Government parliamentarians yesterday highlighted the need for the reintroduction of the draconian Criminal Defamation Law, which was repealed by the United National Party (UNP) Government in June 2002. Monitoring MP for the Ministry of External Affairs, Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, argued in Parliament the government should reintroduce the law to prevent heads of media organizations from acting like ‘underworld thugs.’
Speaking during the debate on regulations introduced under the Sri Lanka Press Council Act, to increase registration or renewal fees, Gunawardena said he has personal experience where editors and owners of certain publications demanded money, threatening to publish derogatory matter in their respective publications.
He also said he was subjected to malicious and baseless attacks by media ever since Mihin Lanka was started, but could not do anything as there is no law to tackle such derogatory matters.
“Though the opposition members always say the government has hampered press freedom, the truth is, it is hampered or restricted by the owners of respective media organizations as they are politically or otherwise motivated to start those media houses. For instance, if you take most of the leading newspapers in the country, they are owned by individuals in the opposition or by their families. That is why 95% of the stories published in Sunday newspapers are anti-government,” he said.
He insisted the Press Council is not strong enough to handle media issues; thus it needs to be given more teeth.
TNA Parliamentarian, M.A. Sumanthiran, who joined the debate after Gunawardena spoke, said he was astonished to hear the revelation made by the latter that 95% of Sunday articles that appear in newspapers are anti-government.
“Are you sure you are talking about Sri Lanka and did not get yourself confused with some other country as you travel all over the world as the monitoring MP for the External Affairs Ministry? How can one say the government does not exert violence against media when so many journalists and media institutions come under attack? For instance, Uthayan newspaper alone came under attack more than 30 times,” he said.
Sumanthiran also noted the government has so far failed to resolve any of the issues with regard to attacks against media personnel and institutions.
“It is not that our police are not efficient to solve those matters. If anything remains unsolved, those are definitely crimes committed by the government. Who else can escape without being caught after enlarging armed attacks in high security zones in Jaffna and Kilinochchi, if they are not connected to the government?” he questioned
By Gagani Weerakoon