COLOMBO – Sri Lanka’s opposition parties are contemplating legal action against a proposed Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act they claim will erode media freedom in the country, an allegation the government rejects.
Main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) legislator Tissa Attanayake told a media briefing that a number of parties in the opposition have agreed to take the matter to the courts.
A collective of parties in the opposition have discussed the matter and agreed that legal action must be taken, he said.
Former government minister G. L. Peiris who now sits in the opposition dismissed government claims of it being merely a set of proposals as incorrect.
“If we allow this bill to be enacted, it will be the death of media freedom,” he warned.
The leftist National People’s Power (NPP) said the proposed regulatory authority will have five members, all of whom will be effectively appointed by the president.
“The media will be mandated to only report the truth. Who will decide what is truth and what is falsehood? The Authority?” Herath questioned
Reportedly the five ex-officio members of the Authority will be Secretary Department of Information, Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), and three other members who shall possess a degree in law, science, business management, technology, communication, engineering, public administration or mass media from a recognized university, and will be appointed by the President with the approval of the Constitutional Council.
The objectives of the Authority reportedly include issuing and renewing licence for broadcasting service providers, determining the conditions for issuing such licence, determining the number of licences that could be obtained by a single person or broadcasting entity, and suspending or cancelling any licence issued for broadcasting service with reasons.
Formulating codes of practice applicable to the different types of licence and advising the minister regarding plans, programs and activities in order to regulate the broadcasting entities or persons will also be among the Commission’s objectives.
Frontline Socialist Party’s (FSP) Pubudu Jagoda told reporters that the bill, if enacted, would “completely violate” Article 14 of Sri Lanka’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression to all.
The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) rejected the allegations, with MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena saying there must be some legislation on the misuse of media freedom.
“There are some websites and other media that engage in character assassination and destroy people. We have seen people open a YouTube channel and engage in all manner of garbage just to make money,” he claimed.
“I think there should be new laws regarding such things. But ethical media will be protected, and if there is any challenge posed to the media, the SLPP will stand up for the media,” he said.