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Unity Among Different Stakeholders for Professionalisation of Media: The Sri Lanka Experience. Kumar Nadesan Yangon, Myanmar March 19, 2012. Sri Lanka. Sinhala dailies/weeklies: 16 newspapers Tamil dailies/weeklies: 08 newspapers English dailies/weeklies: 13 newspapers.

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Unity among different stakeholders for professionalisation of media the sri lanka experience

Unity Among Different Stakeholders for Professionalisation of Media:The Sri Lanka Experience

Kumar Nadesan

Yangon, Myanmar

March 19, 2012

Sri Lanka

Sinhala dailies/weeklies: 16 newspapers

Tamil dailies/weeklies: 08 newspapers

English dailies/weeklies: 13 newspapers

Sri Lanka fourth on list of 13 countries who have unsolved journalists’ murders between January 01, 2001 and December 31, 2010.

9 cases still to be solved in Sri Lanka. Source: 2011 Impunity Index.

19 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 1992. Source: Committee to Protect Journalists.

Professionalising the media sri lanka
Professionalising the Media: Sri Lanka

Sri lanka press institute
Sri Lanka Press Institute

  • SLPI was established by :

  • The Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka,

  • The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka,

  • The Free Media Movement, and

  • The Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association,

    to provide direction and leadership in media related activities.

  • SLPI’s mission is to create and nurture an informed and discerning public that is committed to democratic ideals, through the development of a competent, professional, independent and accountable media.

Press complaints commission
Press Complaints Commission

  • PCCSL is an independent body that entertains complaints on editorial content from members of the public and seeks to resolve the dispute through conciliation, mediation, or arbitration.

  • PCCSL is a self-regulatory mechanism

Sri lanka college of journalism
Sri Lanka College of Journalism

  • SLCJ endeavors to ‘shape the future’, by imparting world class training and education to journalists in Sri Lanka.

Background how did we get there

Background – How did we get there?


  • The western liberal approach:

    • Guarantee the independence of the press, even when in competition with the State

    • Necessity for a free market place where diversity of view points may be expressed and evaluated

  • Developing countries approach:

    • The State takes lead for development planning and the Press is an active tool in communicating development goals to public

Sri lanka pre independence
Sri Lanka: Pre-Independence

  • Pre-Independence and until 1950s: The Press was largely unregulated

    • Only registration of newspapers and presses

  • Ceylon continued to function within the purview of accepted conduct:

    • The colonial administration did not curtail press freedom

    • The Press was granted same rights as individual citizens

    • No extra protection since non-development of case law as in US and UK

Sri lanka pre independence1
Sri Lanka: Pre-Independence

  • Main stimulus for expansion of the Press in British Ceylon was:

    • Spread of literacy

    • Ease of geographical access within the country

    • Increase of middle-class

    • Universal franchise


  • Erosion of press freedom commences

  • Over the next 25 years after Independence the Press remained in the hands of private firms

    • Problems were usually confined to those of supply and demand

    • Existing laws applying to freedom of expression were those of sedition, libel, defamation, incitement to violence, etc.

1950s to 1970s
1950s to 1970s

  • Expansion of the newspaper market was driven by:

    • Public interest in Government

    • Expansion of literacy and education

    • Trade and increased advertising

      making it possible for newspapers to maintain low cover prices and yet remain commercially viable


  • The Prime Minister had misgivings on the enormous political power wielded by the Press

  • The Government perceived the Press as being in the control of a few individuals, whose interests were not in harmony with the masses (Government)

  • The Press highlighted

    • Ethnic violence

    • Trade union activity

    • Personality conflicts within the members of Parliament

    • Criticized Government handling of crisis


  • Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike (first woman Prime Minister in the world) appoints a commission of enquiry into the Press, continuing her husband’s accusations


  • 1971: Sri Lanka was troubled by an insurgency

  • 1972: Sri Lanka became a republic with a new Constitution


  • The commission of enquiry found

    • Plutocratic control

    • Obstruction

    • Prejudice and bias

    • Ignorance

    • Cultural degeneracy

    • Subversion to alien or anti-national interests

  • At the same time, the language policy created two streams in education, Sinhala and Tamil, thereby increasing the readership in the vernacular Press


  • Following the commission’s report:

    • The Sri Lanka Press Council Law No. 5 of 1973

      • The intention was to curtail press freedom through semi-judicial and administrative devices

    • The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, Law No. 28 of 1973

      • This brought the Lake House press and its newspapers under the control of the Government

    • Public Security Act of 1971

      • Government closed another newspaper

  • Statutory

    • Restricted constitutional provisions

    • Laws providing for pre-publication censorship

    • Legal restrictions on publication of proceedings of legislative and executive bodies

