Sri Lanka | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

56

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

24

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

17

The ability of Sri Lankan media outlets to express their views openly was tested by heightened political conflicts in 2004, while the partisanship of the state-owned media emerged as a major concern. Freedom of expression is provided for in the constitution, and although the government is permitted to curtail press freedom on national security grounds, authorities generally did not use legal restrictions against the media during the year. However, contempt of court legislation has been used in the past to punish reporters who investigate judicial misconduct; and in September, four journalists were threatened with court cases for articles published in 2001 and 2002 that allegedly showed contempt for the anticorruption commission.

Reporters, particularly those who cover human rights issues, corruption, or official misconduct, continued to face some harassment and threats from government officials, irate politicians, and party activists. In several other instances, police or security forces manhandled reporters as they attempted to cover the news. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist rebel group, does not permit freedom of expression in the areas of northern and eastern Sri Lanka under its control and continues to intimidate and threaten a number of Tamil journalists and other critics. Rival LTTE factions killed one reporter in May and another in August. Meanwhile, the offices of the Tamil-language daily Thinakkural suffered two grenade attacks in December, and the paper's distribution was disrupted on several occasions by LTTE cadres.

While some journalists, particularly those covering the LTTE-controlled areas, practice self-censorship, a number of privately owned newspapers and broadcasters scrutinize government policies and provide diverse views. The state controls the largest newspaper chain, two major television stations, and a radio station; political coverage in the state-owned media tends to favor the ruling party, and these outlets remain prone to frequent official interference. During the November 2003 state of emergency, President Chandrika Kumaratunga briefly deployed troops outside government-run media outlets, sacked the chairman of the government-owned Lake House media group, and replaced the editors of state-run print and broadcast outlets with her own supporters. In 2004, the Colombo-based Free Media Movement repeatedly condemned the manipulation of the state media by the president's party for political ends, including pressure on editors and biased coverage of the April elections. For example, Lakshman Gunasekera, the editor of a government-owned weekly, was suspended from his post in March after writing editorials opining that the state media should refrain from political partisanship, and he had not been reinstated by year's end. Another editor was removed from his post in September. Business and political interests wield some control over content in the form of selective advertising and bribery.