Silencing the Press: An Analysis of Violence Against the Media in Sri Lanka

By Together Against Genocide (TAG, formerly Tamils Against Genocide), Friday, November 01 2013
Since the beginning of the reign of the United People’s Freedom Alliance coalition government in 2004, Sri Lanka has gained the infamous reputation of being one of the “most dangerous countries in the world for journalists” alongside Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea and North Korea. What remains largely unsaid or unexplored is that some journalists and media workers are more vulnerable to state-backed attacks than others.
In this report, we assess risk of extreme violence to media workers in Sri Lanka by analysing the available data on ‘disappearances’ and deaths. We ask who is being targeted, when and where. The data is analysed in historical and political context and in consideration of the nature of the relationship between the state and press more broadly.
We find as follows:
  • It is predominantly Tamil media employees and those journalists who speak out about violations of Tamil rights who have become the targets of violence in Sri Lanka.
    • Being a state-critical journalist in Sri Lanka is in itself dangerous, but the threats to life amplify vastly if one is a media employee of Tamil origin working in a majority Tamil-speaking region of the country.
    • Being critical of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) is less pertinent as a risk factor than being critical of the government’s conduct pre, during and post-war, towards the Tamil population.
We note that:
  • Domestic and it follows, International, media coverage of attacks against Sinhalese media personnel is greater than against Tamil media personnel.
  • As international condemnation mounts against the Sri Lankan state for its breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law, the GoSl is increasingly focussing its attention on dismissing negative stories from international news sources.
We argue that the GoSL’s attacks upon the media from 2009 are a continuation of its policies during the conflict – of producing a war without witness, setting the conditions in which to perpetrate crimes of International humanitarian and human rights law against the Tamil people with impunity.
Analysing the who and the why of Sri Lankan state attacks against the media matters and ought to be heeded by policy makers in their decision making. The findings presented herein serve to strengthen the argument that an Independent International Investigation is needed. 

[ The full report produced in November 2013 ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Govt Meeting may be found here ]