(1) The quality of the information available through the media comes from the professionalism, ethics and courage of the journalists in the field and the media culture that supports them. The strengthening of a viable independent media in Sri Lanka is a critical step in the on going process of building democratic institutions, eliminating ethnic conflict and encouraging public participation.
(2) There is perpetrated on the media a psychology of fear through abductions, killings and other forms of pressure. The conversation has become not about what we write but about what we do not. For example journalists are specifically advised not to speak disparagingly of either the President or his brother the Secretary of Defence. They are told not to write about either of them in a particular manner. Media certainly has a duty to disclose responsibly and within the strict guidelines of journalistic practice and ethics but self-censorship in Sri Lanka has gone beyond the pale. We believe this needs to be changed.
(3) The government has also intensified efforts to exert control over new means of communication—including satellite television, the internet, and mobile telephones—as well as the news outlets that employ them. Worsening violence against the press and impunity for such crimes are forcing more journalists into self-censorship or exile. The level of violence and physical harassment directed at the press by both official and non-state actors is phenomenal.
(4) This has to be looked at in the background of the restriction of democratic space in the past five years. The breakdown of institutions, a Parliament in which ministers fail to turn up to give answers to questions, where the Committee of Public Enterprises and Public Accounts Committee have been made non operational. These are committees which are now headed by members of the government, with instructions on what should be done.
The amendments abolished the Constitutional Council established to ensure the independence of appointments, transfers and removal of persons to the Judiciary and to the police, bribery, finance, elections and human rights commissions. The independent oversight body has been replaced by a toothless Parliamentary Council whose observations the President must seek but need not act upon in making these key appointments.
(5) Moreover the long years of war, with the country fractured along ethnic, cultural, language and religious divides, has seen many elements of Sri Lanka’s media present stories that are biased in favor of one side or another. We believe this needs to be changed.
(6) We believe that it is not only the people of one country that keep their own government honest, but also the people of other countries who are watching that government through the media.
(7) The UN Declaration of Human Rights is universal. It was not as oft said, intended to be hostage to political fortune or the anxieties and vagaries of a given age.
(8) The right to free speech means nothing if it only sanctions politically and socially acceptable views. It is the right that allows us to defend all other rights.
(9) We believe embracing the principles of journalism means we must place the principles of journalism above politics. Those principles can be summed up in one word: Respect. Respect for truth. Respect for the public’s right to know. Respect for the views of others.
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