Sri Lanka’s opposition unanimously rejects new media law

Opposition political parties have unanimously decided to oppose the proposal to introduce legislation to establish a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission in the country

The executive council of the opposition led by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya made a special statement unanimously to oppose and defeat the Broadcasting Authority Act to be brought by the current government with the aim of destroying the remaining part of the country’s democracy and to take the maximum possible measures to defeat it inside and outside the parliament and in the courts, said Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said on Monday (5).

The special opposition subcommittee appointed to study the discuss the proposed Broadcasting Regulatory Commission legislation met on Monday (5).

The special opposition subcommittee led by Professor Charitha Herath also includes Imthiaz Bakeer Marker, Gayantha Karunathilake, Dr. Harsha De Silva and Eran Wickramaratne.

Minister of Justice Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that the proposed Broadcasting Regulatory Commission legislation that grants statutory power to imprison journalists, impose fines on them, and to even revoke the licenses issued to broadcasters, will be discussed with the media institutions on the 7th of June 2023.

The drafting of the legislation establishing a ‘Broadcast Authority’ was carried out by a cabinet appointed subcommittee, led by Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe.

What is the new piece of legislation that Sri Lanka is trying to introduce for the media?

According to the document prepared by the Cabinet-appointed Subcommittee led by Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, something very serious is being prepared with regard to the media.

It proposes for the establishment of a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission consisting of five members, the commission will appoint its own investigating committee.

If reports detriment to national security, national economy, and public order, are published by broadcasters, the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission will be able to revoke and temporarily suspend the license of the broadcaster.

In addition, the Investigating Committee of the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission will have the power to obtain a court order and raid media institutions.

If the proposed legislation is passed in its original form, a complaint would not even be necessary to launch an investigation on a media institution.

Broadcasting Regulatory Commission:

The Broadcasting Regulatory Commission is to be introduced via a new piece of legislation.

The cabinet appointed subcommittee, led by Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe completed the drafting of the legislation establishing a ‘Broadcast Authority’ for the creation of a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission.

This document contains multiple sections on electronic media, that need to be taken seriously.

It proposes for the establishment of a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission consisting of five members.

The Secretary to the Ministry of Media, and the Director General of Telecommunication will serve as ex-officio members.

The other three members will be appointed to the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission by the President.

According to this document, the scope of the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission covers serious areas concerning the process of electronic media.

The objective of the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission shall be to ensure to carry on the broadcasting services without any detriment to national security, national economy, and public order.

In addition, the objective of the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission is also to ensure that broadcasting services shall provide people true and accurate information as guaranteed by the constitution.

Further, the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission shall issue annual licenses for broadcasting services.

In addition, another objective of the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission is to issue guidelines in respect of broadcasting to enhance the spiritual development and mental health of the people while safeguarding the social and cultural values and entertainment of the people.

The Broadcasting Regulatory Commission will also be empowered to formulate codes of conduct to be followed by the broadcasting entities or persons in consultation with the licenses broadcasters.

Investigating Committee:

The new legal framework proposed by the cabinet appointed subcommittee led by Dr. Rajapakshe proposes to appoint an investigation committee to investigate complaints and made recommendations.

The three-member committee shall be headed by the Director General of the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission, and the others two members will be those with experience in the field of law or mass media.

According to the latest document, the committee may conduct an investigation, upon its own initiative or upon the request by any interested person.

This committee may conduct an investigation, upon its own initiative or upon the request by any interested person, on any matter in which a license holder of any broadcasting service is involved in what may lead to a threat to national security, national economy, or may create any conflict among races and religions.

A serious section in this document is that for the purpose of an investigation the committee may, by notice in writing require any person or entity to produce to the committee any specified document, specified written or oral information which the committee considers relates to any matter relevant to the investigations.

It proposes that the Committee shall have the power to enter, inspect, and search the premises where the broadcasting service is being carried out with any entry warrant issued by a magistrate, and take copies of or seize and detain any relevant records or documents of such broadcasting entity.

Upon the recommendations of the committee, the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission may cancel, suspend or impose a fine to the license issued to the broadcasting entity.

In addition to the violation of any clause of the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act, the Commission can also take a decision on the license issued to a broadcasting entity, if it had broadcasted anything that may create a threat to national security, economy, or conflict among races or religions.

