The invisible handcuffs
By Dianne Silva
Nov 25, 2011

Media in Sri Lanka has always walked a tightrope. Plagued by insecurity and fear, journalists constantly reassess their opinions or facts to ensure that one misstep on their part does not render dire consequences for themselves or those around them.

The government blocked five websites recently claiming that they had been slandering and insulting individuals, including a number of prominent persons. Although the law dictates that criticism of public officials is legal, it also provides for those that feel wrongly charged in the eyes of the public, to file cases of defamation. Furthermore the government has been ineffectual in providing sufficient explanation for the blocking of these websites, causing many international organizations and embassies to express their disappointment on the state of media freedom in the country. Having secured a two thirds majority in parliament and weakening the opposition to a shambles it would seem that the government has unrestrained power. By using inadvertent scare tactics on the media, the government is further muzzling resistance.

However whenever the government is questioned on the “state of media freedom” in the country, they are always ready with a comeback along the lines of “the media is free, they can write anything they want”. This bold statement can be made, quite unabashedly because by any legal yardstick the media is free—there are few if any laws that explicitly restrict the publication or airing of critical content. The restrictions placed on the media are far more intangible, the forces at play have been successful in instilling a mindset in the press. Untraceable actions and mild messages, loaded with subtext have been dispensed so strategically that the root causes of fear cannot be traced.

The blocking of these websites and the call for registration of websites that contain information pertaining to the country is one such intangible move. The face justifications for this action are all noble; an attempt to stop defamation and the spreading of false information. Therefore opposition to these actions can be written off, as mere theories or perceptions. This creates a very convenient environment in which suppression can thrive, in the face of a government that publicly swears by media freedom, media organizations or individuals who claim that they are restricted seem paranoid. After all, how powerful can lone voices be in the face of a two third-majority that claims to have the masses behind it?

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka