Outcry over Sri Lanka's planned media bill
New code of ethics will criminalize free speech, say activists
Sri Lankan activists protest against the killing of journalists
The Sri Lankan government has come under heavy criticism after it proposed a media code of ethics on Monday. Journalists and rights groups say could severely curtail freedom of expression in the country.
Included in the bill is a clause banning content that “contains material against the integrity of the Executive, Judiciary, and Legislative”, and which opponents say could effectively block criticism of the state.
“The bill seriously limits media freedom in the country. Its contents have not been made clear and if there is to be a code it should be drafted by journalists,” said Sunil Jayasekara, convener of the Free Media Movement, today.
The ambiguity of the bill gives the government too much "wiggle room" in its application of laws regarding free speech, he added.
Keheliya Rambukwella, Minister for Mass Media and Information, said however that the move was intended to create a “salutary media culture in the country” because the actions of unnamed media houses had “led to many problems.”
According to US-based Human Rights Watch, the code goes so far as to restrict publication of material that “contains criticism affecting foreign relations,” and which “could lead to sanctions for reporting on international criticism of Sri Lankan government actions.”
Its Asia director, Brad Adams, said the recent proposal was “part of a sustained campaign to control the media and curtail dissent.”
The media watchdog group Freedom House last year gave Sri Lanka a press freedom ranking of 161 out of 197 nations. The Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked the country the fourth most dangerous for journalists.
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