Attack on broadcaster needs independent inquiry

New York, January 6, 2009–Following today’s early morning assault by about 15 masked gunmen on Sirasa TV’s studios outside the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, the Committee to Protect Journalists called for an independent, nonpartisan parliamentary board of inquiry to investigate. 

Attackers shot at and destroyed broadcast equipment, held staff at gunpoint, and attempted to burn down the station’s facilities, according to local and international news reports. Three TV channels and four radio stations of Sirasa’s parent company, MBC, were off the air for several hours. Sirasa’s Web site is still unable to transmit due to the attack. On Sunday, the station was hit with a gasoline bomb, but there was little damage.

In a statement today, Mass Media and Information Minister Anura Yapa condemned the attack and President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered a full investigation.

“Even with its condemnations, the government can longer be trusted to act with impartiality when it comes to those who want to silence Sri Lanka’s media,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Far too often the government or its unofficial allies have been prime suspects behind attacks on journalists and media organizations, and this latest outrage must be fully and clearly explained in an impartial and transparent parliamentary investigation.”

In recent days, government-controlled media had accused the station of “unpatriotic” coverage concerning the military’s reported advances against the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north of the country. The LTTE’s de facto capital of Kilinochchi fell last Friday. Government troops have been reported to be advancing on the strategic Elephant Pass that links the mainland to the Jaffna peninsula, the LTTE’s stronghold.

Government run-media had specifically criticized Sirasa for giving too much coverage to a suicide bombing in Colombo on Friday, undermining a victory speech by Rajapaksa after government troops took Kilinochchi, local and international media reported.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The name of Sirasa TV has been corrected.