Proposals for an independent media regulatory mechanism to establish a Public Service Journalism tradition

Proposals for an independent media regulatory mechanism to establish a Public Service Journalism tradition

6 March 2021 12:51 pm

Behavior of Public and Private Media

We are pleased to observe the coming to the surface of a new discourse on the behavior of public and private media in Sri Lanka and growing concerns about media regulatory mechanism.

It is no secret that media organizations in Sri Lanka have been campaigning for the establishment of an independent media regulatory mechanism for more than two decades. The Federation of Media Employees' Trade Unions (FMETU) stands for the need of an independent body to regulate the media, both public and privately-owned, in Sri Lanka and social media behavior and activism in the current context for the betterment of the use of media culture.

We strongly believe that as the first step in realizing the objective of such a public friendly media culture ensuring the functioning of free and fair media behavior it is mandatory for the government to free its hold on media institutions controlled by the state. We hope that the present Government will be able to contribute to this end by converting all state media institutions into Public Service Journalism.

There are eight leading international media standards on the use of "public service journalism" for the public as follows:

  1. The democracy and pluralism tolerates other ideas.
  2. Reports by collecting many sources in a reasonable, correct and in a balance way.
  3. Fulfill the requirements of citizen information.
  4. Helps the public for a better living by making them to understand the differences and by being sensitive about the world.
  5. Listens to the voice of the majority of the people. Acts immensely to fulfill the requirements of the public.
  6. Refer and focus the society for a meaning full dialog.
  7. Wins and achieve the confidence of the reader.
  8. Gives priority to issues and problems that are important to the citizens.

The government of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who came to power in 1994, there had been an effort to reform the state-controlled media by appointing several committees including the RKW Gunasekera Committee and the Sidath Sri Nandalochana Committee, but there is at least no report of publishing of the recommendations of those committees.

We strongly believe that the existence of an independent, balanced and impartial media is essential for the democratic existence and good governance of a country. To this end, the reform of state media institutions is an essential task in ensuring media freedom in Sri Lanka.


Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (Lake House)

Our Federation proposes the immediate conversion of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. (Lake House) Ltd. into a Public Service Media Institution on priority basis as per the Special Provisions Act of 1973 and recommendations of the Sidath Sri Nandalochana Committee appointed by the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga Government in 1994 or by a new committee for that purpose.

None of the governments for the last five decades took action to implement the laws and provisions of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited Special Provisions Law No. 28 of 1973. We like to mention as per the recording purposes that following the inordinate delay under the guidance of the FMETU the Lake House Employees’ Union filed a Fundamental Rights petition before the Supreme Court in 2007 demanding that the provisions of the aforementioned act be implemented by the then Chief Justice Sarath N Silva decided to set aside the petition without giving reasons.

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation
Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation
Independent Television Network

We propose to take necessary steps to establish an Independent Public Service Radio and Television Commission and place under its purview the aforementioned three institutes. In this regard, we propose that the recommendations of the 1994 RKW Gunasekera Committee for media reforms be taken into consideration.

It should be considered that the frequencies used for broadcasting of state television and radio channels are public property.


Private print and electronic media

There is no possibility of regulating the privately-owned print and electronic media. Although there is an existing understanding between the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka and the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka on certain ethics and regulations but that is not a strong enough solution for the situations prevailing.

It is clearly discernible that the issuance of TV and radio frequencies which are public property by the successive governments to private entrepreneurs had been done on the basis of personal and political relationships. Therefore there is no institute that is responsible for the conduct of those TV and radio channels. As a result of the owners of those TV and radio channels gives callous disregard to the fact that the frequencies that they use are public property and implements their own political and personal media agendas.

Our Federation request that following factors be taken into consideration to rectify the situations mentioned in the preceding paragraphs and to bring about exemplary media reform process:


Abolition of the Sri Lanka Press Council and establishment of an Independent Regulatory Commission

The then United National Party government inactivated the Sri Lanka Press Council in 2002 with the intention of abolishing it. The previous government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took steps to reactivate it despite there were continuous agitations by the media fraternity and civil organizations to abolish the Sri Lanka Press Council.

We propose that the incumbent Government should co-operate in strengthening the objectives established by the Sri Lanka Press Complaints Commission and that the Sri Lanka Press Council be abolished.

The guidelines and recommendations made over the past two decades, especially by media organizations and other civil society organizations, for self-regulation should be taken into consideration. We propose that the attention should be paid to the Colombo Declaration and the Tholangamuwa Declaration.

The Federation of Media Employees' Trade Unions (FMETU) propose that the government should facilitate the initiating of an open discussion on the professional protection and safety of journalists and the formulation of a procedure for media self-regulation, with the support of media organizations and interested civil society organizations and international media organizations.


Doing justice to the victims

In a discourse to ensure free and fair media culture, it is inevitable to circumvent the need for justice be done with regard to journalists who had been subject to suppression, torture and assault, abduction and finally assassinations and those who had to flee the country to save their lives owing to the media environment that prevailed in this country for over a decade and a half. In the same manner, justice must also be done for the media institutions subject to suppression.

Our Federation believes that in the field of media freedom and sustainable media reform, it is important to punish perpetrators and make new recommendations to prevent such incidents, and to propose a procedure for this would play a major role in this process.
Rights of mainstream and local professional journalists

Journalists also need to be aware of the barriers and limits to their right to organize. It is important to pay more attention to media institutions, especially in the private sector. It is hoped that the organization of journalists will also contribute to the advancement of the media industry and that the media owners will be able to collectively face the challenges of the industry.

Provincial Correspondents who play a leading role in the field of print and electronic media do not enjoy e same benefits and have the same rights with compared to their counterparts working for the media organisations for a monthly salary. They are not at least entitled for the membership of Employees Provident Fund or Employees Trust Fund.

It is a priority that actions be taken immediately to recognize the services of the provincial correspondents with a proper letter of appointment, an appropriate pay scale and steps to transform them into qualified professionals for building a strong free media industry.

In this regard, former President Maithripala Sirisena in 2018 appointed a committee comprising the then Director General of Information, Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and Commissioner General of Labour and it was reported that the report of that committee was handed over to the Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media of the then government. We emphasize the need to pay attention to the issues of provincial journalists as one of the main issues prevailing in the media industry.


Cord of Conduct of ethics for professional journalists?

The need for a strong code of ethics for journalists is paramount in the discussion of a strong and free media industry. Although there exists a Code of Ethics for Journalists introduced by the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka and several media organizations, it is a pity to note that even the founders of that Code do not respect those ethics or use them in their practice.  

We suggest that attention should be paid to bring about a strong Code of Ethics for journalists covering print, electronic and social media and that Code should be prepared in line with international standards and instances.

The Federation of Media Employees' Trade Unions comprising the members of the Lake House Employees' Union, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Journalists union, District Journalists Trade Unions, and other state media trade unions, works for the objective of attaining media freedom and ensuring the rights of journalists and media workers.

Our Federation is a full member of the International Federation of Journalists, which has more than 600,000 members in 158 countries around the world.

Although we hereby present a set of proposals, we also work jointly in unison with Sri Lankan Press Institute, Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, Free Media Movement, the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka, Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka and other media organizations for the purpose of establishing a self-regulatory mechanism for media industry in this country.

We hereby inform that this letter, owing to its importance, will be copied to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the media organizations as well as for the attention of the Hon. Minister of Mass Media and Information.

Thanking You,
Trustworthy,
                         
Dharmasiri Lankapeli 
General Secretary                            

Karunaratne Gamage
President    

FEDEDATION OF MEDIA EMPLOYEES' TRADE UNIONS