Sri Lanka | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

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


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Although freedom of expression is provided for in the constitution, an increasingly unstable cease-fire between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist rebel group, coupled with heightened political uncertainty and tensions among the main political parties, led to a worsening of conditions for Sri Lankan media in 2005. Emergency regulations enacted in August following the assassination of the foreign minister allowed the government to bar the publication, distribution, performance, or airing of any print or broadcast material deemed likely to cause public disorder; however, it did not use these provisions during the remainder of the year. The Official Secrets Act (OSA) bans reporting on information designated "secret"; those convicted of gathering secret information can be sentenced to 14 years in prison. Although no journalist has ever been charged under the Act, in August President Chandrika Kumaratunga stood in front of a gathering of military personnel and threatened to charge senior defense correspondent Iqbal Athas under the OSA. Contempt of court laws have been used in the past to punish reporters who investigate judicial misconduct, but during 2005 authorities generally did not use legal means to harass the media.

The LTTE does not permit free expression in the areas under its control and continues to terrorize a number of Tamil journalists and other critics. Increasing tension and violence during the year-both between the government and the LTTE, and between the LTTE and a breakaway rebel faction led by Colonel Karuna-negatively impacted journalists' ability to cover the news freely, particularly in the troubled North and East. A number of journalists and media outlets faced intimidation (including death threats) during the year, two Tamil journalists were killed, and distributors and Tamil media outlets were also attacked. Journalists, particularly those who cover human rights issues or official misconduct, continued to face intimidation and threats from the police and security forces and from government officials; the critical English-language newspaper Sunday Leader and its editor Lasantha Wikramatunga were particularly singled out by authorities in this regard during the year. In a growing trend, those perceived as being supportive of Tamil interests have drawn ire from Sinhalese nationalist groups; in May, the Free Media Movement (FMM) received death threats from one such extremist group, while other journalists and media outlets, such as Sudaroli-a Tamil-language newspaper based in Colombo-have also been targeted. In several other instances, police or security forces manhandled reporters as they attempted to cover the news. The environment for media workers worsened especially prior to the November presidential election campaign.

While some journalists, particularly those covering the LTTE-controlled areas, practice self-censorship, numerous privately owned newspapers and broadcasters scrutinize government policies and provide diverse views. However, the FMM has noted that state-run media-including Sri Lanka's largest newspaper chain, two major television stations, and a radio station-have been used by the ruling party for political ends, including pressure on editors and biased election coverage prior to the November presidential elections. Business and political interests wield some control over content in the form of selective advertising and bribery. Access to the internet and to foreign broadcasts is not restricted, but only 1.4 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2005 due to the high costs involved.