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Sri Lanka: Media Outlets Face Approval Requirement

(Mar. 14, 2012) In a directive dated March 9, 2012, the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) under Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defence announced that media organizations will need to ask for approval to publish certain SMS (Short Message Service) news alerts. According to MCNS Director-General Lakshman Hulugalle, “[a]ny news related to national security and security forces [and] the police should get prior approval from the MCNS before dissemination.” The requirement reportedly applies only to news alerts sent by cell phone. (Sri Lanka Slaps Censorship on Cell Phones, MAIL & GUARDIAN ONLINE (Mar. 12, 2012).)

The directive comes on the same day that there were reports that three soldiers were killed in northern Sri Lanka; there is concern that the rebel Tamil Tigers, who were defeated in 2009 after 25 years of civil strife, could be reorganizing and planning attacks. It turned out, however, that the soldiers were killed by a government soldier, who later committed suicide; they were thus unrelated to any rebellion. Sri Lanka had imposed censorship on media organizations in the past, but suspended it in the summer of 2011. (Id.)

Hulugalle denied that any news would be prevented from being distributed. He said that the government just wants “to know what's going to be disseminated before it is being disseminated.” (Ranga Sirilal, Sri Lanka to Censor News Alerts About Military, Police, REUTERS (Mar. 12, 2012).)

The new directive follows several other moves that have been criticized as infringing on press freedom. News websites have been required to register with the government since November 2011 and some websites that criticized the government have been blocked. Sunil Jayasekara, who heads the country's Free Media Movement, said of the directive, “[t]his is the first step in going for wider censorship.” (Id.)