IBA sponsors Seabrook in bid to stop Sri Lankan media bill

The IBA has paid for a former Bar chairman to visit Sri Lanka on a joint mission with the Bar Council, to observe a Supreme Court challenge to a new “repressive” bill designed to control the media.

Robert Seabrook QC was in Colombo as an IBA/Bar council monitor to ensure that proceedings surrounding the chal- lenge to the Broadcasting Authority Bill were carried out in accordance with international standards. It is hoped his presence may help sway the authorities against the bill.

The proposed legislation, described as “unconstitutional and a serious threat to freedom of speech” by current Bar chairman Robert Owen QC, would require all print and broadcast operations to obtain an annually renewable media permit from a Government appointed board.

The legislation is being opposed by the United National Party, Sri Lanka's main opposition party, the Sri Lankan Editor's Guild and the Free Media Movement.

Owen said: “If broadcasters and publishers with views critical of the Government could have their licences revoked, it would be a repressive and retrograde step.”

One observer, who preferred not to be named, said: “The current regime in Sri Lanka is repressive. Previous incidents against journalists have seen freedom of speech curtailed at whim. This legislation would only compound the problem.”

Jonathan Lux, chairman of the Human Rights Institute Interventions and Observations Committee stressed the importance of the campaign.

“By my understanding, if the challenge succeeds the government will need a weighted majority to get the bill through,” he explained.

“In the present political climate, a weighted majority appears to be unlikely, so a successful challenge would effectively kill this bill.”