Journalists in Sri Lanka are up in arms over a government announcement, made last November, which stated that any website which covers Sri Lankan affairs would need to seek registration. This snap decision came days after it barred a number of sites which had been openly critical of its policies and the president.
Media ministry secretary W B Ganegala said last week that of 100 applications received since then, only 50 have been approved.
However, he dismissed the journalists’ claims that the rejections were politically motivated and insisted they were made for administrative reasons. “The applications did not contain important information that the ministry needs,” he said.
But he added that “news websites should be fair in their reporting and should not sling mud at individuals.”
Keerthi Tennakoon, who runs a web site named lankafreedom, has called for clarification on several aspects. “There is no formal procedure for registering a site, nor is there the legal framework for the authorities to ban a site,” he said. “There should be more flexibility and an independent body to monitor this.”
The Sri Lanka Guardian newspaper was one of the sites to be blocked within Sri Lanka in last November’s clampdown, although it can still be viewed overseas.
“The government banned it without notice and introduced registrations a few days later,” said its editor, N Ilangamuwa.
Readers within Sri Lanka can only access the site through a proxy, which has badly affected its circulation. “According to our figures, there were more than five hundred thousand people visiting the site before the ban but since then the readership has gone down constantly,” he said.
The main opposition party has joined the media workers in criticizing the government’s insistence on registration. Its general secretary, Tissa Attanayake, has urged the authorities to defend and preserve media freedom.
According to the annual World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Sri Lanka was ranked 163rd of 178 countries in 2011, down from 158th in 2010.
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