The Sunday Leader

Proposed Media Standards Act Raises Concerns

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

C. Dodawatta and Lasantha Ruhunage

A proposed Media Standards Act and the establishment of an Independent Council to monitor the implementation of that Act has raised concerns among media rights groups.

Convener of the Free Media Movement (FMM) C. Dodawatta told The Sunday Leader that everyone agrees there needs to be standards for the media.

However he says formulating regulations to ensure such standards are maintained need to be discussed with the media and media rights groups.

Dodawatta said that the government has not had any talks with the FMM on the Independent Council or Act.

He said there were proposals made earlier on introducing media standards but not introducing a new Act.

Lasantha Ruhunage, President of the Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association told The Sunday Leader that there is no draft Act but just a piece of paper.

“We want to know who presented the piece of paper. So far no one is taking responsibility for it,” he said.

Ruhunage said that the Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association is not prepared to discuss something which has no author.

He said that once someone takes responsibility for the text on the proposed Act, media groups can discuss the contents and look at the positives and negatives of it.

“As far as we know discussions on the proposed Act have included some non-governmental organisation. This is not good,” he said.

Ruhunage said that even former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had talks with media rights groups before introducing anything which involved the media.

President of the Muslim Media Forum M.N. Ameen told The Sunday Leader that the country needs a media regulation but it needs to be discussed with the media.

He said that former Media Minister Gayantha Karunatillake had also discussed the need for a media regulation but not a new Act.

Ameen said that the new Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera is very media-friendly so the proposed Act must be discussed with him.

Gamini Viyangoda, a graduate in Development Studies from the University of Colombo told The Sunday Leader that any media regulation must be self-imposed.

He said the government, which promised media freedom, should not impose any laws on the media.

At the same time he says the media must also act with responsibility to ensure the government does not attempt to control the media.

A private television channel last week noted that some clauses in the proposed Act will prevent journalists from exposing corruption.

The private News First television noted that section 36 of the document outlines the duties and functions of the Council which include enforcement of Codes of Practice which can be “revised when ever the need arises” following public consultation held with various bodies “having consultative status with the Council”.

The concern is that the Codes of Practice will come after the Act is brought into effect. The contents of the codes will be outside of the Act but have the powers of the Act. It is also subject to change.

The Council has the power to “hold inquires into the violations of the Codes of Practice adopted by the Council, based on complaints or the suo motu observations of the Council, and issue decisions in case of complaints”.

The concern here is that the Council can take action on its own account and not as a result of a party asking or making a motion to move the Council to act.

The Council will also have the power to conduct open public consultations, at least once a year, to assess public perception of the news media outlet’s compliance with the codes of practice.

The danger, according to News First is that the public representatives can be manipulated, resulting in a survey which is heavily biased, and upon which the Council may act.

The powers of the Council outlined in Section 37 requires a journalist or news outlet to hand over documents.

This will inevitably reveal otherwise anonymous sources.

Through this system, consequences for investigative journalism will be devastating and this form of journalism is vital in a free, democratic society, News First reported.

 

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