It notes that any person who fails to comply with any direction or recommendation issued to by the commission or refuses to cooperate, shall be guilty of an offense and shall on conviction after a summary trial before a Magistrate be liable to a fine or imprisonment, or both.

Any person or entity that engaged in broadcasting services aggrieved by a decision of the commission may appeal against such a decision at the Court of Appeal.

What is most interesting is that the document does not give a definition to the terms of ‘Broadcasting’, ‘Broadcasting Service Provider’, ‘License’, and ‘Licensee’.

US envoy in Sri Lanka discusses obstacles faced by upcountry families

The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, met upcountry families and discussed the economic and political obstacles they face.

She also spoke to them about their aspirations for better housing, education, and opportunities to improve their livelihood.

“This morning, I met with Hill Country families (many of whom have ties to the region going back 200 years) to hear directly about the economic and political obstacles they face and their aspirations for better housing, education, and opportunities to improve their livelihood,” the Ambassador tweeted.

The Ambassador is on a visit to Nuwara Eliya and has met several people from all walks of life.

During the visit she announced that the US Embassy in Sri Lanka will expand the US State Department’s English Access Microscholarship program to provide two years of free after-school English language instruction to youth of diverse backgrounds in Nuwara Eliya.

During her visit, she also met with prospective teachers for the program who shared the challenges they face in meeting learners’ needs and their plans to equip the next generation with the language skills to empower youth to follow their dreams.

She also spoke about the importance of equality and expanding women’s contributions to legal professions at the National Law Conference.

The Ambassador noted that the judicial sector is vital for upholding the rule of law and protecting the freedoms that sustain democracy.

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India’s first international cruise from Chennai to Sri Lanka to be flagged off today

India is set to launch its first-ever international cruise from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka operated by Cordelia Cruises, and the maiden voyage will be flagged off by Indian Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal. The event is scheduled to take place on Monday, June 5, from Chennai, with the cruise ship heading to the city of Jaffna in Sri Lanka.

A program has been organized at the ITC Grand Chola Hotel in Chennai at 11 am, where Shipping Minister Sonowal will participate. The event aims to highlight the significant developments undertaken by the Central government for the Chennai Port over the past nine years, according to a News18 report.

The cruise, titled the Cordelia Empress, will officially be inaugurated by Minister Sonowal at 5 pm from the Chennai Cruise Terminal, marking the beginning of the journey.

The cruise tour package will allow tourists to visit the ports of Hambantota, Trincomalee, and Jaffna in Sri Lanka, before returning to Chennai.

Cordelia Cruises will offer regular services on this route, providing tourists with options for 3-night, 4-night and 5-night cruise packages.

The cruise vacation will take tourists to stunning destinations in India and Sri Lanka’s East Coast.

The itinerary includes ports of call in Hambantota, Trincomalee, and Jaffna. In Hambantota, tourists will have the opportunity to explore the wildlife at Yala or Udawalawe National Park, as well as visit a turtle hatchery farm.

Additionally, they can enjoy walking through the Galle Dutch Fort and hiking to the Diyaluma Waterfall.

In Trincomalee, tourists will have the chance to observe dolphins and whales up close and engage in various water sports activities. The destination offers options such as whale watching, dolphin watching, snorkelling at Pigeon Island, and more.

Finally, in Jaffna, tourists can indulge in a peaceful beach retreat and explore the sacred temples and shrines of Sri Lanka.

Onboard the cruise, passengers will have access to world-class restaurants and bars offering international and Indian cuisines, as well as onboard entertainment and premium accommodation options.

Comfortable staterooms are available for passengers to relax and recharge after a day filled with onboard activities and entertainment.

The ship offers various accommodation choices, including Oceanview Staterooms, Suites, Mini-Suites and the premium Chairman’s Suite.

Source – CNBC

Ports, funding and aid bring Sri Lanka closer to China

Rather than heed warnings from its allies and neighbours, Sri Lanka is pushing ahead with embracing China to tackle its economic woes.

Ignoring warnings from the United States, according to which Sri Lanka’s problems are rooted in its dependence on China and its mega infrastructure projects (which represent a security issue for India), Sri Lankan leaders are pressing on.

