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Sri Lanka’s authoritarian control of information

9 November 2011

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The Telegraph

Editorial

November 9 , 2011

NET LOSS

When Sri Lanka allowed the emergency regulations to lapse in September this year, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government appeared to have got over its insecurities. It was hoped that the coming days would see the government behave more maturely in dealing with political opposition and with the media. Its record in both the aspects has been dismal, primarily because it has adopted, and established, threat and intimidation as the most natural ways of dealing with the two challenges to its power. While smoothly-executed elections have managed to hide the violence embedded in the political process, the government has been less successful in cloaking its naked fist when it came to its dealings with the media. Media-persons and media organizations critical of the government continue to be at the receiving end of threats and abuse. The recent decision of the ministry of mass media and information to block no less than five websites cannot but be read as part of this established practice. Three disparate arguments have been put forward to justify the ban — the allegedly deliberate attempts by the websites to discredit the government, to impinge on the privacy of individuals and what is believed to be their intention of “character assassination”. The three, it goes without saying, demand separate laws as they deal with the State and the individual in their respective public and private ambits. The law allows the State and affected individuals to fight injustices in the court. Yet, a public order, with no mention of relevant laws, has been arbitrarily clamped on the sites, one of which is said to be the official website of the main opposition party of Sri Lanka.

The government of Sri Lanka perhaps does not need to be told that one of the primary ingredients in the making of a democratic State and society is a free media. The attacks on dissident journalists and media houses (although the government has always dissociated itself from these) and the strict control over news content and dissemination are the attributes of a police State. Sri Lanka may be aping China, one of its chief aid-providers, in its authoritarian control of information. But no matter what its argument, the Rajapaksa government will find it difficult to run away from the allegation that it is deflecting criticism against its family-run administration by raising the spectre of an international conspiracy that is being engineered through the internet.

P.S.

The above editorial from The Telegraph is reproduced here in public interest and for educational and non commercial use.