Proposed Ethics Code for Sri Lanka's Media Dropped after Complaints

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Sri Lankan journalists won’t have to abide by a government-proposed ethics code after all, the Colombo Gazette reported.

The country’s president, Mahinda Rajapakse, called for the information ministry to drop the code, according to Agence France Presse’s anonymous source in the information ministry.

The code would have barred the publication of anything “against the integrity” of the government, the Associated Press reported. A draft version of the code is published on the government’s website.

The proposed code addressed many traditional ethical issues such as posting corrections quickly, ensuring accuracy labeling fact versus opinion, and giving subjects of news coverage the right to respond to accusations that could hurt “their reputation, dignity, honor, feelings, privacy.”  Journalists are also to keep anonymous any alleged sex crime victims or family members of accused criminals.

But what garnered much criticism was the highly subjective section that listed what journalists are prevented from reporting. That section reads:

“No publications should be published which
(a) offends against expectations of the public, morality of the country or tend to lower the standards of public taste and morality
(b) contains criticism affecting foreign relations
(c) contains derogatory remarks on religious groups or communities or promoting communal or religious discord which may affect religious and communal harmony
(d) contains anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate falsehood and suggestive innuendos and half truths or willful omissions
(e) contains information which could mislead the public
(f) is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which may promote anti-national attitudes
(g) contains anything amounting to contempt of court
(h) contains materials against the integrity of the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative
(i) criticizes maligns or slanders any individual or groups of persons such as ethnic, linguistic or religious or such segments of the public
(j) contains details of a person’s family life, financial information, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability and one’s home or family and individuals in hospitals unless it has a direct relevance to the public interest
(k) encourages superstitions or blind belief
(l) promote atrocity, drug abuse, brutality sadism, sexual salacity and obscenity
(m) denigrates the poor”

The code also has a section related to women and children that advises against publishing anything that “denigrates” women or children or violates the privacy of children. And, there is much guidance for how Sri Lankan media handle advertisements, testimonials, ads targeting children and more.

According to the Associated Press, Human Rights Watch and Sri Lanka’s Free Media Movement both criticized media ethics code earlier this month. Human Rights Watch’s Brad Adams said in a statement on its website the code would limit the country’s journalists:

“Sri Lankan journalists are already under enormous pressure not to be critical of the government, and the vagueness of this code will likely lead to greater self-censorship to avoid government retaliation.”

The decision to not use the draft bill was made June 21 and instead, Sri Lanka’s president wants the media to come up with its own code, according to the AP and Sri Lanka “internet newspaper” Colombo Page. iMediaEthics has written to the Ministry of Mass Media & Information asking why the bill was dropped, for response to the criticism of the bill, and for the timeline of the media’s bill.

iMediaEthics wrote last fall when Sri Lankan newspaper Lakbima News apologized for a cartoon accused of sexism. The cartoon was of the Indian Prime Minister looking up a woman politician’s sari.

Last year, Sri Lanka started requiring all news outlets to have the government OK any “mobile phone alerts about the military or police.”

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Proposed Ethics Code for Sri Lanka’s Media Dropped after Complaints

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