Mass Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the level of criticism of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lankan media and websites is a clear indication of the media freedom in the country. “We all know how media criticises President Rajapaksa and his family. You must have patience to tolerate this. We have given freedom to the media. We are not going to ban web sites which criticise the President and his family,” he said.
“Heads of Media institutions meet President once a month and what is a wrong of that? It is just a discussion between the President and media personnel. Please do not belittle the coordination and cooperation between the President and them,” Minister Rambukwella said in Parliament when the House took up the committee stage debate on the expenditure heads of the Ministry of mass Media and Information.
“Freedom of speech and information have been restored under the present regime. The government has given its top priority to the media. The government has not obstructed the media freedom. We have not taken any decision to suppress the media,” he said.
Following are excerpts from the Minister’s speech:
These proceedings of the debate are telecast through the TV. That is why opposition members made a number of allegations against the government. They distorted facts by misleading the House. They levelled many allegations on media freedom.
Many opposition members who made allegations against the government are not to be seen in the chamber now. The country suffered a war for the past 30 years. The Channel 4 team wanted to tarnish the image of the country and they telecast false and fabricated movies about the final stages of the conflict. Certain elements that did not like to see peace in Sri Lanka tried to create problems.
They wanted to give discredit and tarnish Sri Lanka's image. Some people wanted to use CHOGM to discredit Sri Lanka in the face of the international community. We have now eradicated terrorism and are developing the country.
We know that there was a period that media freedom was not prevailing in the country. A number of media personnel were killed and abducted during this period.
A loan of Rs. 1.2 million is provided to journalists to purchase a vehicle. We have already given this loan facility 191 journalists. It is an interest free loan. We have also provided 496 laptops to journalists. We distributed laptops in a transparent manner. Expenditure heads were passed.
Former Minister of Mass Media and Information Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, who now holds the Ministry of Petroleum Industries said: There were various eras when the media were badly affected than today. Today is an era where various views are being held by the people. We should be able to accept them. News come through various media. So it is not fair to make statements on a particular newspaper. Today the news and information circulate at a rapid speed. Today no one can keep away from the media.
Now in Sri Lanka there are a large number of TV channels than during the UNP regime. We have to think how to use media constructively. But the Opposition attempts to criticize the government for everything. We defeated the terrorism and thereafter we resettled the displaced, revived agriculture and elections were held. Much was done and much has to be done. When we consider the web pages, we can see a large number of them promoting LTTE concepts. I saw one web page using pictures of the Kebitigollawa murder by the LTTE to say that it was done by us.
The media should be responsible and be ready to protect the country. The media in Sri Lanka are not supportive to the government. Yet we are tolerating them in a moderate mind.
The use of modern technology is needed in the media. Our media uses technology at a higher rate. The Mass Media Ministry should take measures to send our journalists to other countries to educate them and vice versa.