CPJ Protests Sri Lankan Censorship  

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Her Excellency 
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga 
President of Sri Lanka 
Colombo, Sri Lanka 

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June 9, 1998

 

Your Excellency,  

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned over your government's imposition of censorship regulations on media coverage of the civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Censorship is incompatible with democratic governance. We call on you to act immediately to lift the press restrictions and allow the Sri Lankan people access to free and unbiased information regarding the conflict.  

On June 5, Secretary to the Defense Ministry Chandrananda de Silva announced that you had ordered a ban on news about the civil war through regulations "prohibiting the publication and transmission of sensitive military information." The regulations are to apply to both foreign and local news media. 

The Defense Ministry statement said print and electronic media were prohibited from carrying news about military and police operations. They are also barred from making "any statement pertaining to the official conduct or the performance of the head or any member of any of the armed forces or the police force."  

No reason was given for these drastic regulations. On June 6, the ministry announced that all photographs, news reports and television material on the war must be submitted to screening by the military. This is the first time that Sri Lanka has appointed a military censor; similar press restrictions on war coverage were administered by civilians for several months in 1996 before being lifted.  

In an editorial, the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka said, "We hope this is not the first step towards martial law." In protesting the censorship, Sri Lankan newspapers left columns blank over the weekend.  

As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues everywhere, we deplore these new regulations in the strongest possible terms. We are further reminded that your government came to power in 1994 pledging to strengthen democratic institutions in Sri Lanka. Instead, you have imposed the harshest form of control on the Sri Lankan media.  

It is our belief that a free and vibrant press is the cornerstone of democracy. We agree with our colleagues in the Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka who said in a statement on Tuesday: "It is a flagrant violation of the commitment made by this government in its election manifesto to defend media freedom...The Free Media movement believes that the imposition of censorship is aimed at preventing the media from reporting the truth about the war to the people of this country." 

We call on your excellency to act immediately to restore press freedom in Sri Lanka and to rescind the harsh censorship restrictions imposed by your government.  

 

Yours sincerely,  

William A. Orme, Jr. 

Executive Director