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Sri Lanka govt, opp. disagree over licence renewal under new broadcast commission

Sri Lanka’s proposed new Broadcast Regulatory Commission Act requires broadcasters to renew their licence once a year which will hinder business and compel them to toe the government line, the main opposition said, though the media minister contested the claim.

Former parliamentarian and chief executive of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Ajith P Perera told reporters on Tuesday June 13 that the annual license renewal requirement will result in Sri Lanka’s privately owned broadcast media being subservient to the government the way state-run media has been for years.

“Media regulation is necessary. But this draft provides for an annual licence issuance. Every year, at the end of nine months, an application for renewal for the next year will have to be submitted.

“This is not good for business because, if the licence for next year is not obtained, the business would have to be closed down,” said Perera, adding that this would compel the media to keep the executive happy.

However, this claim is contested by Media Minister Bandula Gunawardena who told reporters Tuesday morning that he would personally ensure that broadcasters were reissued their licence.

“Not only is there no provision in this bill to withhold an issued licence, as minister, I also pledge that the licence will be reissued even after the enactment of this bill,” said Gunawardena.

Perera, however, repeated opposition claims that the proposed commission will not be independent since all five of its members will be either directly or indirectly appointed by the president.

According to a copy of the draft bill that has been circulating, the five ex-officio members of the Commission will be the secretary to the ministry, the Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), and three other members who shall possess a degree in law, science, business management, technology, communication, engineering, public administration or mass media from a recognised university, appointed by the president with the approval of the Constitutional Council.

The objectives of the commission, according to the draft bill, include issuing and renewing license for broadcasting service providers, determining the conditions for issuing such license, determining the number of licenses that could be obtained by a single person or broadcasting entity, and suspending or cancelling any license issued for broadcasting service “with reasons”.

Formulating codes of practice applicable to the different types of license and advising the minister regarding plans, programmes and activities in order to regulate the broadcasting entities or persons will also be among the Commission’s objectives.

Perera said the makeup of the commission means it will not be fair by broadcasters and will not protect the rights of citizens.

“What this does is make private media as subservient and docile as state media is today,” he said.

However, Media Minister Bandula Gunawardena told reporters at the weekly cabinet press briefing on Tuesday that the government has no desire to suppress or “tame” the media

“As the subject minister, I have no intention to suppress or tame the media. The president hasn’t in his mature political conduct demonstrated any such intention either,” said Gunawardena.

It was in fact Wickremesinghe who had previously worked to amend laws that could be used to imprison journalists who were convicted of illegal invasions of people’s privacy, the minister said.

“He was even criticised for this at some points,” he added.

Gunawardena said the proposed act is still a mere draft and anyone can propose amendments, adding that a Sinhala translation of the draft – which legally supersedes the original English-language copy – has been distributed to media representatives.

“Within the next two weeks, any proposals can be submitted and discussed,” he said.

“To instil an advanced media culture in a civilised society, regulation must be established upon discussion following international standards,” the minister added. EconomyNext

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