Speaking at the opening of the ‘UNESCO Regional Conference on Reinforcing Regional Cooperation to Promote Freedom of Expression and the Rule of Law in Asia through Ending Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ in Colombo today, the Prime Minister questioned if the local media are really interested in media rights.
He said that a very few journalists were at the UNESCO event today, despite being an important event, and this showed that the media were not interested in media freedom.
The Prime Minister said that the Government will protect journalists, yet he questioned if media organisations will do the same.
Meanwhile, Media Minister and Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera said that Sri Lanka used to be a most unsafe place for journalists, not too long ago.
Speaking at the event the Minister said that Sri Lanka must recognize, that while the country has succeeded to a large extent in creating the safe space required for freedom of expression, it must keep on working hard to sustain and safeguard this space, and that the country still has a long way to go in terms of completing investigations into past crimes, including the murder of journalists in the past.
“It is also an occasion for us in Sri Lanka to recognize and acknowledge that justice is crucial and essential, because impunity will leave open the danger of the recurrence of the heinous crimes that occurred in the past. Therefore, this is an important occasion for us locally, to renew our commitment to justice, in memory of all the journalists who have been silenced, and in recognition of the importance of a free and independent media, for advancing peace, development, and good governance in our country,” he said.
He said for the media to be able to fulfil its’ important role in a democracy, journalists, media workers, bloggers, media organizations and individuals must be able to discuss and debate issues freely and safely.
Today, the Minister noted, the internet and social media platforms are empowering citizens to fully use their right to freedom of expression and access to information to disseminate opinions, information and news. New technology is an enabler of democratic development.
“However, this also means that we have to find effective ways to deal with negative aspects such as disinformation, propaganda, and hate speech. These are real challenges that we must find ways to deal with, including through legal means, without suppressing peoples’ right to freedom of expression, dialogue, debate and access to information,” he said.
Samaraweera said that the role of the state is to guarantee and further these rights. He also emphasized that Sri Lanka remains firm in its commitment to work with the international community, including UNESCO, to work towards ending impunity for crimes against journalists, and to uphold the rights of journalists around the world who place themselves at risk every day, to give voice to the voiceless. (Colombo Gazette)