Alarming Abuse of State Media Ahead of Sri Lanka Elections

(January 23, Colombo - Lanka Polity) The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is greatly concerned that state-owned media in Sri Lanka has acted with extreme partisanship in the run-up to the country’s presidential election on January 26.

This contravenes a ruling from the country’s highest judiciary and is in defiance of the directives of the Commissioner for Elections.

The IFJ learns with alarm that the Commissioner for Elections has cancelled the mandate of the “Competent Authority” designated to monitor compliance with basic norms of fairness in all state-controlled media institutions during the election process.

He has also announced his intention to resign after the election, following widespread defiance of his rulings by government agencies.

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s principal opponent, Sarath Fonseka, asked the Supreme Court early this month to order state-owned media to follow basic norms of fair coverage. The direction was issued but has been unheeded.

At the same time, there have been increasing reports of violence breaking out in the course of the election campaign, with media personnel targeted by both sides.

“With polling day just four days away, it may be too late for state-owned media to correct the biases in a manner that would make a meaningful difference,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

“But we do expect the President to explicitly disavow the blatant partisanship that the state-owned media has exhibited and to distance himself from the violence that has been inflicted on media personnel.”

The IFJ’s recently released report of a press freedom mission to Sri Lanka recommends among other things that specific norms on fair and non-partisan coverage for the presidential elections be implemented well before polling day.

Sri Lanka’s five main professional bodies of journalists also petitioned the Government to enforce such a code of conduct well before the election.

“The IFJ regrets that these perfectly reasonable democratic demands have gone unheeded,” White said.

“Unfortunately, the conduct of state agencies provides little room for a mood of truth and reconciliation to prevail after the elections are concluded.”

To read Key Challenges for Media after War’s end: Report of the International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka, click here.


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