ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is planning to register foreign digital operators as these “digital multinational conglomerates are overwhelming and alienating our local businesses by data colonization,” the country’s Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.
In a statement issued through the Director-General of Government Information today, December 21, Rambukwella said he wanted to clarify reports that appeared over the weekend where he told reporters the government wanted to register all Social Media users.
In today’s statement, Rambukwella said his weekend statement was “portrayed in a garbled manner where the true meaning is not conveyed. While acknowledging this, I would like to clarify that the government’s intention is not to register social media users.”
The Minister, who has the statutory power to regulate information providing websites said the multinationals use “predatory techniques” leading to huge sums of money leaving the country through these digital platforms.
The Minister said the government has been considering registering foreign digital operators and not social media and digital platform users.
Digital Media analyst Nalaka Gunewardene said that the Minister’s argument is not new and is misleading and a questionable claim.
“During the previous administration the same argument was made when it blocked Facebook in 2018,” he said.
Gunewardene pointed out that these platforms have revenue sharing whereby the content providers to platforms such as YouTube and Facebook also gain revenue.
He said that in the Covid pandemic period Sri Lankan businesses ranging from the major companies to small and micro-businesses have operated through these digital platforms.
On December 20, Rambukwella told reporters in Kandy that the government has discussed Social Media issues at length and is of the opinion that all users of Facebook and other Social Media sites should be registered.
“We have discussed at length and the time has come to take action,” he said.
Rambukwella’s comments came a month after Media Rights activists expressed concern over a proposed Singapore-style regulatory framework for Sri Lankan websites purportedly to combat fake news and hate speech online.
Rambukwella told a Ministerial Consultative Committee on Mass Media last month that the proposed mechanism will be introduced in two weeks.
The committee has reportedly studied Singapore’s controversial Infocomm Media Development Authority Act (IMDA) and Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), which critics say will be emulated by Sri Lanka’s proposed regulatory framework in its mandate to curb reporting and content that spread falsehoods and incite racism.
Singapore’s IMDA passed in 2016 is one of the applicable acts to the statutory body responsible for broadcasting and content regulation (irrespective of the transmission medium) in Singapore. It received criticism from various quarters including the International Press institute over allegations of controlling the media. (Colombo, December 21, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana