While recognising the need for a regulatory process for media in Sri Lanka, the Association pointed out that the media should be self-regulated.
"We acknowledge that there should be a regulatory process for media in Sri Lanka as in other democracies. However, the Web Journalists' Association believes that they should be not controlled, but self-regulated by the media itself. To this end, we have developed and published a code of ethics for web journalism," they said in a statement today (15).
Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the Ministerial Consultative Committee on Mass Media in November, 2020 that the government intended to introduce a mechanism for the regulation of websites within two weeks similar to new laws enacted in Singapore in 2019.
However, the Web Journalists Association noted that media rights activists have expressed concern over the proposed Singapore-style regulatory framework.
"We recall that at the end of last year, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced that the laws would be published within two weeks to regulate the web media. He further said that the laws were formulated in accordance with the laws enacted in Singapore in 2019. The International Media organizations have pointed out that the law imposed in Singapore is a suppression of media freedom," they said.
Although a recent announcement by the government stated that the Press Council should be structurally reformed as a Tribunal for journalists and media institutions covering electronic, print and new media, they pointed out that Sri Lankan media organisations have been campaigning for more than a decade for the abolition of the Sri Lanka Press Council, which is now set to grow into a tribunal body.
"This is due to the fact that the Press Council is an institution appointed at the discretion of the President and has arbitrary powers," they observed, adding that the Press Council can "imprison a journalist for as long as two years."
Given the current political role of the Chairman of the Press Council, the Web Journalists Association said that they view the granting of more powers to such an institution as a serious threat to media freedom in Sri Lanka. The current Chairman of the Press Council is Mr. Mahinda Pathirana, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sabaragamuwa University who is also considered to be a close associate of SLPP founder Basil Rajapaksa.
The Web Journalists Association urged all democratic forces in this country to oppose this anti-democratic attempt by the government.
The Web Journalists' Association of Sri Lanka say that they are disappointed by the government's attempt to restructure the Sri Lanka Press Council to include electronic, print
and new media and have opposed the move to develop the Press Council into a tribunal.
"We also call on the government to allow the dissolution of the Press Council and to contribute to the development of a credible and effective self-regulatory mechanism for the media. And hereby, the Web Journalists' Association opposes the government's attempt to develop the Press Council as a tribunal," they said.