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Reactivation of Press Council:

Not a move to suppress journalists

Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told Parliament yesterday the moves taken by the Government to reactivate the Press Council has not been taken whatsoever to suppress journalists or impose restrictions on media personnel as highlighted by Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“There is no need to consult other political parties to reactivate an existing law because no Government had taken steps to cancel the Press Council,” he said.

The Minister was making a reply speech on a statement made by the Opposition Leader regarding the decision taken by the Government to reactivate the Press Council.

The Minister said the Press Complaints Commission set up as an alternative to the Press Council has failed to provide any relief to journalists or the Public Press Complaints Commission was turned into a mere business place which collects the funds from the Non-Governmental Organizations.

There was no transparency within the internal activities of it. The media had also reported on various financial frauds and other malpractices taken place within the Press Complaints Commission. Therefore, the Government cannot agree upon the functions and activities of such institution.

Having considered this situation, initiatives were taken by the Government to reestablish the Press Council. But there is no need to obtain the views of other political parties to reactivate an existing law as highlighted by the Opposition Leader, he said.

According to the existing law, the Government has appointed veteran media personnel such as Prof. Somaratne Balasuriya, Prof. Sunanda Mahendra, Sunday Lankadeepa Editor Ariyananda Dobagahawatta and Attorney-at-Law Prasad Suriyarachchi as the members of the Press Council In addition, representation has also been given to key journalists association and those who represent the newspaper industry. The Government Information Director is also member (exofficio) of the Press Council, he said.

“Therefore, when we look at the members of the Press Council, it is clearly evident that they have never acted to suppress the media directly or indirectly.”

The Press Council will be fully dedicated to ensure the media freedom and assist to conduct high quality journalistic practices. It will also help to further develop the educational and other training programs conducted for the benefit of journalists. The Press Council will also guide to create a proper coordination between all the relevant sectors in the media field and instruct the Government to conduct the newspapers in a very formal manner, the Minister said.

The Minister said” The Government has no intention to act against editors or newspapers under the Press Council Act. There are no reports on such acts taken against the Editors by the Press Council in the past as well. The Press Council through the measures taken to amend the Press Council Act has abolished the implementation of Defamatory Law”.

The Minister said that Press Council was inactive during the past few years But rs. 20,988,653,79 has been spent to pay the salaries of over 20 permanent employees of the press council during the past five years. In addition Rs. 3,270,000.00 has been paid as the building rent of the Press Council during the past five years. Therefore, huge amounts of money has been spent to maintain the permanent staff of the Press Council without obtaining any productive service from them. Recommendations were also made by the Committee on Public Enterprise to re-establish the Press Council. As a result, the Government decided to re-activate the Press Council under the existing law.

Under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Government was able to restore peace in the country by ending the three decade old terrorist problem. Therefore, steps were taken to re-activate the Press Council to fulfill the objective of the Government to create an environment conductive to journalists to perform their duties in a more peaceful manner. If any amendments are needed to the Press Council Act, the Government is ready to consider it. The Government is fully dedicated to ensure the professional rights of journalists and provide all the needy facilities to them through the Press Council. “I believe the journalists and the people will look at the functions of the Press Council in an optimistic manner. I also request the Opposition Leader not to create a wrong picture among the journalists and the people towards the moves taken to re-activate the Press Council under the existing law approved by Parliament, the Minister added.

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