Freedom of press high on UNF's agenda - Minister

[TamilNet, Saturday, 28 December 2002, 14:25 GMT]
"During the People's Alliance (PA) Government there were severe restrictions on freedom of press and Journalists were prosecuted under criminal law. United National Front (UNF) abolished all restrictive laws allowing journalists to function with total freedom," said Imtiyaz Bakeer Markar, Minister of Communications, in an event organized to provide Press Identification Cards to Journalists by Sri Lanka Government Information Department Friday in Batticaloa Secretariat, said sources.

The event was presided by Batticaloa Government Agent, E.Mounagurusamy.

Uthayakumar of BBC
BBC reporter M. Uthayakumar receiving ID from Minister Imtiaz
"We are planning to introduce additional reforms that will further promote press freedom. The Press Council which investigated accusations against journalists required journalists answerable to Government officials. The UNF is planning to replace this with a Commission for Press Investigations where complaints against journalists will be investigated by fellow journalists. This will provide accountability and credibility to investigations and will promote responsible journalism," said the Minister.

Journalists should not abuse freedom of press, the Minister added.

Several dignitaries, including Former Batticaloa district Member of Parliament and Advisor to Policy Planning Ministry, Alizahir Moulana, also spoke.

Press freedom
Alizahir Moulana speaking, Minister Imtiaz Bakeer Markar, and GA E. Mounagurusamy
Meanwhile, a recent report released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) containing a ranking of countries according to their respect for press freedom, showed that such freedom is under threat everywhere, with Sri Lanka ranking only 51st among 139 countries included in the list but occupying a place well above India (80).

20 bottom-ranked countries were drawn from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. The situation is especially bad in Asia, which contains the five worst offenders - North Korea, China, Burma, Turkmenistan and Bhutan.

US (17) ranks below Costa Rica, and Italy (40) ended up the worst in Europe.

Right at the top of the list four countries share first place - Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands. These northern European states scrupulously respect press freedom in their own countries but also speak up for it elsewhere, for example recently in Eritrea and Zimbabwe, the report said. The highest-scoring country outside Europe is Canada, which comes fifth.


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