15 December, 2017

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Shadowy Hands In Effort To Control Sri Lankan Media – Is The Sri Lanka Press Institute Asleep? 

A shadowy group calling itself the National Secretariat for Media Reform (NSMR) funded by an international non-governmental organization, International Media Support (IMS) and lobbing for a badly drafted Bill of independent Council for News Media Standards has led to huge public agitation and concern in Sri Lanka.      

Ranga Kalansooriya

Concerns have arisen as to whether this is an attempt by certain international forces sympathetic to the ‘yahapalanaya’ Government to throttle journalists who are now critical of the Government. These concerns are heightened given that Director General of Information Ranga Kalansooriya is the one pushing the draft while the Ministry of Media is silent. Kalansooriya earlier worked with IMS as its regional advisor to Asia, and is well known to be still the one pulling the strings.

“I still do international consultancies, that is all I have to say. Please contact IMS for further details,” on 22 December 2016 he told Colombo Telegraph .

Social media activist Nalaka Gunawardene now serves as country programme manager for IMS which he clarified to an email query sent by Colombo Telegraph. Admitting that he ‘occasionally’ seeks Kalansooriya’s advice, Gunewardene has been pushing the draft on numerous social media platforms.

On Saturday, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) denied claims by Kalansooriya that SLWJA had been associated with the draft, accusing Kalansooriya of ‘telling lies.’    

Nalaka Gunawardene

The draft that was discussed in a series of consultations around the country funded by IMS establishes a Council that will have strong powers to punish editors and journalists for violation of the standards that it lays down which are vague and arbitrary. Kalansooriya and Gunawardene have tried to justify the Council by saying that it will be similar to the RTI Commission of Sri Lanka established under the internationally recognised RTI Act. This comparison was ridiculed by journalists and media activists.

“The RTI Commission has got respected people as members, at least at the start, because of the strength of the RTI law itself and because civil society and media backed it strongly. The media was behind its drafting. How can this be the same here? This is a bad draft. Who is backing it? What is this Secretariat? No journalist or academic of repute serves as a member on it. No recognised person will want to come and serve. They will say this will be like the RTI Commission as an excuse and put government ‘pandankarayas’ on the Council who will act against journalists’ said a media activist.

Even though earlier, the Free Media Movement and others were involved in the process, they have now delinked themselves. The draft permits a court to order disclosure of a journalist’s sources. Journalists describe this as shocking when even the existing attitude of Sri Lanka judges has not been agreed as to whether a court should exercise that power or not! This judicial attitude was seen in cases filed against the Sri Lankan newspapers, for i.e. against Lakbima in 1995, where the High Court refused to hold the editor responsible for not disclosing sources. International standards were quoted by Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane for the refusal. When discussing this point with her at the international symposium to mark the 10th anniversary of the Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility in 2008, the editor of the Colombo Telegraph Uvindu Kurukulasuriya (then a Director of Sri Lanka Press Institute and the Press Complaint Commission of Sri Lanka) was informed as follows;

Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane

My thinking was liberal and inclined towards the protection of sources. What happened was that the other judge made an error of law. So what happened was – we make errors of judgment and it is rectified by the higher court. That happens all the time. But what happened when this case came up was that Parliament repealed the criminal defamation law itself. The two conflicting judgments remained without being decided upon by a higher court. But I say that my thinking is right. You do not have to divulge your sources. To me, you should not divulge your sources because you are the voice of poor people and if they come and tell you something today you have to protect whoever is telling you. If I was a journalist, I will go to jail. I will say, I am not going to divulge. You have to fight these things. I mean, life is about fighting for what is right. Anyway, the correct judgment is a Supreme Court Judgment of Justice Mark Fernando’s which says that you do not have to divulge sources. That is the law at the moment.”

Responding to a query by Colombo Telegraph, the person who drafted the bill, Wijayananda Jayaweera, former Director of Communication Development Division at the UNESCO said that he volunteered to draft this bill following a discussion of a committee convened by the Department of Information. He wasn’t paid by the government or by any other organisation. He admitted he wasn’t aware of the Supreme court judgements re disclosure of a journalist’s sources. He also said he has nothing to do with the ongoing advocacy project.

Wijayananda Jayaweera

Another question bothering media activists is as to why the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) is silent on the matter without a statement being issued while individual national newspapers, the electronic media and some political parties have come out in vociferous protest. They have pointed out that the website of the Secretariat only lists some little known journalists and junior academics as members. It has also been observed that Pradeep Weerasinghe who heads the Secretariat has come out of nowhere with no long established credentials in media law reform to back the effort; read here, here and here. 

