An indicator of what comes next for Sri Lanka's media

By Bob Dietz/Asia Program Coordinator on April 28, 2010 5:39 PM ET

In Sri Lanka, there is a lull of sorts in outright attacks on the media as the Rajapaksa government takes stock of where it stands, which is in a very strong position: Last May the government declared a final victory in the brutal 30-year conflict with Tamil secessionists. In January, President Mahinda Rajapksa won a convincing victory in the presidential elections, and in April, his United Peoples Freedom Alliance took 144 seats of the 225 member seats in parliamentary elections, with a chance to build a political coalition that will give him the two-thirds majority he needs to begin rewriting the constitution.

The country's media remain as partisan as ever, though some outlets have accepted that the Rajapaksa family has won, and have started to trim their anti-government stance. Others remain adamant in their opposition.

There was recently an indicator of what might come next for the media. The president appointed former Labor Minister Mervyn Silva to be his deputy minister of media and information. Silva's appointment was confirmed by parliament on April 23.

We've written before about Silva, and it wasn't very encouraging. In March 2008, we complained in a letter to the president about an incident in which state television employees reported a spate of attacks that began after many were involved in a much-publicized on-air dispute in December 2007 with then-Labor Minister Silva. He had shown up at the station with a group of men to complain that the station hadn't covered one of his speeches. Five staff members reported being stabbed, beaten, or slashed with razor blades by unidentified men, according to The Associated Press.

And an update on another case: The wife of a missing journalist took matters into her own hands on April 22, and hand-delivered letters to all the new members arriving in parliament. Sandhya Eknaligoda wanted them to take action on her husband Prageeth's disappearance. Police tried to stop her, but she managed to get her letters into the MPs' hands. There is still no explanation for what has happened to her husband, a columnist and cartoonist for Lanka e News. Eknelygoda has been missing since January 24.


It's a shame that the president has degraded his reputation to such a low level,appointing a person like Mervin Silva as deputy minister of media.This is a very carefully calculated move by the Rajapakse family to take revenge on the free media in Sri Lanka.May be the President thinks, that he could intimidate the media by appointing a lap dog like Mervin,who is well known not only to Sri Lanka,but to the whole world about his thuggerism and lowlife attitude.Is it worth keeping this person in a decent cabinet as a minister?.Rajapakses' downfall is going to start from non other than Mervin.Mr. President!show some leadership and be a gentleman.Do not degrade yourself to the level of Mervin.

You need to do more than make unsubstantiated claims like "Police tried to stop her, but she managed to get her letters into the MPs’ hands."

Please also at least read your article once before you post them? The following appears to be grammatically wrong:

"We’ve before about Silva, and it wasn’t very encouraging."

You mean, "We’ve written before about Silva..."

If you lived in Sri Lanka you would note the sheer number of articles written by journalist against the government. Yet, the critics have lived, worked and made their money for decades now.

Mervin Silva's antics don't reflect government policy.

Lanka E News sprung up very recently. It is not even in print. The quality of the articles appear to be written not by journalist by people with vested interests. They do not subscribe to any newswire and if the news isn't second hand news, then once fact checked they appear to be blatant slander and lies.

My point is that the best thing that could happen for the pro-opposition website is for one of it's cartoonist to conveniently go missing during an important election.

Can you tell me if the government really cares for the opinions of cartoonist and those calling themselves journalist enough to abduct and kill them?

If you live here you would know that to win an election, bring someone to disrepute, or tarnish Rajapakse's image people will kill the innocent.

If anything the police force is useless without witnesses or evidence. It's not a case of no will to apprehend. If that kind of pressure is applied to a 3rd world nation such as Sri Lanka, they will start arresting people based on hunches and no solid evidence just to shut the world up.

Do we not have media freedom? Is Sri-Lanka heading for a dictatorship? Only time will tell. Mr. Rajapaksa is a lawyer and he knows what is ahead of us. As long as the Judiciary is independent, we can expect there to be justice. Let's hope for the best.


Journalists in the whole world should be rallied against the Rajapakse regime. The state has murdered, abducted and maimed the journalists who expressed their views on activities of the government. Calling itself a democratic government, presently the media is being murdered by the state power and the recent ideal example is appointing a corrupt media enemy as the deputy media minister.

This is a response to Henry.

Mahinda Rajapakse bought the Supreme Court last year. The son of the Chief Justice and the spouse of a female Supreme Court Justice were given lucrative foreign postings and a local job by Rajapakse. They, too, are his lap dogs now.

