A RESEARCH ON MEDIA SAFETY IN SRI LANKA DURING 2022 PEOPLE’S ARAGALAYA
A study on the challenges journalists faced during the protests last year commissioned by the Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association (SLWJA) will be officially launched on the 25th of April 2023 in Colombo.
This research was conducted by a group of researchers, Rajni Gamage, Harindra B. Dassanayake, and Aparna Hettiarachchi.
Sri Lanka’s journalists have been reporting in an environment of high socio-political volatility for numerous years now. The media faced several challenges in relaying accurate and relevant information to the citizens during the protests in 2022. Journalists were exposed to violence while covering the people’s protests (Janatha Aragalaya) since March 2022, including exposure to tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon attacks, and baton charges by police and armed forces. Some anti-protest quarters blamed protestors (civilians) for pretending to be journalists to get through security force barricades, falsely claiming media immunity.
Incidents of assault and harassment came from the police and security forces, but also other groups, such as pro-government supporters and from some within the protests itself. Other incidents of harassment and surveillance of media, outside the main protest site, by security forces and police were also recorded during this period. These developments are cause for concern, as a free and independent media is essential to a functioning and healthy democracy. Although the media is considered the fourth estate of democracy, the state’s approach to the media during the protests has indicated otherwise.
In the backdrop of incidents prevailed SLWJA decided to document the challenges to the safety of journalists in reporting during the recent people’s protests in Sri Lanka, comparing these to international standards and practices on the safety of journalists, and to make policy recommendations pertaining to all stakeholders, including the policymakers, law enforcement and security forces, media institutions, journalists, and unions.
The research team had consultations with assaulted and affected journalists and media persons (from Colombo, and other regions of the country), relevant government officials, media establishments, media experts, and a police spokesperson. The report was handed over to the President of SLWJA Duminda Sampath at its office in Colombo 10 on 21 April 2023.
The report looks at the media landscape, identifies persistent issues and emerging trends, and makes recommendations to improve the safety of journalists. Recommendations broadly four areas, recommendations for policy making institutions, law-enforcement agencies, journalists and journalist unions, and media institutions.
Some of the key recommendations are as follows:
- Recognizing information as a public good and fundamental right to which everyone is entitled.
- Establishing constructive, non-discriminatory mechanisms of dialogue with media and journalists’ standing or ad hoc committees, bringing together politicians, public prosecutors, police officers etc.
- Depoliticizing prosecution on crimes against journalists and ensuring their strengthening legal support to affected journalists.
- Ensuring that journalists have access to safety equipment,
- Recognized the digital transformation of the media space and safeguarded the Internet and other digital platforms for information production and sharing.
A Research on Media Safety in Sri Lanka during 2022 People’s Aragalaya was handed over by Harendra B Dasanayake on behalf of the Research Team to SLWJA President Duminda Sampth, Treasurer Thambirasa Nadarasa, National Organizer Shantha Wijesooriya, Former President and Executive Committee Member Lasantha Ruhunage.
This research was conducted by a group of researchers, Dr. Rajni Gamage of National University of Singapore, Harindra B. Dassanayake, and Aparna Hettiarachchi. The research team had consultations with assaulted and affected journalists and media persons (from Colombo, and other regions of the country), relevant government officials, media establishments, media experts, and a police spokesperson.