Journalists Lasantha Ruhunge, Poddala Jayantha and some others have spoken out against the draft law. But the question is as to where is the voice of the SLPI which represents all the print media, a powerful opinion forming body in the country? Several senior editors of mainstream newspapers sit on the SLPI Board. CEO of SLPI Kumar Lopez was recently featured in social media pictures at an RTI training organized by Transparency International. Toby Mendel, the head of the Canadian NGO, Centre for Law and Democracy who was in Sri Lanka last week trying to push the new law while speaking at the event where Nalaka Gunawardene, another hand behind the IMS funded law was the moderator. As media activists point out, this shows the ties between these few individuals behind this sinister effort to throttle the Sri Lankan media.

A concerned journalist asked ‘so does this mean that the SLPI is approving this new draft? Why did this Secretariat include the SLPI as involved in its founding? Is that correct? Or is this an attempt by its CEO to curry favour with interfering foreign hands who are behind this draft? We do not know and would like the SLPI to clarify its stand without permitting misleading impressions. Does it agree with the electronic media which is opposing the effort – or is it asleep as usual? First and foremost its CEO should be changed as he seems to be either clueless or collaborating with all these forces ’ (Chamindri Karannagoda)

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    When I commented under this Ranga fellow’s article on April 17, 2015 09:36 saying that this bugger was seeking a government position, CT has edited out my comment. CT now you know who is this idiot is. These are opportunists. When UNP came to power 2002, this burger got a 3rd grade diplomatic position, he went Sri Lankan embassy in Malaysia as the Press officer under lady Rosy.

    Just after Yahapalana came to power this bugger started to write columns to CT. I knew then what is he expecting. This idiot has done nothing prior to Jan 8th, he was with IMS as its Asia coordinator interestingly except Sri Lanka, the difficult time for Sri Lanka. Earn millions and started hotels in Hambantota and earned lots of money. Real hipos!

    • 5
      0

      Thank you CT for approving this time. I think you have now realised I was correct. This man has no principles.

  • 5
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    So Mr Wiyananda himself didn’t know that there is a law re the protecting sources. What a shame!

    • 1
      1

      What Uvindu said to me was that there is a judgement by the supreme court, which I am not ashamed to say I was not aware of. But it does not mean that there is a law enacted by the parliament protecting journalists’ right not to disclose the anonymous sources. The draft I have prepared protects this right with a provision for a judicial review directly by the supreme court to decide whether such a disclosure is permisseble when there is an imminent danger to national security or essential to prevent disorder or crime.

      Otherwise, anyone requesting a journalist to reveal confidential sources commits an offense under the proposed draft.

      • 4
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        Supreme court judgements are also considered as law Mr Wijayananda. Please read:
        Common Law vs Statutory Law
        http://www.diffen.com/difference/Common_Law_vs_Statutory_Law

        • 4
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          How could a former Director of Communication Development Division at the UNESCO does not know about precedents in law? Was the appointment merit based, or as usual, a political one?

          • 2
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            Well said Lionel.

          • 0
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            If you watched “face the Nation ” on TV1 today, you would have seen a pathetic performance by U.R. De Silva, Bar Association President. A pointer to the state of the legal profession these days. You expect them to produce perfect drafts?
            However, since the Sirasa media group is also campaigning against the bill, I suspect there may be some good in it. Perhaps some re-drafting will help.

      • 3
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        I agree completely with Khema. Judge-made law is very much part of the law- as much as a statute. Any law student knows this. This is a basic of the course I teach on media law for instance.

        So the difference that you try and draw is silly. I would not have commented- except that I could not help myself when I saw this. Please do not say these things in the future. It is very sad – I see you as a good man fallen among bad company.

        Are you not aware that even the Supreme Court is highly politicised? Are you not aware of the dangers that this might pose if the power is given by a LAW to judges to bully journalists to reveal sources? Where have you been LIVING during the past ten years? This is very naive.

        • 1
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          Well said Chrissy. He should be ashamed.

      • 5
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        In Sri Lanka, the practice has been to invoke “national security” and “terrorism” to silence any critical voice. They did extend that to include media critical of the government and even made journalists disappear.

        This draft bill in its current form will definitely be used to “throttle journalists who are critical of the Government” in future. How could one rest assured that this won’t happen under this regime or any future autocratic regime?

        • 1
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          Well said Lionel.

  • 3
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    This’s got be the last nail in the Yahapalana coffin!