    • Laws against libel, defamation and contempt

    • Legal prohibition on publications that promoted incitement to crime, hurting religious sentiments, and violating ethical norms

    • Special legislation for nationalization of media firms

  • Bureaucratic Controls

    • Regulating State sector advertising

    • Allocation of newsprint

    • Control over import of printing machinery

    • Control of news agencies

    • Issue of press passes

  • Press council
    Press Council

    • In Sri Lanka, the Press Council has 7 members

      • Director of Information (1)

      • others appointed by the Government (4)

      • Members to represent working journalists and newspaper employees (2)

    • In India, the Press Council has 26 members

      • Working journalists (13)

      • Owners of newspapers (6)

      • Specialists in arts and education (3)

      • Members of Parliament (3)

      • Manager of a news agency (1)

        Members are appointed by a committee consisting of the Chief Justice, the Speaker of the LokSabha, Chairman of the Upper House

    Press council sri lanka
    Press Council: Sri Lanka

    • In Sri Lanka, a filing of contempt may be reported to the Supreme Court, as though it was an offense of contempt committed against the Court

    • A certificate is conclusive evidence of the facts stated in the Press Council determination

    • Council members are immune and may not be summoned as witnesses


    • The new Government introduced a series of reforms:

      • A new Constitution

      • Liberalization of the economy

      • Permitted firms of the private sector to print newspapers


    • 1994: A new President was elected (Chandrika Kumaratunga)

    • A committee was appointed to study media reforms

    • The Government, however, resented the media’s assumption that media freedom meant that the lives of public figures were liable to criticism, investigation, and exposure

      • This included those in high places, including the President and her closest aides


    • 1995: An editor and his wife were ambushed and assaulted;

    • Another editor was charged on two counts under

      • Section 479 of the Penal Code as an author of a purportedly defamatory article

      • Section 14 of the Press Council Act, that as Editor of the newspaper he was vicariously liable and criminally responsible for the publication


    • It was at this point that several editors and journalists held an inaugural meeting. The result was the incorporation of the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka.

    • Thereafter, the Newspaper Society and the Free Media Movement came into existence

    • It was soon decided there would be a seminar on criminal defamation

    Unity begins1
    Unity Begins

    • April 1998: Press Freedom and Social Responsibility - international symposium held.

    Press freedom and social responsibility symposium
    Press Freedom and Social Responsibility Symposium

    • Press freedom issues highlighted:

      • Repeal of criminal defamation laws

      • Provide citizens with redress in the case of defamation

      • Provide a ‘Right of Reply’

      • Replace the Press Council with a new Press Council Act

      • Introduction of a Freedom of Information Act

      • Introduction of a Contempt of Court Act

      • Amendment of Emergency Regulations governing censorship

      • Zero rate of duty on the import of newsprint

      • Legislation to protect sources

      • Strengthening the constitutional guarantees of press freedom

    Press freedom and social responsibility symposium1
    Press Freedom and Social Responsibility Symposium

    • Social responsibility issues highlighted:

      • Code of Ethics for journalists

      • Multiple of media to work with mutual respect

      • Profit motive not to override media freedom, social responsibility, and editorial freedom

      • To be mindful of an individual’s privacy, overridden only be legitimate public interest

    Press freedom and social responsibility symposium2
    Press Freedom and Social Responsibility Symposium

    • Result:

      The Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility of 1998


    • 2002: Criminal defamation laws were repealed

    • 2003: Three organizations that were lobbying for media reforms decided to formalize the joint action with the establishment of the Sri Lanka Press Institute

    • 2003: The Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka became the first self-regulated mechanism of the newspaper industry in Asia

    • 2004: The College of Journalism launched

    • The Sri Lanka Press Institute has emerged as the media development institution in Sri Lanka that brings all key stake holders in the country’s media industry under one umbrella. It has successfully managed to create a cordial discourse within and among diverse and divided industry players, establish the country’s leading media training establishment (Sri Lanka College of Journalism) and also implement Asia’s premier self regulatory mechanism. (Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka).

    Slpi structure
    SLPI Structure

    • Main Divisions:

    • Sri Lanka College of Journalism

    • Press Complaints Commission

    • Media Freedom and Advocacy

    • Media Resource Center


    • Stakeholders have different agendas

    • Political influence and perks

    • Recession shuts down employment

    • New regulations

    The Public expects information in a context that will have an impact on their lives;We must inform them of their rights, dangers and well being of the community;We must not forget the past, but boldly go into the future.Thank you