Despite the pledges made by President Maithripala Sirisena during his campaign to protect and strengthen media freedom in the country, it seems his administration has now backtracked on the promise and is seeking to further throttle transparency and freedom of the media.
Following the issue, which emerged due to the contradictory statements made by the Defence Ministry Secretary BMUD Basnayake on the legality of the floating armoury raided last week and the comment made by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake concerning an account that was operated by former Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the government has made a decision to control the channels through which the media obtains information.
This was initially announced by Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne during a media briefing, when he announced that a decision has been made to ensure that all public sector officials strictly follow the Establishment code and that no comments/information should be released to the media without obtaining prior written approval of the relevant Ministry Secretary.
Ironically, it was the comment issued by the Defence Ministry Secretary that resulted in this decision.
While Minister Karunanayake announced to media that the account opened by Gotabaya to deposit MoD funds was illegal as the monies should have been deposited in the consolidated fund in the Treasury, Basnayake told media that it was in fact operated by the Ministry within legal parameters, contradicting the stance maintained by the new government.
Meanwhile, it has been reported in the Sunday Times political column today that the Ministers of the new government have decided that Public Administration Minister Karu Jayasuriya should issue instructions to Ministry Secretaries stating that they should ‘strictly follow the rules and regulations under the Establishment Code in issuing Press Releases by State Officials.’