New York, September 8, 2000--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote to Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga today, welcoming her decision to ease censorship restrictions on the media. However, CPJ noted that censorship of military-related news remains in place, in violation of Sri Lanka’s international obligations to uphold press freedom.
“We do not think that censorship is ever an appropriate means to handle a national crisis, but we were particularly concerned about the implications of having a censored press during the run-up to the October 10 parliamentary elections,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “CPJ is encouraged that the government has responded to these concerns by at least partially lifting the censorship regulations.”
The government today circulated an order to suspend (though not eliminate) two emergency regulations: Regulation 12 (1), banning public meetings, and Regulation 14, which gave the administration broad censorship powers. Local journalists have been subject to various restrictions for more than two years, but the emergency regulations issued this May, and subsequently amended, gave the government additional power to arrest journalists, seize their property, block the distribution of newspapers, and shut down printing presses on broadly-defined grounds of “national security.”
However, in a separate statement issued today by the government’s Information Department, Sri Lankan chief censor Ariya Rubasinghe announced that military-related reporting remained subject to censorship under regulations issued in June 1998 and November 1999. Among the topics proscribed by these regulations are the reporting of “any matter pertaining to military operations in the Northern and Eastern Province . . . or any statement pertaining to the official conduct, morale, or the performance of the Head or of any member of the Armed Forces or the police force.”
In addition to censorship, press coverage of the seventeen-year-old civil war is severely limited by the government’s refusal to grant journalists regular access to the conflict areas.