Sri Lanka blocking access to TamilNet, deeply disturbing - FMM

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 11:40 GMT]
Noting that the access blocking of TamilNet in Sri Lanka “is a significant turn in the erosion of media freedom in Sri Lanka and clearly demonstrates the extent to which media is censored and the free flow of information curtailed, without any accountability, transparency or judicial oversight,” the Free Media Movement (FMM), in a media release issued Wednesday, called upon the Sri Lanka Government and relevant State authorities to immediately rescind the orders to block the access to TamilNet.

Full text of the press statement by the Free Media Movement follows:

The Free Media Movement is deeply disturbed to learn that Tamilnet – www.tamilnet.com - a web based Tamil news website, is now being blocked by all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Sri Lanka on the orders of the government.

This is a significant turn in the erosion of media freedom in Sri Lanka and clearly demonstrates the extent to which media is censored and the free flow of information curtailed, without any accountability, transparency or judicial oversight. Tamilnet is one of most widely visited and well-known news websites in Sri Lanka. Hosted abroad, the website is frequented by journalists from all ethnicities, civil society and the donor and diplomatic community as well as the diaspora for situation updates, analysis and feature articles. Popularised from relative obscurity by the late Tamil journalist Sivaram Dharmaratnam, who up until his murder in April 2005 was its Editor. Though widely considered to be biased towards the LTTE, Tamilnet offers alternative perspectives, insight and information not often featured on other websites and in mainstream print & electronic media in Sri Lanka.

The ban on Tamilnet is the first instance of what the FMM believes may soon be a slippery slope of web & Internet censorship in Sri Lanka. It is also a regrettable yet revealing extension of this Government’s threats against and coercion of print and electronic media in Sri Lanka since assuming office in late 2005. The ban damningly occurs at a time when an International Mission on Press Freedom and the Freedom of Expression is in Sri Lanka to ascertain and alert stakeholders to the chilling decline in media freedom, violence against journalists and an unbridled culture of impunity.

The FMM stresses that the danger of censoring the web & Internet is that it gives a Government and State agencies with no demonstrable track record of protecting & strengthening human rights and media freedom flimsy grounds to violate privacy, curtail the free flow of information and restrict freedom of expression - thus adding a heavy price in terms of diminished civil liberties to the high toll exacted by terrorism itself. The action by the Sri Lankan Government also contravenes established best practices in the free flow of information on the Internet and internationally recognised principles of the Freedom of Expression on the web. In particular, the ban goes against the declaration by Reporters Without Borders and the OSCE on Freedom of the Media in 2005 that states, inter alia;

#2. In a democratic and open society it is up to the citizens to decide what they wish to access and view on the Internet. Filtering or rating of online content by governments is unacceptable… Any policy of filtering, be it at a national or local level, conflicts with the principle of free flow of information.

#4. … A decision on whether a website is legal or illegal can only be taken by a judge, not by a service provider. Such proceedings should guarantee transparency, accountability and the right to appeal.

Blocking access to media and restricting information are characteristic of the reprehensible strategies adopted by terrorists. The FMM is gravely concerned that the Sri Lankan government, in adopting the same tactics and strategies, severely undermines media freedom and the freedom of expression and calls upon it and relevant State authorities to immediately rescind the orders to block the access to Tamilnet.

Sunanda Deshapriya
Convenor
Free Media Movement


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