Colombo Telegraph blockade: TRC clueless

Tuesday, 27 August 2013 00:06 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Amidst claims by the Colombo Telegraph web administrators that the website has been blocked by Sri Lankan internet service providers (ISPs) since Saturday, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) yesterday denied it had ordered the blockade. TRCSL Director General Anusha Pelpita told Daily FT that the Commission had to order ISPs to block offensive websites. “I don’t recall ordering a block on any websites recently,” Pelpita said. “I have never even heard of the Colombo Telegraph website,” a dismissive TRC Chief said when repeatedly queried on the blockage. Secretary to the Media Ministry Charitha Herath said that the same website had been blocked several times before for short periods. “After some time it was repaired and it reappeared,” Herath said. Herath said it was likely a technical issue, but admitted he was checking on the issue. The website is not registered with the Media Ministry, the Secretary said. “The Media Ministry is not involved because it’s not registered with us and it appears to be a technical issue. There are some issues with sites that operate from outside Sri Lanka,” Herath said. The website functioning under the domain is no longer accessible on Sri Lanka Telecom, Dialog or Mobitel networks, the site’s administrators and users said. The site is, however, accessible via proxy servers.

Citizen journalist, columnist and New Media watcher, Nalaka Gunawardene said the issue of website blocking is much bigger than CT. He added, “A growing number of websites carrying news, analysis or commentary of public interest and relevance are now being blocked. Even here, there is no consistency as some ISPs and mobile networks seem to allow what is not accessible through others.” Apart from the pornographic websites specifically mentioned in judicially sanctioned blocking, there is no other list of websites whose access is to be blocked by ISPs in Sri Lanka, Gunawardene explains. “Many mature democracies maintain an official blacklist of websites not allowed. Our officials don’t have the courage to even own up what they are doing supposedly in our interest!”

It was necessary to also focus on the role and liabilities of telecommunication intermediaries: the ISPs and mobile telecom operators who have always conformed to government officials’ arbitrary requests for blocking websites of a political nature whose contents are perceived as critical of the government.

In doing so, Gunawardene argues, ISPs and mobile operators callously disregard individual consumers’ rights to the service they pay for. “Who are these companies to decide what is good for me in terms of political or other information? This aspect has received little attention from our consumer activists who are mostly preoccupied with adulterated goods or financial scams,” Gunawardene said.