Elections Commission warns Media about bias

The Elections Commission is exasperated by the behaviour of the Media during this Presidential election campaign, but prefers to change matters through persuasion and consensus, the Chief Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya told reporters yesterday.

He said that he was most upset with State Media organisations that are showing bias “because those newspapers, in particular, belong to the state and not a private entity.”

Deshapriya said that he has been verbally warning all the Media organisations but for State Media this was his final warning.

“We can take legal action against the editors and managers, but we choose not to at this stage,” he said.

On that point Deshapriya was singing in harmony with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna spokesman Dullas Alahapperuma, who at the SLPP party headquarters, was complaining bitterly against the Lake House newspapers for being biased against his candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The Press conference began with the Commission displaying pie-charts constructed by the Information Department which had collected data on Sinhala language news bulletins on eight different TV channels on a given date.

Guess The Channel!

These charts, did not name the channels concerned but showed many stations showing bias towards one or the other main candidate.

Deshapriya said the “airwaves, radio and Television spectrum, is public property and should be used in the public interest.”

He said he could take legal action against the state media TV and radio executives, “under the Constitution there is the possibility that senior executives in the state broadcasters can be punished, including the Chairman, Director General and the Director news” he said

However, he could not do so directly against private broadcasters.

“We are asking them to be as fair as they can,” he said. He added that they were exploring the possibility of taking some action against the private operators through the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission as the “conditions of the licenses of these stations state that during elections they cannot be biased.”

He said that Civil Society activists have told us that they will file action against us if we do not control the media. “I told them that we will support them if they go to court,” Deshapriya said.

He also warned news outlets against the publication of unverified news items. “In the 1981 law regulating elections, it is clearly stated that editors and owners of newspapers are responsible for any false news that is published. It is the responsibility of these persons to verify the news,” he said.