'Drop' in S Lanka press freedom

31 October, 2008

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International media watchdog groups say there has been a marked deterioration in press freedom in Sri Lanka.

They say that the country has become the first in the world to use anti-terror legislation to punish reporters.

The groups - at the conclusion of a visit to Sri Lanka - say journalists have been murdered, attacked and intimidated, especially in war areas.

There has been no response from the government, which previously has said that it fully respects press freedom.

Freedom 'stifled'

The International Press Freedom Mission criticised recent moves against private broadcasters who "threaten national security".

It says that the authorities now have the power to cancel the licenses of programme makers who spread "ethnic, religious or cultural hatred".

Sri Lanka was recently given the lowest press freedom rating of any democratic country in the world by the international pressure group, Reporters Without Borders.

"The International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka... found a deterioration in... press freedom... marked by a continuation in murders, attacks, abductions, intimidation and harassment of the media," it said in a statement.

The country's main opposition United National Party (UNP) have also accused the government of stifling media freedom.

"The space for democracy is gradually being eroded by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the government," UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told reporters.