Polls chief stops telecast of President’s special speech

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Elections Secretariat has requested both state and privately-owned electronic media to refrain from telecasting President Maithripala Sirisena’s address to the nation last Tuesday (July 14) on the basis of it being inimical to political parties as well as candidates in the fray at the Aug. 17 polls.

After having received several complaints, Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya has written to heads of electronic media institutions on Wednesday requesting immediate suspension of the telecast. Deshapriya intervened after media repeated the statement on Wednesday.

The Island received a copy of Deshapriya’s letter at a special meeting held at the Elections Secretariat, Rajagiriya to discuss ways and means of thwarting the media manipulating the electoral process in favour of political parties and selected candidates.

Deshapriya was flanked by Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) retired Supreme Court Justice Priyantha R. P. Perera.

The SLFP-led UPFA strongly countered President Maithripala Sirisena’s statement at a special press conference called at the party headquarters, T. B. Jayah Mawatha. SLFP heavyweight Dallas Alahapperuma said that he was among millions of people shocked and surprised by the President’s attack.

The Elections Secretariat yesterday briefed the media on a series of guidelines as envisaged in the recently adopted 19 Amendment to the Constitution meant to restrain the media.

Deshapriya said that certain guidelines had been modified in consultation with relevant parties, though they were largely operative at the last presidential election. The outspoken official warned media institutions against giving any group of candidates preferential treatment at the expense of those contesting the forthcoming parliamentary polls. Deshapriya said that punitive action would be taken against television stations unless they abided by the guidelines.

Responding to a query, Deshapriya said that he wouldn’t have any other alternative but to name those television stations violating guidelines. Deshapriya emphasised the need for adhering with the guideline number 10 meant to ensure equal coverage due to some regular contributors and those on the payroll of some media institutions joining the fray. The polls chief also referred to those media personalities accommodated in National Lists of different political parties.

Deshapriya didn’t mince his words when he pointed out that the Elections Secretariat as well as the electorate here was facing an unprecedented situation hitherto not experienced by any other country. A section of the Opposition, too, was in the government, hence the confusion, Deshapriya said, urging television stations not to manipulate live political debates by arranging interested parties to target selected political opponents by masquerading as ordinary viewers.

Commenting on electoral surveys, Deshapriya said that a decision would be taken in consultation with political parties regarding the periodic release of such data. The polls chief said that interested parties couldn’t be allowed to exploit the process to undermine rivals.

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