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FMM calls the Press Council flawed and wants it abolished not restructured

Journalists and Media activists remembered fellow workers who have been killed or dissappeared at a vigil at Liptons Circus in Colombo Jan 28

ECONOMYNEXT – The Free Media Movement (FMM) is calling for the abolishing of the Press Council and has vehemently opposed the government’s attempt to restructure the regulator which now wants to include electronic media in its remit, a statement by the Media Freedom Watchdog said.

In a letter to the Secretary of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information FMM says it objects to a revision of the Press Council Law, which is nearly 50 years old with legal provisions that are severely detrimental to media freedom.

The Secretary to the Ministry published an advertisement stating the expectation to structurally reform and reorganise the Sri Lanka Press Council established by the Sri Lanka Press Council Law No 05 of 1973 covering electronic, print and new media as a tribunal for journalists and media institutions, the statement noted.

The FMM points out that it “has perennially objected to a unilateral media regulatory process by a government agency with detrimental legal provisions. The Free Media Movement agrees to “a regulatory” methodology encompassing all media that is developed through the engagement of the media community, protecting media diversity, independence, freedom and social responsibility. The Free Media Movement details the adverse legal provisions and the basis for opposing the Press Council in this article.”

FMM points out that the President has the power to appoint six out of the seven members of the Council, there it has become an institution composed solely of the persons required by the President.

The Council has also lost its independence with the President’s power to remove its members. The independence of the Council is also lost with the Minister in charge of the subject determining the salary of the members of the Council.

A representative of working journalists under Section 3 (b) (1) of the Press Council Law of Sri Lanka and a representative of the Press Trade Union in terms of Section 3 (b) (2) are the only representatives from the newspaper industry. Accordingly, out of the seven members, only two members represent the sector. It is by no means a fair representation. Also, according to Section 7 of the Law, it is stated that the Council can act notwithstanding a vacancy amongst the members of the Council, thereby permitting the Council to function even in the absence of the two representatives of the newspapers.

The FMM also pointed out some aspects of the law restrict media freedom.

Section 9 (5) of the Law states that any order or censure of the Press Council shall be final and conclusive and shall not be questioned in any court of law. Accordingly, there is no authority or tribunal to appeal against such a decision of the Council.

The Free Media Movement, which has stated in its letter that it will not comment on the practical issues about the Press Council, has urged the Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media and Information to repeal the Press Council Law that contains the above detrimental legal provisions. (Colombo, March 15, 2021)

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Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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