Ms. Krishni Kanthasami Making A Mark in Sri Lankan Media!

In a country like Sri Lanka, journalism has always been a compelling and challenging field but had for years been dominated by men. In the 1950s, the first female journalists in Sri Lanka were employed by English-language publications.

If being a female journalist in Sri Lanka was hard enough on its own, then being a minority Tamil woman in the media was even harder. Krishni Kanthasamy Ifham can attest to this.

Sri Lanka: Journalist assaulted and detained at protest! – IFJ Statement

Freelance journalist Tharindu Uduwaragedara was detained and assaulted by police while reporting on a union-led protest in Colombo on July 28. The IFJ and its affiliates, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), the Free Media Movement (FMM), and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SWLJA) condemn Uduwaragedara’s detention and assault and urge Sri Lankan authorities and human rights bodies to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

IFJ – UTU program 2023, Planning Meeting

FMETU Executive Committee representatives discuss the action plan at Rainbow Institue Office on 31st July, for the IFJ Union to union project to strengthen the rights and responsibilities of journalists in Sri Lanka.

Rainbow Institute Executive Director Ms. Manique Mendis, Acting General Secretay Ms. Inadira Nawagmauwa, President Ms. Krishni Irfam, Treasurer Mr. Rizwan Segu Mohideen and several others of FMETU excutive committee members participate for programmm planing meeting.

Lankapeli’s letter of protest to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu!

Israel’s embassy for Sri Lanka had not issued a visa to attend the Congress of Palestine Journalists syndicate in Ramallah from 22 to 28 May 2023 to Dharmasiri Lankapeli. Ambassador did not even have the courtesy to provide the reason for refusing my visa.

Regarding this matter, he wrote an objection letter to Israel, Prime Minister, to make inquiry what is the reason for not issuing a visa.

‘Due Impartiality’ Should Be Our Top Most Objective In Regulating The Broadcasting Sector

The broadcast media undoubtedly holds a pivotal role in shaping public opinion, with its extensive reach and influential presence in every household. Recent research conducted in the USA reveals that the average daily time spent watching TV by adults is approximately two and a half hours. While specific data for Sri Lanka is unavailable, it is plausible that the figures may even be higher. It is evident that for a majority of adults, their perception of society is significantly influenced by what they see and hear through broadcast media channels, especially television. Therefore, the establishment of a reliable broadcasting system is crucial, as it not only serves an entertaining function but also enlightens citizens and facilitates engaging discussions on various social issues. Such a system forms the foundation for the development of a meaningful democracy.

In order to meet the collective expectations of society, broadcasting services are required to provide reliable news, impartial information, the viewpoints of credible experts, and a platform for vigilant monitoring of the government’s affairs. To successfully fulfill this role, the public expects broadcasters to maintain a high level of editorial independence, guided by ethical journalism practices. As the official custodian of this public trust, the broadcasting regulator plays a vital role in ensuring the integrity and credibility of the industry.

However, the draft proposal on the broadcast regulatory system, reportedly prepared by a Cabinet Committee, falls significantly short of this vision. Instead of fostering an independent and transparent broadcast media environment, the proposal seeks to establish a collaborative relationship between the government and media owners, potentially enabling the government to suppress dissenting voices and manipulate the portrayal of government affairs in the media. Disturbingly, certain provisions in the draft even allow for the prior censorship of criticism regarding the government’s economic agenda.

The proposed draft represents an absurd attempt to coerce broadcasters into further collaboration, with the intention of swaying public opinion in favor of the ruling powers. It goes to the extreme of subjecting broadcast license holders to a draconian annual licensing system, effectively holding them hostage to their behavior in order to renew their licenses. This bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the annual licensing system imposed by the Indonesian dictator General Suharto in the 1990s, which aimed to prevent the exposure of his corrupt practices through the print media.

However, the ongoing criticism of this ministerial draft, particularly by private broadcasters, in my view is largely misguided, as it focuses solely on the license holders’ right to free expression. It is crucial to recognize that in the realm of broadcast media, there is no concept of a license holder’s right to expression that supersedes the right of the audience to receive credible information.

