Sri Lanka – Nine recommendations for improving the state of the press freedom


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A few months before his murder on 31 May 2004, Aiyathurai Nadesan, a correspondent in Batticaloa (the eastern part of the island) for several Tamil media, who received the prize for “Best Tamil Journalist” in 2000, had told Reporters without Borders: «We are always caught in the crossfire. It is very hard for us to check our information with both the security forces and the Tamil Tigers. And when a local news article is released from Colombo, we may face reprisals in the field.» His statements attest to how difficult working conditions are for journalists in Sri Lanka.

The circumstances surrounding the murder of Aiyathurai Nadesan—the fi rst journalist killed since October 2000—are troubling and could threaten the fragile ceasefire signed at the end of 2001. In fact, the journalist’s colleagues and relatives suspect that men close to Tamil rebel leader Karuna committed this murder. The media minister Mangala Samaraweera recently acknowledged that some members of the Sri Lanka army had aided the Karuna group, which seceded from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) movement. Moreover, the latter have been exploiting this collusion between Karuna’s men and the army to go back on their peace process commitments.

Reporters without Borders fears that current tensions may plunge the country back into war. Such a failure would undoubtedly lead to new and very serious violations of press freedom.

Since last April’s victory of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), headed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the country has been going through a delicate period. Some doubts have been raised as to whether or not the ceasefire signed with the Tamil Tigers movement can be maintained.

During a fact-fi nding mission in Sri Lanka early this year, Reporters without Borders interviewed dozens of journalists. The majority expressed their apprehensions and frustrations in dealing with a situation that has become much too volatile for them to assert that press freedom is a given in the country.

Nearly 100 days after the new government was formed, Reporters without Borders has decided it was necessary to present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and President Chandrika Kumaratunga with a series of recommendations that may help to sustainably improve the state of press freedom in Sri Lanka. The organisation thereby hopes to relay the expectations of Sri Lankan journalists, particularly those of correspondents based in the provinces. Reporters without Borders also urges the international community—notably the Norwegian government, responsible for monitoring compliance with the current ceasefire agreement— to become more actively involved in ensuring the journalists’ safety and freedom. The LTTE must also adjust its attitude toward the media, so that members of the Tamil-language press can work more safely and freely.

Lastly, the organisation would like to make a recommendation to certain Sri Lankan newspapers who sometimes exploit the country’s ethnical and political tensions at the risk of stirring up hatred.