Sarath Palipane April 28, 2010 11:14:43 PM ET

It is better first to understand what ‘Is freedom of speech & free media?’
On this concept a Just & Fair journalistic excellence are inseparable. One without the other is valueless. There has been a slight but salutary journalistic qualities amongst many of our media personnel.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Sri Lanka is committed, enshrines the "right to freedom of opinion and expression," without interference.
But if the editors & the publishers are wrong malicious and defamatory on facts they provide to the public, they are answerable to the law of the land. No one can write any rubbish and publish in the mass media of their wish, wimp & will. If the news they provide fall in to this category they must face the consequences.
So why worry about any Tom, Dick & Harry handling the subject of the Media?
Wait & see, do not rush to hasty conclusions.
Every person has hidden talents and ability to handle problems, after all they are answerable and obliged to.

Udugampola Mrs. April 28, 2010 11:16:33 PM ET

When will the IDPs be able to start a decent life?

Troubled beginning for the released Tamil refugees, Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, 28 March 2010:
''The Sri Lankan government claims to have resettled more than 1.9 lakh displaced Tamils. But for thousands of the resettled the problems are far from over; .... the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sri Lanka has suspended the distribution of shelter cash grants to displaced returnees due to shortfalls in funding, latest UN report said last week. Earlier this month, HT had reported how both the remaining refugees and the resettled were complaining that food and other donations had been cut.’’

Banking on Solutions, A real-time evaluation of UNHCR’s shelter grant programme for returning displaced people in Northern Sri Lanka, March 2010:
''....The extent of shelter destruction appears to have been underestimated .... The presence of international NGOs in return areas would make an important contribution to addressing such gaps. .... Movement along the A9 is also still restricted for international NGOs and UN agencies. ...''

The media is a commercial venture which has the bottom line profitability as their sole objective. The media, particularly in the west, is far from independent and essentially a mouthpiece for their governments..a few pretend otherwise but actually extend the colonial mindset. A lone voice may occasionally be heard portraying an opposing view, far and few in between. So, thanks but no thanks, we must have a strong man to see that the public are not misdirected by a set of scribes, unelected by the people but often wield as much influence as those elected by the populace. We need to be constantly aware of neo-colonialism and attempts by the west to subjugate us again economically. Otherwise why would they order the UN to probe Srilanka's success in eradicating terrorism when they are behaving inhumanely in Iraq and Afghanistan, and willfully exterminating the civilians! And we must never forget their use of nuclear power to slaughter millions of Asians in WW2.

How can the judiciary be independent when the President appoint the Chief Justice? All are corrupt.


Do not worry Mr will definetly distroy the so called democracy Mervin is his goor guy who knows every thing of mr. he knows what happend to wabbotta, Chhoty malli and may others. Pream is beeter in this agme that mr Sri Lnaka will be alright do not worry. What people need sis people like Mervin. It is good . Nver think of person like SF who is a deciline man to crate decipline in the country.

I can see from the comments above, only those with vested interests, mainly against Rajapaksa, than for the protection of journalist have responded.

In his defence Mervin Silva has issued a statement. Here it is:

There is an opinion poll conducted in about appointing Dr. Mervyn Silva as the Deputy Minister for Media,

You can participate in the vote and see the general reaction of Sri Lankans about this appoinment in there.

oh look ! cpj which honors ppl like j.s. tissanayagam, a legally convicted helper of our murderers tamil tiger terrorists is again preaching to us !

these cpj hypocritical racists ( racist bc they regularly explicitly and implicitly equate tamils with that criminal gang ltte ) have no shame.

i bet they will censor this comment too as they did before, even though i am not saying anything false.

Mervyn Silva has been stripped of media portfolio and as of yesterday he is Deputy Minister for Highways.

This aside, External Affairs Mnister Prof. G.L.Peiris announced the relaxation of Emergency Regulations but went on to say that police powers were not reduced and PTA intact.

Police can no longer demand that households inform the police details of their members or visitors and curfew regulations had been lifted.

Also demonstrations and printing and circulating propaganda are allowed.
But under PTA anyone including journalists can be arrested.

Hence this showcase relaxing of Emergency Regulations to appease the EU to grant GSP+ where HR track record is quintessential has given no security and assurance to the media in general. The media scene is the same as before.

Pearl Thevanayagam May 5, 2010 9:53:49 AM ET

Social Media

View All ›