Parliamentary privilege cannot dictate editorial content, FMM tells UNP
[TamilNet, Friday, 01 June 2007, 10:05 GMT]
Free Media Movement (FMM), a Colombo-based media rights watchdog, expressed dismay at the statement made by the UNP leader that, Media not reporting speech by Minister Fernandopulle on President Kumaratunge's Security arrangements constituted a breach of parliamentary previlege and that the editors should be summoned and called to account, in a press release issued Thursday.
"That certain media institutions have felt constrained in reporting the comments of the Government Chief Whip therefore indicate not some specious breach of parliamentary privilege, but a wider challenge to freedom of expression and the independence of the media represented by the law relating to contempt of court in Sri Lanka," the release said.
"FMM is of the view that the UNP’s position is only tenable through a perverse distortion of logic, democratic norms and modern international best practice and law relating to freedom of expression, parliamentary privilege and contempt. In its statement, the UNP has confused the fundamental purpose of the well known parliamentary privilege of freedom of speech – which is to protect individual Members from legal action as well as collectively to enable Parliament to discharge its constitutional function – with modern practice relating to media coverage of parliamentary debates and proceedings," the release added.
The release said concluding: "In order to promote and secure the enjoyment of the freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights by the people of Sri Lanka, therefore, FMM hopes that the Hon. Leader of the Opposition and the UNP as the principal parliamentary Opposition will commit forthwith to the following reforms, and seek to ensure their expeditious entry into the statute book:
- Enact legislation to enable live broadcasting and telecasting of debates and proceedings of the House and its Committees except where confidentiality is required in line with international best practice,
- Repeal the provisions of the Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act No. 21 of 1956 (as amended) relating to punishment by Parliament for breach of privilege and contempt so as to bring the Sri Lankan law in line with the modern practice of the House of Commons and other parliaments,
- Enact a Contempt of Court Act in line with international best practice so as to confine, structure and regulate the use of judicial contempt powers consistent with the freedom of expression and other fundamental rights,
- Enact a Freedom of Information Act to secure as of right the access to official information, draft legislation in respect of which had obtained Cabinet approval in 2003-4 during the then UNF administration."