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Sri Lanka 16 February 2004

New minister cancels TV licence on eve of elections

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) condemned the Sri Lankan information and communication minister’s decision, announced today, to cancel the TV broadcast channel licence that was granted to the Asian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 1995. The decision, which ABC executives called "politically motivated," came just as the company was about to launch the channel.

The decision was notified to ABC by the new information and communication minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, who had held out the hope of a very different approach when he said on 9 February, the day after being appointed, that, "the private media belongs to its owners, who may use it as they please."

Reporters Without Borders said it feared that the decision could be a prelude to further tough measures against the privately-owned media by President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s administration during the parliamentary election campaign that starts in a few days. The president has already started to use the state media to her party’s advantage.

The organisation wrote to the minister urging him to rescind the decision and let ABC launch its channel as planned.

ABC’s lawyers immediately filed a petition to the Colombo appeal court, which summoned the minister and the director general of the telecommunications regulatory commission for a hearing on 1 March. The court also ruled that ABC’s licence and frequency cannot be reassigned to any other company until the case is settled.

The ABC group operates five FM radio stations broadcasting in Sri Lanka’s three languages. Hiru and Sha broadcast in Sinhalese, Sooriyan broadcasts in Tamil, while Sun and Gold broadcast in English.

Sri Lanka currently has three privately-owned broadcast television channels and one cable television channel, in addition to the state TV broadcaster. During the 2001 general elections, the privately-owned broadcast media favoured Prime Minister Rani Wickremesinghe’s party. President Kumaratunga took control of the state-owned media by force on 4 November.




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