independence of the state media in the future is through structural change that transforms state outlets into public service media dedicated to providing fair and balanced information to the Sri Lankan people.
“In our view, journalists need to be engaged in the reform process and the entire media community needs to work together to strengthen existing self-regulatory bodies as well as commit to upholding high standards of journalism, including through the development of capacity-building programmes.
“We believe that this is a critical moment for journalism in Sri Lanka, and the government has a tremendous opportunity to strengthen press freedom in Sri Lanka for the future and independent of political changes. We call upon the government to deliver on the promises it has made to the Sri Lankan media community as well as to the Sri Lankan public, who have the right to receive quality information in the public interest.”