SLWJA Recommends Establishment of Independent Commission for Freedom of Expression and Journalists Safety Fund
The Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) recommends establishing an Independent Commission for the protection and promotion of Freedom of Expression in Sri Lanka and setting up a media safety fund alongside a sustainable and transparent financing model. The SLWJA conducted a study on the challenges journalists faced during the protests last year through a team of researchers and commissioned the research study officially launching it on the 25th of April 2023 in Colombo.
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.
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 making policy recommendations pertaining to all stakeholders, including the policymakers, law enforcement and security forces, media institutions, journalists, and unions.
This research was conducted by a group of researchers, Rajni Gamage, Harindra B. Dassanayake, and Aparna Hettiarachchi. The research covered the period from 30th March to 31st August 2022. 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 establishment of an Independent Commission for the protection and promotion of Freedom of Expression in Sri Lanka is one of the recommendations the study has highlighted. This commission should function as the main platform for co-regulation of print, electronic, and social media and the members of such a co-regulatory body should include nominees by all key stakeholders.
The functions of such a commission would be, among other things, issuing licenses to media stations and registration of news publications, investigating alleged violence against journalists and providing legal protection to affected journalists, including prosecuting crimes against journalists, and providing a mediatory space, and establishing governance mechanisms for information regulation.
A Media Safety Fund for journalists could include state allocation of funds and/or passing necessary legislation to tax a portion of media advertising (including on social media platforms), or on turnover of media corporations above a certain threshold. The primary function of the Media Safety Fund is to provide journalists and media workers with insurance, for damages and injuries incurred as occupational hazards.