    • 2
      0

      Puravesiya,

      Do you think Wikkamasingham is stupid to bring this bill if it is going to be the last nail in the Yahapalana coffin? This will be the beginning of a brutal crackdown of any opposition or uprising against the Government. I suggest the Toiya journalists who helped to bring this ‘Yahapalana’ Government to power but critical about its performance buy helmets to save their heads.

  • 4
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    The right NOT to reveal sources of information by journalists is sacrosanct in all democracies.
    Whoever desiring to cancel this right is on the side of autocracy/dictatorship.
    This attempt should be crushed.

    We need more judges like Justice Tilakawardane.

  • 3
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    How can Kalansooriya do international consultancies when he is holding a Government job? Is that not a basic conflict of interest? Is not IMS concerned about that? All dollar hungry kakkas (crows!) What is this Government doing to employ such people? More clumsy mistakes.

    How can bureaucrats, communicators, social media operators like Nalaka whom I have seen on twitter attacking anyone he does not like or nasty political operators like Kalansooriya with shady pasts ( was’nt this fellow in the pay of the Rajapaksa security intelligence at one time?) draft laws? It is a joke. What ability do they have?

    Foreigners (who is Mendel?) who go to other countries on whistle-top tours must be careful not to get taken in by persuasive local rogues.

    What is my good friend Manik de Silva and others on the SLPI Board doing while their CEO hobnobs with these jokers?? Many more things must be done in secret than what has come out now!

    • 2
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      Chndra, you are correct, but a small correction, not to Rajapaksas, but to Premadasa police. He was called ‘Wakishta’s boy in Dinamina” (Lake House). This guy’s parents worked at Lake House. He was recruited to Dinamina for spying work for Police, he reported to Chandra Wakishta. Waki gave the envelope every month!

    • 1
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      Oh Chndra! conflict of interest? What is this guy know about conflict of interest? This guy was recruited to SLPI as the mid carrier course coordinator. When the Dr. CEO was forced to resign this guy applied while running a PR firm, which is also conflict of interest. When pointed out this guy transferred the his PR company to his wife and ran the company while serving as the CEO. This guy had no capacity to run the SLPI, all the English letters were written by former CEO’s girl friend secretary. Then using SLPI doner contacts he went IMS for a big big salary. But he said he was resigning becuse he wanted to study. But within two weeks he was with IMS.
      Before that he registered as a PhD student under Dr. Tilak Kariyawasam. Then Tilak was invited to all SLPI events by Kalansooriya himself and even paid him. wasn’t there are a conflict of interest? Was it is ethical? And again pretending he was under threat by Rajapaksa regime using SLPI safety fund money he and his wife went to Sweden for two weeks while media rights activists like Sunanda, Uvindu, Poddala, Sanath all were living in Sri Lanka. They even never said they were under threat at that time. This guy has no ethics but now trying to impose ethics to media!

  • 1
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    What this article misses out is the hidden hand
    behind these great media pundits – Ranga
    Kalanasooriya, once a propagandist at the
    Sri Lanka Embassy in Malaysia and Nalaka
    Gunawardena, the baby space scientist whose
    ego is floating in the outer space.

    That these vultures will cash in on anything for
    a few bucks and fame is well known. But CT should
    dig deeper and find out who is behind. That is where
    the shock lies. They are the great democrats who
    have democracy and freedom in every vein.

    • 2
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      Gunawardene is an innocent man, yes, a baby, he only promotes himself everywhere, look at his Facebook. No harm. Leave the guy out.

  • 3
    0

    Oh Jesus ! Who are these fellows called the National Secretariat for Media Reform (NSMR)? I checked the board members, I’ve never heard these 21 fellows before.

  • 0
    0

    The Lankan media were taken by surprise by the change on 08 January 2015. They are in a self-censoring mode which is worse than imposed censorship. One reads items in overseas websites never mentioned in local media.
    Shadowy hands are in control of Sri Lankan Media alright. There was this news in “The Daily Mirror” of 28 June about the total of 900,000 kg drug bust in 2016 but no more! Investigative have been told to “Keep off”.
    Cricket wins are exploited by GoSL but the recent exploitation of losses for political ends is obscene. Bloody fat poncy politicians saying that the players are not physically fit – my foot. Did the media highlight the low morale prevailing?

  • 0
    0

    This will be a nice fit for “Mahendran, Dr Ranil ,Aloysious” new Media Empire , which has Print, TV , Streaming and even Mendis Special……. How Cool………

  • 2
    0

    IMPORTANT – Hey guys, check out this Secretariat website -nsmrlk.org/. There is some funny gig afoot. Yesterday it was working perfectly OK. Today morning, I checked to see how its members were. I remembered some dubious qualifications of unknown eastern european universities being put against the members- and lo and behold! the website is offline! There is a notice saying that ‘it is under construction – with hammers!’

