Media ethics code could restrict free press in Sri Lanka

New York, June 19, 2013–A draft media code introduced in the Sri Lankan parliament would impose harsh restrictions on journalists’ ability to report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The code, which is before a parliamentary advisory council for discussion, could be considered for adoption in September, according to news reports citing an information minister.

“As Sri Lanka prepares to host the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime should stop expending energy on imposing a code that would further suppress the country’s already dwindling free press,” said CPJ’s Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz.

The Code of Media Ethics, introduced by the Ministry of Mass Media and Information, uses broad and vaguely worded language to prohibit “criticisms affecting foreign relations” and content that “promote[s] anti-national attitudes.” It also prohibits “material against the integrity of the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature” and warns against the publication of content that “offends against expectations of the public, morality of the country or tend to lower the standards of public taste and morality.”

Keheliya Rambukwella, the minister of mass media and information, said the code would not become law, according to news reports. It is not clear what legal ramifications would occur if the code is adopted or in what ways the government would seek to enforce it.

Local journalists have said the code will further the self-censorship that is already pervasive in the country. Sri Lanka has remained a highly restrictive and dangerous nation for the press. At least 26 journalists have already fled Sri Lanka in the past five years to escape threats, intimidation, violence, and imprisonment, according to CPJ’s newly released 2013 exile report. At least five journalists have been killed in the same period, according to CPJ research.

  • For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Sri Lanka page.