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Sri Lanka: Electronic Media Authority Being Considered

(Apr. 26, 2016) Sri Lanka’s government is considering establishing an independent body that would regulate electronic media. The authority would be empowered and required to investigate complaints made against electronic media. The authority would be created with the input of media stakeholders; government officials noted that the body would not be designed to control media organizations and would not have government involvement. (Yohan Perera, Authority to Regulate Electronic Media, DAILY MIRROR (Apr. 19, 2016).)

The new body would be parallel to the existing Press Complaints Commission, which describes itself as “a voluntary self-regulatory mechanism inaugurated on October 15, 2003 by the media industry following an international conference whose outcome was the Colombo Declaration on Press Freedom and Social Responsibility of 1998 and re-visited in 2008.” (Overview, Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka website (last visited Apr. 21, 2016).)  In its first ten years, the Commission’s dispute resolution council investigated 1,000 press complaints and conducted workshops on ethics and self-regulation for journalists. (Sri Lanka’s Press Complaints Commission Marks Tenth Anniversary, INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SUPPORT (Feb. 5, 2104).)

Press Freedom in Sri Lanka

The U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report gives Sri Lanka a relatively high mark on press freedom, particularly in the last year, stating:

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for members of the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Following the January election of President Sirisena, the government substantially curbed its activities prohibiting free speech and the right to peaceful assembly, but some government officials nonetheless continued to harass members of the media. (U.S. Department of State, Sri Lanka, COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2015, § 2(a), State Department website.)

The report goes on to state that “[i]ndependent media were generally active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.” (Id.) This statement contrasts with the assessment in the previous year’s report, in which the State Department said that the government under the previous president did not respect press freedom. (U.S. Department of State, Sri Lanka, COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2014, § 2(a), State Department website.)