In a land mark decision, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka says that refusal to register the news web site www.medialk.com and there by not to issue media ID cards to its staff by the Department of Information of Sri Lanka, on the ground that it has not received security clearance from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression.
The decision not to register medial.com was taken by the Ministry of Mss Media in 2019.
The news website www.medialk.com is edited by Tharindu Jayawardena, an activist of the Young Journalists’ Association and a well known human rights defender. He also plays a prominent role as a RTI activist in Sri Lanka.
HRCSL came to this conclusion after examining a complaint made by Tharindu Jayawardena. The decision was announced on 31 January 2023 .
The request made by Tharindu Jayawardena to register his website was rejected by the Department of Information which commes under the Ministry of Mass Media. The reason for rejection given was that it had not received the approval of the MoD.
This decision was taken by Mohan Samaranayake, a well-known Rajapakse henchman as the DG of the Department of Information at that time.
The Human Rights Commission states that the decision of the committee which examined the application of was not a law or a legal order, so it violates the freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution.
In his complaint to the HRCSL, Tharindu Jayawardena stated that his right to information and the right to free expression were being violated by not providing the media ID cards to the staff of the web site. In Sri Lanka to cover some media events, especially government press briefings, media ID issued by the Department of Information is mandatory.
Therefore, the complaint has requested that the website staff to be provided with media ID cards.
In order to obtain media ID cards for online media institutions, they must be registered at the mass Media Ministry. Once the website is given clearance by the MoD, 25,000 Sri Lankan rupees per year should be paid annually to continue the registration.
This prerequisite of MOD clearance has been result of securitisation of public life in Sri Lanka.
These unfair and illegal laws were enacted by the Rajapaksa government through a circular dated November 5, 2011. The Ranil-Sirisena government as well as the Ranil Rajapaksa government has not changed them.
Even Mangala Samaraweera, a liberal politician as the media minister under Ranil-Sirisena Government did not take steps to reform these laws.
It seems that medialk.com was not registered to take revenge on Tharindu Jayawardene because even Tamil and Sinhala language websites based in England have been given registration.
In developed democracies, the media identity card is issued by the media institutions and journalists’ Trade Unions.
In Sri Lanka the issuance of the media identity card by the government is also an attempt to control freedom of the press.
Read the full determination of the Human Rights Commission in Sinhala as a PDF file:HRC recommendation re medialk.com