PEYTON CROSS WRITES- With a world press freedom index rating of 165, it is no surprise that the Sri Lankan media is corrupt. Thanks to a recent election, however, it may only be a matter of time before this score improves.
On January 24, the Colombo Telegraph called into question the credibility of the Sri Lankan media. In the article, several independent newspapers are berated for always painting former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a favorable light. These papers included the Daily Mirror and the Daily Island.
While this bias is frowned upon, it must be noted that these newspapers have only committed such acts for one reason – to stay in business. News sites such as Tamilnet have been blocked for supporting Tamil minority views. Sites like Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka Guardian have been blocked due to criticisms of Rajapaska. Despite freedom of the press being guaranteed in the Constitution of Sri Lanka, no investigations have been held to identify the legality of this censorship.
With Rajapaska’s defeat in recent elections, there may be hope. Recently elected President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have kicked off their term by lifting the ban on independent news websites. Sirisena has also pledged to end the ‘disappearances’ of political journalists. He is cited to have told reporters that they are “free to report whatever [they] want without the fear of being abducted.” Sirisena also plans to open an investigation into the murders of political journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, who’s killer is still free.
While this is a refreshing change compared to the last administration, Sinrisena has still received criticism. Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship recently commented on how Sirisena did not include plans for the creation of an independent media commission. Hopefully Sirisena will follow through and Sri Lanka’s freedom of press will finally be upheld.