The new Draft Bill to establish an Independent Council for News Media Standards, to be prepared by a five- member Cabinet Sub-Committee headed by Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, will be made available......to the public in another two months, Deputy Minister of Media Karunaratne Paranawithana said yesterday.
Paranawithana is also the convenor of this sub-committee which includes Ministers Sarath Amunugama, Rajitha Senaratne and Gayantha Karunathilake.
"I don't think a lot of people have read the one which had been drafted (the first draft of the Independent Council for News Media Standards Act.) They believe that the Council will compel journalists to reveal their sources. That is not true. We have attempted to secure the right of a journalist not to reveal a source. However, there are no absolute rights. According to the Act, the Supreme Court can ask a journalist to reveal a source only if there is a threat to national security and it's needed to push through an effective prosecution or defence in a serious crime," he said.
Although there are some, very flawed, laws to regulate the print media, there is no mechanism to regulate the electronic media and that has led to serious concern. Thus the government, while recognizing media freedom, is compelled to introduce standards because of continuous requests from the public he said.
"Moreover the electronic media operates on borrowed frequencies and this is an asset that belongs to the public. But there are no rules that apply to them and it's impossible to create a self regulatory mechanisms, because one electronic media institution can't work with another," he said. There has been stiff opposition from journalists to the proposed Draft Bill to estalish the Independent Council for News Media Standards.
They allege that this new legislation which is to replace the Sri Lanka Press Council Act is draconian by nature. Last week Ceylon Today reported that 'the latest 2017/1-2 Independent Council for News Media Standards Act drafted (first draft) in April, has several draconian features that would be applied to media personnel and media institutions whether one likes it or not. Under the Independent Council for News Media Standards No. 29, the Council shall consist of 13 members including the Council's chairperson appointed by the President of the country upon the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. According to sources, it's similar to the RTI Act with many councils which come under the purview of the President, thus making media a collective 'State controlled' media.'(Ceylon Today)