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Sri Lanka's Genocidal War - '95 to '01
British Refugee Council says
Sri Lanka bombing blacked out by censorship
The British Refugee Council publication, Sri Lanka Monitor reported in June 1998:
"The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists says censorship is incompatible with democratic governance and has urged the government to allow the Sri Lankan people access to free and unbiased information on the conflict.
The Sri Lankan government imposed censorship on military news in June under Emergency regulations, for the third time since September 1995, further eroding freedom of expression guaranteed in the island’s constitution.
The Emergency (Prohibition of Publication and Transmission of Sensitive Military Information) Regulations, effective from 5 June, prohibit foreign and local media from publishing information on military operations, deployment of troops or use of equipment, including aircraft or naval vessels. Publication of statements on the official conduct or performance of the security forces is also disallowed.
Censorship imposed by the ruling People’s Alliance government on 21 September 1995 continued till 20 December that year, during which period the military launched Operation Sunray I to take Jaffna city. Censorship was reintroduced on 19 April 1996 as the Army began Operation Sunray II to capture the southern Thenmaratchy area in the Jaffna peninsula, and was in force until 6 October 1996.
On these two occasions, the censorship authorities were civilians. In the current censorship, however, a military officer, Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Jaliya Nammuni was named as Competent Authority. As newspaper columns were slashed, Sri Lankan parliamentarians expressed concern over censorship being in the hands of the military.
Deputy Defence minister Anuruddha Ratwatte claims that the government upholds the policy of media freedom but asserts that censorship has become necessary. He accuses the media of acting irresponsibly by leaking military plans. Mr Ratwatte also says war casualty figures published in the media create panic and he would announce the figures when necessary.
The Sri Lanka Editors Guild dismissed Mr Ratwatte’s claim that the media provides strategic information to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). While the Sri Lankan Free Media Movement (FMM) describes the censorship as a flagrant violation of government’s commitment to defend media freedom, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists says censorship is incompatible with democratic governance and has urged the government to allow the Sri Lankan people access to free and unbiased information on the conflict. In a letter to President Chandrika Kumaratunge, Reuters news agency points out that censorship severely undermines the credibility of news reporting.
Journalists or independent observers are prohibited into the north-eastern war zone and the conditions of the civilians remain largely unreported outside Sri Lanka. Death of civilians as a result of military operations and lack of food and medicine continue to occur. The current censorship will only help to continue the cover-up of the plight of civilians, observers say.
Hours after censorship was imposed in September 1995, Airforce bombers killed 34 children in a Jaffna school. In a repeat performance, the Airforce struck at Suthanthirapuram in Tiger-held Mullaitivu District on 10 June while the Army shelled the area. Twenty five civilians, including three children, were killed and 52 injured. The LTTE say five cadre were also killed. Following the attack, over 1,380 families fled to neighbouring villages. Some 380 families found shelter in schools at Kaiveli and Puthukudyiruppu, but others were forced to live under trees. MP Joseph Pararajasingham, speaking in Parliament in mid-June, condemned the killings as a grave violation of human rights.
Colombo observers believe that censorship was introduced to control information on losses in the battlefield at Mankulam in the Vanni and civilian casualties, while the government faces Provincial Council elections in a month’s time. The Suthanthirapuram incident has been effectively blacked out by the censorship."