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Sri Lanka State TV Warned Over Election Campaign Bias

[ State media trade unions protest against bias reporting during the 2010 presidential election]

Sri Lanka’s elections chief warned state-run television networks on Friday not to broadcast programmes supporting President Mahinda Rajapakse in upcoming polls.

Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said he had received complaints from independent monitors that the state networks were openly campaigning for Rajapakse ahead of the January 8 election.

“This is a serious hindrance to a free and fair election,” the commissioner said in a letter to state broadcasters, a copy of which was seen by AFP.

Sri Lanka’s two state-run broadcasters have the widest coverage in the nation of 20 million people.

The commissioner also asked the stations to seek his advice before broadcasting politically sensitive material and warned that station bosses should take personal responsibility for any transgressions.

President Rajapakse has been in office since 2005 and is seeking re-election for an unprecedented third term.

He called the election two years ahead of schedule after his party’s popularity showed a 21 percentage point decline at local elections in September.

Rajapakse is facing a surprise challenge from his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena, who has mustered support from all the main opposition political parties.

Successive governments have used state media to discredit opponents and disseminate propaganda about the ruling party.

Local election monitors have also warned of massive abuse of state vehicles and personnel for campaign work of Rajapakse.

The opposition said it was collecting evidence of public officials engaging in ruling party election propaganda and planned to take court action.


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