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Thirty-two IFEX members appeal for action to strengthen media freedom and freedom of expression

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a joint statement by 32 IFEX members:

Urgent appeal to strengthen media freedom and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka

The ongoing violence in Sri Lanka is taking its toll on media freedom and freedom of expression.

Journalists are directly in the line of fire. Their safety and security are terribly compromised. Some have been forced to flee for their own safety.

Human rights and media freedom activists are the target of death threats, physical harm and subject to a language of hate and harm by government ministers, paramilitary groups and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). IFEX member the Free Media Movement (FMM) based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, recently noted that media in Sri Lanka is under incredible pressure to supinely conform and comply with the incumbent government's propaganda on conflict and peace. Any journalist who questions or critiques this official line is immediately the target of hate speech and rabid public condemnation.

Self-censorship is rife. Tamilnet, a web based news website with a predominant Tamil nationalist perspective, is blocked by all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Sri Lanka on the orders of the government. With the rule of law grossly undermined and overwhelmed by the politics of nepotism and a pervasive culture of fear, journalists find it increasingly impossible to act in the public interest.

This is not a situation that can be allowed to continue any longer. Free and professional media is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy. Especially during the fog of war, when overbroad definitions of national security veil the corrosive parochialism of a few to consolidate positions of unbridled power, professional media must necessarily critique the central issues in war and peace efforts, expose corruption, seek alternatives to violence and unearth underlying interests of warring factions. Regrettably, the space for Sri Lankan media to produce content in such a manner is rapidly diminishing.

International missions that have included IFEX in October 2006 and in June 2007 found that the pressures on the media have multiplied and noted increasing fears for the safety of journalists, especially those operating in the embattled North and East.

All those present at the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) General Meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay in October 2007 appeal to the government, the LTTE and all paramilitary and armed groups to support media freedom and the freedom of expression in a meaningful and sincere manner. To this end, we reiterate the need to urgently implement the following measures highlighted by the international missions to Sri Lanka:

- Halt all threats, harassment, abductions and attacks against media workers and outlets currently being perpetrated by all parties to the conflict, but in particular on, but not limited to, the Tamil-language media;
- Refrain from all interference in editorial independence, including the use of economic or legal sanctions, such as restrictions on newsprint, the indiscriminate use of search and seizure powers by the tax authorities or the freezing of assets, to interfere in the publication of a newspaper;
- Cease using informal means, such as direct calls to newsrooms and editorial offices, to influence media coverage and editorial lines;
- Desist from the dangerous and irresponsible practice of publicly vilifying media workers in a manner likely to endanger their lives and those of their families and invite the authorities, political parties and community leaders to demonstrate a clear and unambiguous rejection of the targeting of media workers and outlets by incitement and language likely to excite hostility;
- Amend or revoke all Sri Lankan legislation, regulations and powers, particularly the emergency regulations of August 2005, the Prevention of Terrorism and Specified Terrorist Activities Regulations of December 2006, the Official Secrets Act, Press Council Laws and broadcasting laws that fail to meet international standards on press freedom and freedom of expression.

Media freedom and the freedom of expression are vital to democracy and a just peace. The failure to strengthen both condemns Sri Lanka to more violence. The choice is clear.


Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia
Arab Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo), Egypt
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Nepal
Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), Russia
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), Liberia
Centro de Periodismo y Etica Publica (CEPET), Mexico
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), Nepal
Foro de Periodismo Argentino (FOPEA), Argentina
Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka
Freedom House, United States of America
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), Colombia
Globe International, Mongolia
Index on Censorship, United Kingdom
Institute for Mass Information (IMI), Ukraine
Institute for Reporter's Freedom and Seafety (IRFS), Azerbaijan
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), Peru
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad-Venezuela (IPYS), Venezuela
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia Pacific Office, Australia
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET), Turkey
Journaliste en Danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Mizzima News, India
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Somalia
Norwegian PEN, Norway
South East Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand
West African Journalists Association (WAJA), Mali
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States of America

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