Broadcasters obtain their licenses with the understanding that they must maintain due impartiality when presenting controversial subjects. Therefore, broadcasters should not take a biased stance on contentious issues under the guise of their own right to expression, thereby excluding or downplaying alternative views that may not align with the license holder’s preferences.

Unlike in the case of print media, this requirement specifically applies to the broadcast media due to the limited availability of broadcasting frequencies, which grants only a select few the privilege of obtaining a broadcasting license. Consequently, a critical licensing condition is that license holders ensure due impartiality when reporting on news and current affairs, without exploiting the privilege of holding a broadcast license to promote their personal preferences. Due impartiality refers to the principle that broadcasters should present news and current affairs in a balanced and unbiased manner. It necessitates fair and equitable coverage, treating different viewpoints objectively and avoiding favoritism or bias.

In recent years, the relaxation of content regulations in the US under neoliberal policies has led to a concerning trend among certain broadcasters, particularly right-wing talk radio stations and TV channels like Fox News. These broadcasters have blurred the lines between news and opinion, allowing license holders to promote their preferred ideological agendas. Presenters themselves openly express highly partisan views on the news stories they present, using their platforms to shape public opinion in their favor. A notable example is Fox News, which recently reached a $787.5 million settlement in a lawsuit over knowingly broadcasting false theories about the 2020 American presidential election.

 

In light of these developments, preserving due impartiality in broadcasting regulations must remain a central concern. “Due Impartiality” acknowledges that broadcasters have a responsibility to offer a diverse range of perspectives and opinions, providing audiences with a comprehensive understanding of various issues. It ensures that controversial or sensitive subjects are covered in a fair and balanced manner, without promoting any particular agenda or taking sides.

However, due impartiality does not mean that all perspectives need to be given equal weight or that false or baseless claims should be presented as valid. It recognizes that certain viewpoints may carry more weight based on evidence, expertise, or consensus. Broadcasters must exercise editorial judgment to determine the appropriate balance and proportionality of coverage while upholding the principle of due impartiality. Any violations of due impartiality that are based on evidence should be thoroughly investigated and addressed by the regulatory body. The regulatory approach to due impartiality may vary depending on the subject matter, program type, channel, and audience expectations. However, the primary objective remains ensuring that broadcasters do not abuse the public trust by violating the principle of due impartiality to manipulate public opinion.

Some license holders may argue for minimal regulation, claiming that it promotes competitive services that cater to customer needs. However, any regulatory approach that neglects the broadcasters’ responsibility to provide reliable information, maintain fairness, and adhere to due impartiality when addressing controversial issues will not contribute to the development of a credible broadcasting media system. The minimal regulation they advocate risks allowing broadcasting organizations to disseminate fictional stories as news, serving political biases or personal preferences. Scandals like the ‘Kelaniye Naya’ incident, where certain media owners absurdly attempted to sway public opinion in favor of a particular presidential candidate, underscore the necessity for robust regulations guided by the public interest to prevent such manipulations. Upholding journalistic ethics and codes of practice endorsed by all stakeholders will empower the regulator to hold broadcasters accountable for providing reliable news and unbiased information.

Ensuring content diversity in the broadcasting system is a crucial aspect that requires regulatory attention. It is important to recognize that market competition alone does not necessarily result in increased diversity or improved quality of local broadcast content. Many broadcasters opt to air inexpensive imported programs instead of investing in high-cost endeavors such as quality documentaries, movies, or in-depth investigative programs. To address this issue, the regulatory body can play a vital role by offering financial assistance to qualified independent local producers, facilitating the production of high-quality local content in collaboration with preferred broadcasters. Such a mechanism can be funded through licensing income and administered by an independent regulator following international best practices for similar funds.

The best international practices in regulating the broadcasting sector are built upon the “Public Trustee Regulatory Model,” which prioritizes operational independence and professional integrity of the regulatory body. This model recognizes that scarce public resources, like broadcast frequencies, should be utilized exclusively for the public good. To achieve this, regulation must be firmly rooted in the public interest, with the editorial independence of broadcasters serving as its cornerstone. Independent regulatory bodies are crucial because they ensure that license holders fulfill their commitment to use entrusted broadcasting frequencies, which are public property, primarily to serve the public good and not for private or sectarian purposes.