Sri Lanka’s goal is to get new financing and assistance from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as evinced by the latest deal signed in May with the China Merchants Group for a logistics port complex in the capital worth US$ 392 million.

Launched in 2014 and due for completion in 2041, Colombo Port City’s US billion investment to rival Dubai is but the latest of Chinese-funded mega infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka.

China already has some of the most important ports in the world, with at least 10 of the top 100, along with several smaller ports on the coastline and inland, key to support export chains.

“According to the Liner Shipping Connectivity Index (LSCI), which scores countries and their respective container ports,” China is a leader since “about 80 per cent of global trade is moving by sea,” said economic analysts Viraj Samarakoon, speaking to AsiaNews.

That is why, “tapping into maritime shipping networks has been central to China’s strategy of export-led economic development.”

For scholars Samantha Hewapathirana and Anuradha Wijetillake, “Beijing’s efforts to shape global maritime connectivity do not end on China’s borders. The scale of China’s activities has raised questions about potential impacts on recipient countries, including broader implications of Beijing’s growing economic influence.”

An example of this is the port of Hambantota leased to a Chinese state-owned company to pay off (or reduce) Sri Lanka’s debt to China. This has sparked concerns about Chinese economic influence and the potential risks for smaller countries of signing expensive development deals with China, especially with respect to their territorial sovereignty.

Economic analyst Sanuth Wijewardena explains that “since 2021, Sri Lanka has undergone high fiscal deficits, with unprecedented levels of inflation as well as price surges of basic and essential commodities, including medicines. Due to depleted foreign reserves, Colombo announced that it would suspend foreign debt payments in April 2022.”

At the time, its “foreign debt totalled US$ 34.8 billion,” Wijewardena notes, “with nearly half from market borrowing and its largest lenders were China, the Asian Development Bank and World Bank.”

Source: Asia News

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President again calls for SJB support: But we want a general election first: Tissa

While revealing that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had called Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) to join the government collectively, SJB National Organizer Tissa Attanayake said his party had told the President to hold a general election first.

“We have told the President that a general election should be held first to find out the opinion of the people. We have told him that we will consider supporting him depending on the fresh mandate of the people,” Attanayake told a media briefing.

“The President told us to work with him collectively, but the main issue is that he is allied with the wrong people. He is with the SLPP which is responsible for the current economic crisis. This is the main reason which is stopping us from working with the President,” he said.

“At the same time we do not welcome the recent comments made by the President at the Law conference. He has said people are tired of elections and no party will secure 50 percent of the votes in future elections. We feel that the President is trying to imply that the election map of the country will be folded temporary and no elections will be held in the near future. The right thing which the President could do is to hold a referendum and seek the people’s consent to temporarily postpone elections. However, we request the President to hold any election, be it Presidential, general, provincial councils or even the local government elections without further postponements,” he added.

At the same time the SJB National Organizer said the President’s remarks may have been aimed at the court cases with regard to postponement of pending local government elections.

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EC opposes govt. move to appoint its henchmen to monitor local councils

The Election Commission (ECSL) has opposed a move by the government to appoint representatives of the Chairpersons of the Regional Development Committee to monitor local government institutions.

ECSL Chairman Nimal G. Punchihewa told The Island that the government had informed the ECSL of its plan to appoint representatives of the Chairpersons of the Regional Development Committee to monitor the local government bodies and the ECSL had decided to write to the Ministry of Local Government opposing the move, he said. A Chairman of a regional development committee ESD a representative of a particular political party and it would be unfair by other parties for such appointments to be made, the EC Chairman said.

Punchihewa said that the administration of local government institutions could be done through Municipal Commissioners and Divisional Secretaries.Many political parties had complained against the government move, he said.

Sri Lanka early presidential poll will require constitutional amendment: expert

Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe who is reportedly looking for an early popular mandate will need to seek a constitutional amendment repealing a provision that prevents a president elected by parliament from calling an early presidential election.

Human rights lawyer Gehan Gunatilleke told EconomyNext on Monday June 05 that the amendment, as any other constitutional amendment, will require a two-thirds majority in parliament. Additionally, he said, if the Supreme Court determines that any provision of the amendment is inconsistent with one of the entrenched clauses in the Constitution, the amendment bill must also be approved by the people at a referendum.

