Reporters Without Borders condemns the Sri Lankan supreme court’s decision yesterday upholding the withdrawal of the Asia Broadcasting Corporation’s licence on the grounds that its president, Reno Silva, gave the court false information with the aim of misleading it. The court also ordered the information ministry not to give ABC a new licence.
After being found in contempt of court, Silva was released on bail of 250,000 Rupees (1,600 euros) and was ordered to present arguments, under oath, by 26 November as to why he should not be sentenced.
Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the information ministry’s decision last night to suspend the licence of five radio stations (Sun FM, Gold FM, Hiru FM, Shaa FM and Sooriyan FM) belonging to the Asia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), an independent media group, for broadcasting an erroneous report.
“We strongly condemn the government’s punitive measures against the ABC group and we call for the immediate reinstatement of its licence,” the press freedom organisation said. “We regret that the ABC network did not take more care with its sources, but that should under no circumstances be used by the government as a pretext for a form of censorship.”
ABC’s licence was suspended after it broadcast a report that residents in the village of Ranminitenna, in the southern Tissamaharama area, had panicked on hearing that Tamil rebels were about to arrive. The report turned out incorrect, and ABC apologised as soon as it discovered this.
The group’s license was suspended after the information ministry carried out an investigation at President Mahinda Rajapakse’s behest.
ABC has reputation for reporting and editorials critical of the government. N. Kurupharan, the director of one its stations, Sooriyan FM (one of the two most important Tamil-language radio stations in Sri Lanka), was kidnapped for 13 hours in August 2006. At the beginning of last year, ABC was threatened by members of the government to stop it broadcasting interviews with rebel chiefs.
Meanwhile, reporter Arthur Wamanan of the Sunday Leader newspaper has been detained since 24 October after reporting that enterprise development minister Mano Wijeratne got the National Gem Authority to pay his wife’s mobile phone roaming charges. The minister claimed that Wamanan tried to blackmail him before writing the story. The newspaper’s editor said Wamanan simply called the minister to get his comments before completing the report, which was published on 21 October.