The broadcasting license essentially represents a written agreement between license holders and the public, granting permission to use broadcast frequencies in the public interest. The regulator’s responsibility is to oversee the implementation of this agreement. To effectively carry out this task, the regulator must maintain functional independence from both the government and media owners. Therefore, any discussions regarding the establishment of a regulatory mechanism for the broadcasting sector should not be limited to a mere business transaction between governments and current license holders. Instead, they should be open to public hearings and inclusive deliberations, allowing all key stakeholders to participate, engage in discussions, and propose a regulatory framework based on international best practices.

By Wijayananda Jayaweera 

Thanks to

Let us defeat the government’s move to bring an ‘Electronic Broadcasting Regulatory Authority’

The Feature Image!

Sei Lanka Media Organizations met the then Minister of Media Keheliya Rambukwella on Monday 15th March 2021  and handover their proposal for an independent regulatory authority to monitor print, radio, television, and social media.

Participated Media Organizations are the Sri Lanka Media Owners Association (NSSL), the Sri Lanka Editors Guild (TEGOSL), the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU), Free Media Movement (FMM), the Tamil Media Alliance (TMA) The Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), South Asia Free Press Association (SAFMA) and Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI).

The Press Statement issued by Dhamarsiri Lankapeli, General Secretary of the Federation of Media Workers’ Unions regarding the Electronic Broadcasting Authority Act proposed by the government is published below in full.

Press Statement

June 03, 2023

Let us defeat the government’s move to bring an

‘Electronic Broadcasting Regulatory Authority

The government’s new proposal for an Electronic Broadcasting Regulatory Authority is a reminder that discussions for a free and fair media tradition date back to 1994 when the Chandrika Bandaranaike government attempted to reform the state media. Several committees such as the RKW Gunasekara Committee and the Sidath Sri Nandalochana Committee had been appointed for the purpose but at least their reports were not made public yet.

We firmly believe that independent, balanced, and unbiased media culture is essential for the existence of democracy and good governance of a country. History shows that for more than two decades, media organizations led by the Editors’ Guild, media agency owners, media agency heads and civil organizations have been trying for an ‘independent media regulation’ commission.

The ‘Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility –1998’and the Tholangamuwa Declaration titled Charter for a Democratic and Pluralist Media Culture and Social and Professional Rights for Media and Journalism in Sri Lanka – 2005 were two other efforts for the same purpose. In the year 2005-2006, a draft was prepared jointly by the media organizations and civil organizations of Sri Lanka with the intervention of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) for the creation of a public service electronic broadcasting authority and a tradition of public service journalism in Sri Lanka. That was scheduled for discussion in Parliament in 2005, yet the subsequent political changes did not permit its materialization.

Let us mention that in the year 2021, the then Minister of Media, Mr. Dullas Alahapperuma, also tried to create a similar discussion. Now the incumbent government is planning to pass a bill to set up an electronic broadcasting regulatory authority.

The Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions is of the opinion that the latest proposal for an Electronic Broadcasting Regulatory Authority is a move inimical to the fundamental right of the people for freedom of expression as well as their right to know. It is our understanding that this move is actually intended to control electronic media and to muzzle down social media. As such, we the FMETU call on every citizen who aspires for a free public service journalism tradition in Sri Lanka to stand up against the government’s move.

We would like to present the following proposals alternative to the government’s move for media regulation:

We suggest that the present government should strengthen the Sri Lanka Press Institute, which was supported by the 2002 government. In addition, we strongly recommend abolishing the Sri Lanka Press Council. The guidelines and recommendations made by media organizations and other civil organizations for the sake of the self-regulatory Commission over the past two decades should be taken into consideration.

The Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions suggests that the government should provide facilities to start an open discussion on the personal safety and job protection of journalists and the preparation of a necessary work procedure for a media self-regulation system. And we suggest that the support of media organizations and interested civil organizations, and international media organizations should be obtained.

For an independent media regulatory mechanism, we are engaged in a collective process with other media organizations including Sri Lanka Press Institute, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Free Media Movement, Editors’ Guilds of Sri Lanka, and Newspaper Publishers’ Association. The Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions is a full-member organization of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which has more than 600,000 members of journalists from 170 countries in the world.

Yours sincerely

                                                         

Dharmasiri Lankapeli

General Secretary

For the Executive Committee

077 364 1111

Email fmetu123@gmail.com

dlankapeli@gmail.com

Press freedom: Another step backwards, says IFJ

As international organisations and media prepare to celebrate the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says press freedom has taken another step backward and freedom of expression is not the driver for other human rights that it should be.

 On 3 May 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed an international day for press freedom. This day is meant to remind world governments that they need to respect their commitment to press freedom. This year, UNESCO is focussing its activities on ‘Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights’.

However, the IFJ deplores the fact that freedom of expression is far from acting as a driver for other human rights and that press freedom is clearly taking a step backward.

From Peru to Iran, from Sudan to Afghanistan, governments are taking drastic measures to impede freedom of expression and prevent the public’s right to know, including internet restrictions, beating, jailing and intimidating journalists, controlling media content and introducing drastic media laws and other laws to curb the free flow of information. Since the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration in 1991, very little has been undertaken to create concrete conditions at the international level to guarantee freedom and security for journalists,” said IFJ President Dominique Pradalie.

The figures speak for themselves. According to the IFJ’s latest list of media professionals killed in the course of duty, 68 media staff were killed in 2022. Very few of these cases have been investigated because impunity for killing media workers has been the rule over the years.

The IFJ also points to ongoing media crackdowns, which have led to large numbers of journalists being jailed, with at least 375 journalists and media workers behind bars in 2022. China has emerged as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.

Ongoing wars and civil unrest in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Peru, Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen have also seen journalists being deliberately targeted and killed. Thirteen journalists have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022. And thousands of Afghan journalists and their families have had to leave Afghanistan for fear of being killed.

Digital surveillance and the widespread use of spying software have been used on hundreds of journalists in order to kill stories, putting many journalists at risk of seeing their sources and whereabouts, and other personal data being publicly disclosed.

Repressive laws and Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs) have also been widely used to curb free speech and to force journalists to censor themselves all over the world.

The fragile media economy, the decline in local news reporting and poor trade union representation have led to drastic cuts in newsrooms, with massive lay-offs and increased discrimination against the most vulnerable categories of journalists.

The IFJ deplores the fact that, despite the goodwill expressed in the two UN resolutions (1738 and  2222) on the protection of journalists in conflict zones, no real commitment has been made to eradicate violence against journalists, to make them safer, and to make any attacks against them illegal.

The IFJ calls for the urgent adoption of a binding international instrument that will strengthen press freedom by forcing governments to investigate and respond to attacks against the media.

 

 

Do justice to journalist Ms. Ishara Devendra!

We as FMETU issued a statement on the incident of ITN senior journalist Ms. Ishara Dewendra. You can read the full statement below.

Press release

April 24, 2023

Do justice to journalist Ms. Ishara Devendra!

Ms. Ishara Devendra, a senior journalist of the Independent Television Network (ITN), posted on her Facebook page and said that she had to face various sexual harassment from an institution head on a regular basis. As a journalist, the Federation of Media Employees Tarde Unions strongly appreciates her bravery and the steps she took to expose this barbaric act without fear.

It has been said that although she complained about this to the responsible people including the Chairman of the ITN with evidence, none of the responsible people paid attention to her, so she decided to leave the service to protect her self-respect. She has further said that there is an environment in the institution where women constantly face such harassment.

It is a common tragedy in our country that such persons get political protection and live in freely those institutions by committing sexual violence against women. Therefore, the country’s political leadership should conduct a formal investigation into this incident. Violence against women and sexual harassment is a serious offenses under the Penal Code in Sri Lanka. This incident, the free conduct of such persons by doing such activities, is another occasion that reveals the weaknesses in the governance of our country.

We note that it is the responsibility of the heads of media organizations to create the environment necessary for especially women journalists to carry out their media work freely without harassment in their newsrooms. In addition, together with the International Federation of Journalists, we urge the authorities to do justice to Ms. Ishara Devendra and conduct a proper investigation into this act, which could not be tolerated by a civilized society. The International Federation of Journalists is the world’s most powerful media organization with over 600,000 members from 167 media organizations in 146 countries.

Sincerely.

                                          

Dharmasiri Lankapeli                                                                                         

General Secretary

 

Do you have questions? Call or visit us.

+(94) 773 641 111

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