    Enough proof and more that something fishy was going on. This CT expose with the other media publicity scared the bejeesus out of them! Good work, CT!

    This is the dubious ‘Secretariat’ to which the Great Conners in Crime, Ranga K. and Nalaka G. handed over the job of ‘popularising’ this draft law! And for his stupidity, a gentleman who had so far kept his nose clean, Wijayananda Jayaweera also got dragged into this. My question is – did people not know the history and background of these two Great Conners?

    This foreign guy Mendel is moderating here on the importance of media regulation while being taken for a sucker by these two Great Conners (GCs) who must be laughing at him behind his back! What a joke!

    And good work in also highlighting the fact that the Press Institute is asleep. It should have sounded the warning bells first in public. What is this foolish things that its websites carries – http://www.slpi.lk/? Is there anything substantive that helps the media except for some publicity gimmicks, photo-ops with Ministers and trainings? It seems to be most focused on promoting its for-profit halls and courses! Do journalists check out this website? I doubt it. Shame on its Board for not looking more thoroughly into its affairs.

  • 1
    0

    Enough proof and more that something fishy was going on. This CT expose with the other media publicity scared the bejeesus out of them! Good work, CT!

    This is the dubious ‘Secretariat’ to which the Great Conners in Crime, Ranga K. and Nalaka G. handed over the job of ‘popularising’ this draft law! And for his stupidity, a gentleman who had so far kept his nose clean, Wijayananda Jayaweera also got dragged into this. My question is – did people not know the history and background of these two Great Conners?

    This foreign guy Mendel is moderating here on the importance of media regulation while being taken for a sucker by these two Great Conners in Crime (GCCs) who must be paying him in spades and laughing at him behind his back! What a joke!

    And good work, CT in also highlighting the fact that the Press Institute is asleep. It should have sounded the warning bells first in public. What is this foolish things that its websites carries – http://www.slpi.lk/? Is there anything substantive that helps the media except for some publicity gimmicks, photo-ops with Ministers and trainings?

    It seems to be most focused on promoting its for-profit halls and courses! Do journalists check out this website? I doubt it. Shame on its Board for not looking more thoroughly into its affairs.

  • 0
    0

    Gunawardene is an innocent man, yes, a baby, he only promotes himself everywhere, look at his Facebook. No harm. Leave the guy out. This is what Karu Gamage says.

    Think a while. It is this Gunawardena the moron that should leave the media alone. Why cannot
    one comment just because Karu Gamage feels he should be treated with velvet gloves. It is like
    Nalak’s boss and paymast Ranil W saying the Rajapakas should be left alone. A good joke.

  • 0
    0

    Shadowy hands everywhere. This Government is just a puppet. Interesting things are yet to come. ‘honda honda dewal eliwena yame’.

  • 1
    1

    The electronic media has gone over mark. All TV channels and gossip websites are a law unto themselves. None of them ever clarify for wrong news or facts. They simply get on looking for their prey.. The TV and radio channels throw money to keep audiences, like prostitution. So like other countries we need regulation. The print media has it to some extent. It is working despite the flaws. Yes the draft of the electronic media regulation bill may be badly flawed, but it is time the electronic media made representation and work to make the regulation. Be engaged and get on board . The country is only protesting and not working . While we doing this other less developed countries are gradually overtaking us. My fear is that we will be at the end of the queue in every sector including sports. So its time to put our heads together as a country, we got rid of tyranny and forge ahead. There will be disagreements and yes has to be disagreements, but agree and what you can agree on and work on the difficult areas. Join the rest of the proper world and work within a framework . It will be a very healthy exercise.

    • 0
      0

      Agree that the media is over the line – but this is the worst way to go about it. Have a funny Secretariat with funnier people in charge and with a bad draft?

      In fact, it allows the media to scream ‘victim’ till they are blue in the face. So our idiots have made things worse for effective and legitimate media standards. What a hot potato to touch in such an indiscreet manner! Idiots.

  • 1
    0

    [Edited out] Please write instead of just posting web links – CT

  • 0
    0

    its all about bucks , not media freedom

    they all used this as an opportunity to oil their palms lavishly
    there were able take wikky boy for a ride and and now is is shying away.
    It was well masterminded and the state machinarey was used to do the job

    Ranga, Naka , Pradeep and toby were taken care by Denish based IMF the sums are massive.

    Then Jayaweeera was taken care by world bank
    now the web site of the so called media secretariat has gone missing

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