Sri Lanka: Intimidating Media institutions in the pretext of the ‘Aragalaya’ is a wrong precedent – Free Media Movement15 Jul, 2022
The Free Media Movement has paid close attention to the recent incident involving a group of people who introduced themselves as part of the ‘Aragalaya’ and entered the premise of the National Rupavahini Corporation on the 14th of July and forcibly ordered the rescheduling of programmes and the views expressed while participating in a live programme. The Free Media movement vehemently condemns this action outright and completely rejects the hostile coercive action and the extreme views shared. Determining the media content is the right of the Editorial Board of the respective individual media institutions and intimidating them is a blatant violation of media freedom according to the recognized principles of media freedom.
The media community, including the Free Media Movement, for over two decades have been reiterating that the state media, including the National Rupavahini, should be transformed into ‘public service media’ instead of acting as the mouthpieces of existing governments. Whilst promoting the concept that an Independent Media Commission should be established to regulate all media including state media that uses ‘frequencies’ (which is public property). The Free Media Movement, recognizes media freedom, including the freedom of expression, as a pivotal principle of a democratic society and has consistently emphasized that ‘freedom should accompany with responsibility’ as stated in our theme. The Free Media Movement will never condone or approve of the state media, including the National Rupavahini, protecting the government that drove the country to bankruptcy and working against the popular people’s protests at a time when there has been an unprecedented public uprising against the regime. We also strongly criticise the work of some private television channels that are either aligned with the existing government or actively working against it without being impartial.
However, the Free Media Movement, strongly believes that media reforms should be achieved through a broad dialogue and agreement between the media fraternity, the public and the government. Therefore, FMM has engaged in collective action over a long period of time. Nonetheless, we do not believe that any group can bring about a positive change by storming into a media institution and ordering them around. Such coercive action from any party will be considered as a direct threat to media freedom and democracy and such actions are strongly condemned by the Free Media Movement.
In the face of the dreadful situation that Sri Lanka is currently in, the media community including the Free Media Movement have expressed their solidarity with the public agitation against the current regime, including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is the recent most person responsible for the present crisis situation. In particular, the democratic, non-violent, pluralistic and advanced cultural expression reflected by the ‘Aragalaya’ was highly acclaimed and praised as a model for a future Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, it is our observation that certain events that have taken place in recent days have rejected these salient qualities of the ‘Aragalaya’. We see the incident of storming forcefully into Rupavahini as a reflection of that adverse development. The Free Media Movement will not hesitate to say that the manner in which the two representatives, who appeared to be protesters, behaved while giving orders inside the premises, as well as some of the comments expressed during the live broadcast, are appalling to the civilized society. One of the speakers said directly that they do not accept ‘media ethics’. They also directly said that these were ‘not requests but orders’. This behaviour is reminiscent of the infamous Minister Mervin Silva storming into the Rupavahini premises with a mob.
The Free Media Movement, which highlights that the right to express one’s opinion is the core foundation of all rights, emphasizes that it is the responsibility of the informed society to condemn such heinous actions in the name of the ‘Aragalaya’ and to subject these to a wider discourse and to provide a proper understanding to the inexperienced protesters. We also request all the parties who have contributed to the development of the space for an advanced cultural ‘Aragalaya’ called ‘The Love agitation’ to act in order to protect those qualities of the protests irrespective of the challenging situation.
Lasantha de Silva Hannah Ibrahim