Ranil against reactivation of Press Council Laws

Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday told Parliament the government was attempting to bring back the Press Council Law, which had been de-activated with the approval of all political parties.

"The government should have consulted other parties represented in Parliament before it commenced the process of re-activating the Press Council laws," he said.

The Press Council laws would suppress the media which had come under threat from various quarters, he said.

"We are aware of pressure and challenges mediamen face in this country. Many international and local organisations have highlighted the plight of journalists," the Opposition Leader said.

Wickremesinghe said that the latest report of the International Press Institute had mentioned that many journalists had been killed, abducted, assaulted and become victims of threats and intimidation in the recent past in Sri Lanka. None of the investigations commenced by the government into attacks on journalists had been concluded, he said.

The Opposition Leader said: "The Press Council Act was brought in first by the then SLFP government in 1973. The Act gives power to the council to impose fines and prison sentences on journalist. And there is no provision for appeals against a judgement or an order by the Press Council. The citizens have a right to appeal against Court orders but this council has been granted draconian powers which could be used against the media.

Since this Act was very draconian it was agreed by all political parties unanimously to abolish it. Therefore, the PA government brought in a Cabinet paper in 1994 to form an alternative to the Sri Lanka Press Council. However, nothing came of that Cabinet paper. The UNF government which came to power in 2007 paid special attention to this and had discussions with all media organisations, institutions and political parties to ensure media freedom. As a result of this collective endeavour we opted for self-regulation by the heads of media institutions instead of draconian laws. To make this viable we set up the Press Complaints Commission. The self-regulatory censorship mechanism had been approved by everybody including the then Opposition Leader and now the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who commended it saying freedom of media was a must for the existence of democracy."

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