13 September 2007: ARTICLE 19 and the Centre for Policy Alternatives today made a Joint Submission to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Mass Media and Information on its Proposed National Media Policy (draft Policy), released on 22 August 2007. From the perspective of international best practice and standards, the two organisations critiqued the draft Policy, which focuses almost exclusively on certain aspects of media responsibility, rather than the obligations of the State to put in place an enabling environment for a free, independent and pluralistic media.
The government released the draft Policy on 22 August 2007 and called for submissions to be provided by 15 September 2007. While the draft does contemplate a limited number of government commitments – for example to provide adequate training and development opportunities for media personnel – it fails to make key commitments which are recognised as international standards of law and practice and which have long been demanded by civil society in Sri Lanka. These include adopting right to information legislation, freeing State media from government control, putting in place an independent system of broadcast regulation and doing away with the many legal rules that unduly restrict the content of what may be published or broadcast in the media. In this context, the two organisations note in particular the recommendations of the Sidath Sri Nandalochana Committee on the broad-basing of ownership of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (ANCL) in 1994 and the R.K.W. Goonesekera Committee on the Reform of Laws Affecting Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in 1996 which have not been acted upon by successive governments, and which the present draft Policy also ignores. The two organisations also note that the recent statement in response to the draft Policy issued by the Free Media Movement (FMM) and its partner organisations have also alluded to these issues.
Instead of addressing these critical issues, the present draft Policy focuses on the responsibility of the media to serve various social goals such as upholding ‘national identity, unity and harmony’, that is ‘socially responsible and ethical’ and that brings about ‘a well-informed and democratic society’. The idea of a free media is referred to only once and the idea of media independence is completely absent from the draft Policy. It is for the media, not the government, to establish set ethical standards for itself through internal codes of conduct and self-regulatory mechanisms.
We urge the government either to drop entirely the idea of developing a media policy or to restart the process from the beginning through a broad consultation with interested stakeholders to determine what such a policy should contain.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- The Joint Submission is available for immediate download below, that includes as an Annex the draft Policy proposed by the Ministry of Mass Media and Information, Sri Lanka.
- For more information, please contact Toby Mendel, Law/Asia Programmes Director, [email protected] or Sanjana Hattotuwa, Senior Researcher, [email protected]
- The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) was formed in the firm belief that there is an urgent need to strengthen institution- and capacity-building for good governance and conflict transformation in Sri Lanka and that non-partisan civil society groups have an important and constructive contribution to make to this process.
- ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression.