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Sri Lanka’s government seeks public views to regulate news

Nov 23, 2016 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s cabinet nod has been received to obtain public opinion with regard to establishing an independent board to regulate news content published in media. As per the proposal, an independent board is to regulate news published in print, broadcasting and registered websites with the view of promoting professionalism and ethics securing the free, independent and plurality of media culture. A report titled ‘Rebuilding Public Trust: An Assessment of the Media Industry and Profession in Sri Lanka’ presented to Prime Minister on 3 May by the multi-stakeholder partnership for media reforms included several recommendations. Government Information Department said the report contained a set of evidence-based recommendations developed through a multi-stakeholder consultative process and based on UNESCO’s widely accepted Media Development Indicators. Based on this, the government wishes to undertake a consultation with all interested stakeholders on the measures needed to provide adequate legal protection for journalists and to strengthen systems for media self-regulation. The government will repeal the exiting Sri Lanka Press Council Act by introducing an independent oversight mechanism to foster professional standards, with mandatory powers over media outlets. The Media Ministry said the proposed council will function as the oversight mechanism of a system of self-regulation and will have the power to apply sanctions for willful violations of its codes of practice. To ensure the credibility of and the public confidence in the council, a Judge of a court of law nominated by the Judicial Services Commission, in consultation with the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, will serve as Chairperson. The tenure of Council members will be protected and, in particular, removal will only be possible by vote of Parliament following a recommendation of the Constitutional Council.
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The proposed legislation will be applicable to all print and broadcast media outlets, as well as to online media outlets which formally agree to comply with the Codes of Practice. It will be an offence for any media outlet to refuse to comply with or to give effect to a decision of the Council, which may be punished by the imposition of a fine after a summary trial before a court of law. Obstructing the legitimate collection of news and information by a journalist, forcing a journalist to disclose a confidential source of information or discriminating against a journalist who refuses to violate the Codes of Practice will be offences.
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