According to Gunatillake, it can be argued that the repeal of the provision in question – article 31(3A)(e) of the constitution – will not result in any inconsistency with any entrenched clause.

“However, it is the Supreme Court that will ultimately decide the matter,” he said.

Wickremesinghe was elected in July 2022 under article 40 of the constitution which provides for parliament electing one of its members to fill a vacancy in the office of the president for the remainder of the departing president’s term of office. This was after ex President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned following mass anti-government protests at the height of last year’s economic and political crises.

According to Gunatillake, as things stand now, a fresh presidential election can be held only after the remainder of what was originally Rajapaksa’s term ends in November 2024 as, as per article 30(2), a presidential term shall be five years. Though article 31(3A)(a) gives an incumbent president the power to call an election at the end of four years to seek a second term in office, article 31(3A)(e) posits that a president elected by parliament under article 40 shall not have the power to call an early election. It provides: ‘A person succeeding to the office of President under the provisions of Article 40 shall not be entitled to exercise the right conferred on a President by sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph.’

“So, the current President – who was elected by parliament under article 40 – does not have the power to call an early election. Only a constitutional amendment to repeal article 31(3A)(e) can enable him to call an early election, said Gunatallike.

This means President Wickremesinghe will have to seek a constitutional amendment repealing article 31(3A)(e) which, as noted by Gunatallike, will require a two-thirds majority in parliament and, depending on the Supreme Court’s determination, the approval of the public at a referendum though a case can be made the amendment will not result in any constitutional inconsistency.

Parliament support well in excess of a two-thirds majority for such an amendment is likely given that the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has already declared its support for an early presidential election.

Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, whose party endorsed him on May 16 at its presidential candidate, said that he intends to form an SJB-led alliance of opposition parties in the event of an early election, which Wickremesinghe is widely speculated to call.

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Talks underway for a new political alliance

Several parties in the opposition have decided to form a new political alliance.

Kumar Welgama, Rajitha Senaratne, Patali Champika Ranawaka and SLPP breakaway faction are presently holding talks on a possible union among them, ‘Deshaya’ reports.

Their plan is to leave the main opposition and contest elections together, said a spokesman for parties at the talks.

Meanwhile, the government too, is holding discussions on campaigning for future elections.

The president has chaired a preliminary meeting with leaders of government affiliate parties and ministers.

Prime minister Dinesh Gunawardena, MP Vajira Abeywardena and senior presidential advisor Sagala Ratnayake attended the talks.

The president urged all to have proper coordination with a single-most objective.

SLPP general secretary Sagala Kariyawasam said a steering committee should be appointed after talks with each affiliate party, a proposal also endorsed by minister Susil Premajayantha.

Sri Lanka elected Vice President of UN General Assembly

Sri Lanka has unanimously been elected as a Vice President of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Accordingly, Mohan Peiris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, will assume the relevant position for the Asia Pacific region from 2023 September to 2024 September.

Sri Lanka was amongst the 21 countries unanimously named as Vice Presidents by all 193 member states in accordance with the following pattern; six representatives from the African states, five from the Asia Pacific states, one representative from the Eastern European states, two representatives from Latin American and Caribbean states, two representatives from Western Europe and other states and five representatives from the permanent members of the Security Council.

Morocco, Bolivia, Congo, Estonia, Gambia, Iceland, Malaysia, Iran, Senegal, Singapore, Suriname, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Zambia and the Netherlands are also amongst the 21 Vice Presidents who were elected for the 78th UNGA session due to take place from 12 – 25 September.

Election Commission opposes political appointments to monitor LG bodies

The Election Commission of Sri Lanka has expressed its discontent towards the recent decision to appoint a representative of the Chairman of the Regional Development Committee to monitor local government institutions.

Accordingly, Chairman of the Commission, Attorney-at-Law Nimal. G. Punchihewa noted that the matter would be brought before the Ministry of Local Government, in writing, tomorrow (05 June).

Explaining their reason for concern, Punchihewa noted that such an appointment could politicise local government institutions given that the Chairman himself is a representative of a particular political party.

Thus, he explained that this would be unfair to those affiliated with other political parties.

Further deeming the appointment an unnecessary one, the Election Commission chairman pointed out that the coordination required within local government institutions can be done through municipal commissioners and divisional secretaries.

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