Cabinet has given approval to collect public opinion on establishing an independent board to regulate news content of mainstream media, including registered websites, in a controversial move that detractors say could lead to censorship.
The announcement comes a day after President Maithripala Sirisena launched a scathing attack on newspapers, terming their front pages as carriers of “garbage” and insisting publications need to work harder to foster development in Sri Lanka.
Sirisena, who was speaking at an event at Water’s Edge, pointed out that newspapers and news bulletins give extraordinary space to sensationalising news such as rape, murder and robbery, rather than engaging on key public debates and policy making. Sirisena also slammed the politicisation of the media, with many outlets owned by factions aligned with different political parties.
The proposal to seek public opinion was submitted to Cabinet by Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka and was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.
“It has been proposed to establish an independent board to regulate the content of news published in print media, radio, television, and registered websites with the view of promoting professionalism and ethics to secure a free, independent and plural media culture,” the Media Minister told reporters at the weekly Cabinet briefing yesterday.
He also rejected concerns by journalists that a board would reduce media freedom and set in place complicated approvals and limit information access. He also stressed the board would be appointed with the consultation of media stakeholders and not at the behest of Government members.
“There is no oversight for media in Sri Lanka, especially for TV, radio and websites. Clearly this needs to change and we are simply trying to set up a transparent system so that media organisations can be held accountable,” he said, in response to questions. “It was our Government that brought the Right to Information Act, we would not have done anything so progressive if we believed in censorship or media pressure in any form.” (UJ)