PM urged to expose, move court against corrupt journalists


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) has urged Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to reveal the identities of corrupt journalists and whatever information he had pertaining to their activities.

SLWJA President Lasantha Ruhunage yesterday told The Island that their association hadn’t received an opportunity to discuss specific accusations made against the media though Prime Minister Wickremesinghe summoned representatives of various media organizations for a meeting at Temple Trees several months back. "We sought a meeting with PM Wickremesinghe soon after his first outburst directed at the media after the last parliamentary polls in August, 2015."

In a statement dated July 28, Ruhunage emphasized that there couldn’t be any issue in respect of conducting investigations into corruption involving journalists. Ruhunage said that they should be investigated and proper action taken expeditiously.

Both Ruhunage and Duminda Sampath, General Secretary of the association said that those who genuinely believed some journalists had deliberately distorted news to undermine the government, a particular political party or individual could be reported to relevant authorities. Both the Press Complaints Commission and Sri Lanka Press Council accepted complaints in respect of media coverage.

The association said that remedial measures should be taken through the Press Complaints Commission which is the legally constituted body to inquire into such matters. However, in case a particular complainant wasn’t satisfied with the way the Press Complaints Commission or the Sri Lanka Press Council had handled his or her complaint, the judiciary could be moved against the journalist concerned.

Since the change of government in January, 2015, members of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration as well as the JVP on several occasions accused journalists of receiving various perks, privileges and bribes during the previous administration.

Premier Wickremesinhe also accused a section of the media of trying to bring former President Mahinda Rajapaksa back to power and also causing turmoil through coverage of events in the Northern Province. The government closed down Police Media Unit in the wake of simmering dispute over the reportage of the arrest of former LTTE cadres in May this year.

SLWJA said that a section of the media along with civil society organizations had campaigned strongly against the previous administration and facilitated the then Opposition project due to them being badly affected by the Rajapaksa administration approach towards the media. Alleging that Premier Wickremesinghe had directed personal attacks against certain media individuals, including editors and issued warnings on several occasions, the association stressed as the Premier of Sri Lanka, Mr Wickremesinhe shouldn’t adopt such an approach,.

Commenting on Premier Wickremesinghe’s latest attack on the media during a public address in Kandy, the association said that the UNP leader should reveal how he expected to teach a lesson to the media. Strongly condemning the PM’s statement, the association alleged that the Premier’s comments on the media were in a way threatened the fourth estate.

Ruhunage said that the association was ready to meet Premier Wickremesinghe and other leaders to discuss issues pertaining to media.

Recently, President Maithripala Sirisena alleged that those who had been campaigning against the government received about 80 per cent of the total media coverage on a daily basis whereas the new administration’s development projects and other measures taken for the well-being of people were allocated the remaining 20 per cent.

Duminda Sampath said that all complaints in respect of the media could be lodged with the Press Complaints Commission.

Acting Chairman of Sri Lanka Press Council Niroshan Thambawita yesterday told The Island that the SLPC accepted complaints in respect of print media reports.

Responding to a query, Thambawita said that as the SLPC had been established in accordance with a Parliamentary Act, it could exercise the powers of a District Court though their primary aim was to take remedial measures through the consensus of parties to the conflict. However, the SLPC lacked the authority to inquire into conduct of the electronic media, Thambawita admitted.

Thambawita said former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was among those who sought their intervention. "We also received complaints from Minister John Seneviratne as well as the JVP."

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