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Weligama mayor accuses media of invading COVID-19 patient’s privacy, bans unauthorised entry into private property

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ECONOMYNEXT – Weligama Mayor Rehaan Jayawickreme has banned the unauthorised entry of media personnel into the private property of suspected COVID-19 patients in the area.

In a letter addressed to the heads of Hiru TV, a private television station belonging to the Asia Broadcasting Corporation, and Adaderana, and Derana TV, Jayawickreme warned yesterday that failure to comply will result in legal action.

“By the powers vested to me under the Urban Council act of 1987(255) section (4), I am hereby banning the unauthorised entry of any media personnel into the private vicinities of suspected COVID-19 cases. In the event that these warnings are not heeded, I will not hesitate to not only initiate legal action against your channel but will also instruct the relevant Public Health Inspectors (PHI) working under me to file separate charges in regard to the obstruction of their duties,” he wrote.

Jayawickreme accused Hiru TV of unlawfully entering and capturing footage of a suspected COVID-19 patient on New Street, Weligama, on Thursday (May 7) which he claimed had caused “great distress” to the patient’s family.

“The said patient was incidentally cleared of COVID-19 but the social stigma that it has caused the rest of the family members is shocking and distressing,” he added.

The mayor further said: “I wish to remind you that the broadcast frequencies that you are operating on is public property regulated by the Telecom Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka. This means that you should be more mindful when reporting cases like this which is sensitive in nature.”

Derana TV executives told EconomyNext that they had seen the letter from Jayawickreme on Social Media but had not officially received the letter.

Derana did not show any footage of the house or family that the Chairman referred to.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Channel Head
Hiru TV
No 51/5
Alexander Place
Colombo 07

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8th May 2020

Ref: Unauthorised entry and invasion of privacy of suspected COVID 19 case in Weligama

It has been brought to my attention that your media channel personnel have unlawfully entered and captured still and video footage of a suspected COVID 19 patient in New Street Weligama on the 7th of May 2020, thus causing great distress to the surviving family members. The said patient was incidentally cleared of COVID 19 but the social stigma that it has caused the rest of the family members is shocking and distressing. It is of paramount importance to note that our country along with the rest of the world is going through turbulent times due to this disease but it is only in Sri Lanka that I have seen patients being treated as criminals. This, I believe, is because of the various times media personnel from your channel and others blatantly violated the rights of the suspected patients by visiting their personal properties and in some instances recording voice cuts which they do not intend to be made public..

I do not wish to educate you on media ethics as I am sure you have the common sense to believe in what’s right and wrong. Even though I had to turn a blind eye and watch in disgust when this was happening all over the country, I will not as Head of the Weligama Urban Council tolerate such violations in our town limit.

I wish to bring to your notice the Urban Council Act of 1987(255) section (4) which states,

the Urban Council constituted for each town shall,subject to the powers reserved to or vested in any other authority by this ordinance or by any other written law,be the local authority,within the administrative limits of the town,charged with the regulation,control and administration of all matters relating to the public health,public utility services and public thoroughfares, and generally with the protection and promotion of the comfort,convenience and welfare of the people and the amenities of the town.

By the powers vested to me under the the Urban Council act of 1987(255) section (4), I am hereby banning the unathorised entry of any media personnel into the private vicinities of suspected COVID 19 cases. In the event that these warnings are not heeded, I will not hesitate to not only iniate legal action against your channel but will also instruct the relevant Public Health Inspectors(PHI)working under me, to file separate charges in regard to the obstruction of their duties.

In addition to this, you are already aware of the unambiguous guidelines issued by the Government information department in reporting of COVID 19 related matters, pointing out specifically the guidelines that requests media networks to avoid highlighting individual cases.

I wish to remind you that the broadcast frequencies that you are operating on is public property regulated by the Telecom Regulatory Commision of Sri Lanka. This means that you should be more mindful when reporting cases like this which is sensitive in nature.

Rehaan Jayawickreme

Chairman
Weligama Urban Council

Cc:

1) Head of the COVID 19 taskforce, Commander of the Army, Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva

2) Dr Anil Jayasingha, Director General of Health (Colombo/May9/2020)

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