|Wednesday, 26 February 2003|
The government will shortly implement laws and other measures that will lead to greater media freedom, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday.
Addressing the opening session of the Commonwealth Press Union Biennial Conference in Colombo, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said "a whole tranche of new legislation will seek to open up government much more to the people".
The Prime Minister however urged the media not to sabotage the peace process, saying there were instances of "baseless and inflammatory" reports in the local press.
"Publishing of unsubstantiated news, as well as the deliberate misrepresentation of issues, can undoubtedly cause serious damage to the peace process," he told the delegates.
He said the new laws would give the media much greater freedom of information about the workings of government. "In itself, this should lead to better and more accurate reporting in the future."
He said reporting in Sri Lanka had been unquestioning of the military campaign against the LTTE and that the few who did criticise it had been labelled unpatriotic.
"The balance between seeking greater media freedom, and ensuring that those who wish to oppose the peace process do not misrepresent the government is a challenge which has to be faced by both the government and the media."
The Premier stressed that he was against censorship and other regulation of the press. "We believe that this sense of media responsibility must be self-grown by the media. It cannot be imposed by the government even though there are several challenges facing us with regard to the media coverage of the ceasefire and the overall peace process."
The Premier said that the largest newspaper group in Sri Lanka was taken over by the government during a period when socialism and state control was thought to be fashionable and nationalisation its method of operation.
"We categorically opposed these measures. State intervention to control the management of newspapers and to determine its ownership, stuck against the very core of media freedom. However , many influential sections of society including certain sections of the media had a different viewpoint. For them a limited role of the state in these matters was acceptable."
He said politicians "should not be able to hide behind the law by threatening the media with prosecution. If they have done wrong, then they should be exposed."
He said the government planned to establish the Sri Lanka Press Institute and the Press Complaints Commission to train and arbitrate over abuses by the media.
"We are still continuing discussions in regard to the laws relating to pre-censorship and contempt of court," he said. "All these proposals will devolve a greater responsibility on the media."
"The most difficult task for the Government is to introduce greater freedom of information. We expect that the media will act as intermediaries and use such freedom of information to better inform the people of the work of government. This is why we are currently working on new Freedom of Information Act. It will be one of the most important pieces of reforming legislation that this Government intends to pass."
"Mediamen in Sri Lanka face critical challenges. They will enjoy greater freedom in the months ahead. They will be given the opportunity to scrutinise the work of the government more closely and they will have better protection as well as responsibilities under the law," he pointed out.
Produced by Lake House