Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, once a press freedom campaigner, now wants to punish media institutions under the Section 22 of the Parliamentary (Powers and Privilege) Act, is clearly against the Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility.
The Colombo Declaration which was signed by the Prime Minister’s own uncle, the chairman of the Newspaper Society, Ranjit Wijewardene along with Uvindu Kurukulasuriya (Free Media Movement), Sanath Balasuriya (Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association), and Sinha Ratnatunga (Editors’ Guild) said; “The provisions in the Constitution seeing out restrictions relating to parliamentary privileges should be removed as this is constitutes an unnecessary privilege conferred on members of parliament and is not reflected in modern standards relating to the right to freedom of speech, expression and information. The Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act (1953) should be returned to its original position and consequent amendments to the Act should be specifically repealed.”
The 100 day programme promised “immediate and long-term measures … to safeguard the independence of media personnel and institutions”, and that the “right to freedom of thought and expression will be strengthened”.
However in a letter addressed to Secretary General of Parliament, the Prime Minister said both former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) DEW Gunasekera and certain media institutions should be penalised under Section 22, of the Parliamentary (Powers and Privilege) Act for reporting COPE draft report on the alleged bond scam.
In the letter Wickremesinghe has specifically criticised the Sunday Times which belongs to his uncle Ranjit Wijewardene.
The Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka, the Free Media Movement and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association were the joint signatories to the Colombo Declaration of 1998, that was revised in 2008 and accepted UNESCO’s Windhoek Declaration that asserts that the right to a free press as a fundamental right of the people and recognised the fact that the Sri Lankan Government is a signatory to the Colombo Declaration on Media, Development and Poverty Eradication which includes the promotion of a free, pluralistic and independent media committed to social justice and development.