COLOMBO – A draft bill to set up a broadcast authority to arbitrate on the ‘truth’ with powers to cancel licences is a blow to democracy and economic policy debate, legislator Harsha de Silva warned.
The Broadcast Bill to control electronic broadcasts will be applicable to radio and television, the opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP said questioning whether it also applied to internet and social media.
“Today people are facing economic problems, some people like how things are being done and some do not,” he told reporters, questioning, “If the government is saying this is the correct information, and this is the only way to recover the economy, and if someone else says anything against, then the government says that is not true. And if the license of the channel that broadcast the opinion be suspended or cancelled, where are we heading to?”
Deeming it a deadly blow to democracy, he urged the government not to take the bill forwarding, warning, “If they do we will fight to protect the democratic rights of the people in this country.”
The United National Party (UNP) has one opinion, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has another, the Pohottuwa has another and the SJB has another, the MP said claiming the government will decide what is the ‘truth’ in some Goebbelsian way.
“The decision-making power on how to inform the people about the national economy cannot be given to some authority,” de Silva said noting, “If the correct information is not going to the people, and only one-sided information is going to the people under Goebbelsian theory, then we can imagine where this will end.”
The licence cancelling the Broadcast Authority bill is to be passed citing national security and economic considerations.
The Authority will comprise five members one of who will be secretary Department of Information, another a director of the telecommunication commission, and the balance three appointed by the president, subject to approval by a Constitutional Council.
“With three people from the Constitutional Council, we can expect independence to a certain extent,” de Silva said, but added that if power is being given to the appointees to cancel licences, it won’t be objective, but subjective.
The MP cited how the subject minister influence censor board when movies are released as an example, and said, “If they try to censor and cancel licences of channels, which then goes on social media, it is completely against democracy.
He charged that the government was using the Broadcast Authority Bill to carry forward the agenda it could not do through Anti-Terrorism Bill.