The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Sri Lanka issues media guidelines

Amid growing concern in the media over what is perceived as high-handedness of the Defence Ministry towards journalists critical of the current war in the nation, the Sri Lanka Defence Ministry has formulated new guidelines for the media.

The guidelines, in the form a lengthy advisory posted on the ministry’s website, come amid heated exchanges between the media and the Defence Ministry over the recent move by the Defence Secretary to summon representatives of the government-controlled media house to discuss matters related to coverage of defence matters.

In response to charges that the Defence Secretary’s move amounted to intimidation of the media, the ministry asserted the government has the right to summon journalists to discuss defence-related issues.
Rising tensions

For several weeks now, relations between sections of the media and the government have been strained on issues related to the war’s coverage. The recent abduction and subsequent release of a defence editor of an English weekly after severe beating further aggravated the situation.

The government denied any role in the abduction. However, the police’s failure to apprehend the culprits strengthened suspicions that the government was hiding something. Against this backdrop, the latest guidelines to the media have triggered a controversy. It has been issued under the heading, “Deriding the war heroes for a living — the ugly face of ‘defence analysts’ in Sri Lanka.” It reiterated what was termed as “its stance over the irresponsible defence reportage,” and said the ministry would take necessary measures to stop “this journalistic treachery.” The advisory said: “Thus, whoever attempts to reduce the public support to the military by making false allegations and directing baseless criticism at armed forces is supporting the terrorists who continuously murder citizens of Sri Lanka.”

The guidelines list criticism of military operations, promotion schemes, procurement and unethical methods to obtain sensitive information as issues of concern. Anybody breaching the norms would be considered as “traitors,” it said.

“Military operations are planned and conducted by the officers with 30-40 years of service… The ministry is of the view that it is no one other than the officers who are qualified to plan, conduct, and analyse military operations. Also, the Ministry does not consider those who call themselves ‘defence analysts’ in the media possess any military education or experience to make any serious defence analysis,” it said.

Further, the guidelines said: “Any journalist that lures a soldier to give away information he is not authorised to give is instigating him or her to breach the military discipline. Likewise, if such journalists lure the soldier by exploiting his/her personal grievances, weaknesses, ego, and personal disputes or even by bribery; the journalist is inflicting an irreparable damage to one of the most valuable national asset.”

Source: Hindu

US quits Human Rights Council

The news that the US has completely withdrawn from the Human Rights Council spread like wildfire Friday afternoon (June 6) through the corridors of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. There was general consternation amongst diplomats and NGOS. Reached by phone, the American mission in Geneva neither confirmed nor denied the report. Although unofficial, the news comes at a time of long opposition by the Bush administration to the reforms which created the Human Rights Council in June 2006. Washington announced from the beginning that the US would not be an active member but its observer status would mean that it could intervene during the sessions. To date even this has rarely happened.

“We don’t understand the reasons nor the timing of the decision”, said Sebastien Gillioz of Human Rights Watch. “There have even been some positive signs during this Council. For example Belarus was not re-elected as a member in 2007 nor Sri Lanka this year”.

The stupefaction was made greater by the fact the US actively took part in the universal Periodic Review (UPR) process where 32 countries were scrutinized by their peers in April and May. In particular a series of recommendations were made regarding Romania, Japan, Guatemala, Peru, Tunisia, Ukraine, Indonesia and others.

Diplomats are equally concerned. If the current president of the Council, Doru Costea, declined to comment, his predecessor, Luis Alfonso De Alba said that he didnt see any reason to justify such a decision. Several observers mentioned Washington’s growing discontentment with the influence of the Islamic and African countries in the Council.

“It is an aberration”, said Peter Splinter of Amnesty International. “It seems that the government has lost its mind. How could it believe it is going to improve human rights by running away? It is like those who say, ‘I don’t like the way this town is governed so I’m not going to vote’”.

For Human Rights Watch (HRW), the US has shown very little commitment to human rights in general. The working group against arbitrary detention gave up going to Guantanamo last month because Washington would not allow its members to have face to face meetings with detainees. For its part, the Rapporteur against racism, Doudou Diene, has fought for years to be able to pay a visit and only recently got permission.

But Eric Sottas, director of the International Organisation against Torture sees it as a a political gesture. “The US has always clearly shown its opposition to the Council. This is a slightly more public way of putting pressure on it in order to raise the stakes. What is more the Bush dynasty is coming to the end of its mandate,” he said. “It reminds me of the time when the Nixon administration, which backed Pinochet in Chile, chastized the UN for criticising the Chilean dictator. But when Carter was elected in 1977, the American government took the floor at the Human Rights Commission to ask forgiveness. After a presidency like that of Bush, you can expect some important changes in US policy on human right.”

HRW is still worried about the withdrawal. “The message is worrying”, says Sebastien Gillioz. “ Ever since September 11, 2001, the US has constantly interpreted international standards in an “ a la carte” manner that has eroded human rights. Its behaviour has served as an example to a stream of states, including Pakistan, Egypt and other, who are not embarrassed to review human rights standards on homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment. It is a step backwards.”