Sri Lanka has a vibrant media environment with private and state-owned print, radio and television outlets providing a variety of services in Sinhala, Tamil and English. State controlled TV stations and radio networks are operated by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), while Government print titles include the Daily News. Private media represent a broad range of political viewpoints. However, Sri Lanka is ranked 165th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index (180 being the least free), while Freedom House views the country’s press as “not free”, with a 2015 score of 76 out of 100 (100 being the worst).
Under Article 14 (1) of Sri Lanka’s 1978 Constitution, the “freedom of speech and expression including publication” is guaranteed in the law. The Press Council of Sri Lanka, established under the 1973 Press Council Act, is charged “to ensure that newspapers and journalists maintain high ethics of journalism”. The Council, however, played no role in this election.
A Code of Professional Practice issued by The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka places a duty on the media to take reasonable care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorting news. The Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka, a voluntary independent commission established in 2003, has adopted the code.
Despite repeated attempts to introduce a Right to Information Bill, this has yet to be enacted.
Media Guidelines by Commissioner of Elections
Under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the Commissioner of Elections, has “the power to issue from time to time, in respect of the holding of any election or the conduct of a Referendum, such guidelines as the Commission may consider appropriate, to any broadcasting or telecasting operator or any proprietor or publisher of a newspaper, as the case may be, as the Commission may consider necessary to ensure a free and fair election.”
For the 2015 Parliamentary Elections, the Commissioner of Elections issued Media Guidelines to establish the ground rules for fair media reporting. These guidelines state, among other things, that state media should not be misused to promote a specific political party, group or candidate; print media should give equal space and prominence to all political parties and candidates in reporting campaign activities; and coverage given to the President, Prime Minister or Ministers should be treated as coverage given to their political party. In addition, the guidelines stated that parties and candidates with an interest in a reported incident or event should have the opportunity to put across their views – either in the same item or on another occasion.