The Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), in a statement released yesterday, said that it was bitterly opposed to the reinstitution of the Sri Lanka Press Council, asserting that the statutory body was armed with the power to limit press freedom through a range of severe restrictions.
The following is the full statement.
The constituent partners of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) vehemently condemn the Executive actions of the President Maithripala Sirisena to reactivate the Sri Lanka Press Council on 2 July 2015 through the provisions of the anti-democratic Press Council Law No. 5 of 1973. The reestablishment of the government-appointed Press Council reintroduces dormant legislation that provides for wide-ranging punitive powers including that of imprisoning media personnel. Completely reversing an election promise of his to ensure the stoppage of direct and indirect threats and intimidation against print media personnel and their owners, the question arises if this is the short-term and long-term program he promised in his election manifesto to protect freedom of all media personnel.
On the contrary, President Sirisena has proceeded to illegally reconstitute the Press Council’s tribunal without even the basic courtesy of consulting stakeholders as he is, in any event, bound to do by law under sections 3(b)(i) and 3(b)(ii) of the said law.
A President who has not only vowed to uphold media freedom, but to regain lost freedoms and repeatedly said he is the only President who did away with Executive powers, has unilaterally exercised these very powers to reintroduce laws that allow his nominees to jail journalists and publishers.
Sri Lanka was the first South-Asian country to introduce self-regulation, with the broad support of the newspaper industry. An 11-member Dispute Resolution Council of the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL), chaired by a former Secretary General of Parliament, has sat on public complaints against press reports since 2003. Since its establishment in 2003, the PCCSL has dispensed with over 1,500 complaints from the public at large, through an independent Dispute Resolution Council. This process incurs no financial burden on either the complainant or the State. The PCCSL is also the implementing arm of the Code of Professional Practice drafted by The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka, and conducts regular training programs for provincial journalists throughout the country.
The constituent partners of the SLPI have demanded from successive political leaders, the repeal of the draconian Press Council Law and call upon President Sirisena to rescind his ill-advised Executive decision to reactivate the Press Council, with immediate effect without dragging this country back into the abyss of a repressive, undemocratic state.
The Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) is a body incorporated, constituted by the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka, the Free Media Movement and Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association with its main objects being ‘to assist, encourage and facilitate the press to exercise and uphold its freedom and be responsible to the public’.
The SLPI is the country’s leading institution that envisages development of media in Sri Lanka through professional training and upholding ethics. It has two major divisions the Sri Lanka College of Journalism (SLCJ) which handles the training of journalists and the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL) that operates as a mediator between the public and the media.