Will a new government in Sri Lanka herald further improvements in media freedom?

18 August 2020

As an integral part of our work, PMA keeps a watchful eye on general elections. In 2020, many general elections are taking place around the world and as always, we will be noting and recording any statements about media freedom made by new governments as they come into power.

Sri Lanka has been through turbulent times in recent years following a civil war and more recently, a terrorist attack in the city of Colombo. Currently ranking just 127th out of 180 in the RSF World Press Freedom Index, Sri Lanka has a poor recent record on media freedom with repeated attacks on journalists and media houses.

The 2020 General Election had been delayed, twice, due to the pandemic but finally went ahead on 5 August with a reported 70% turn out to elect 225 members to parliament. The incumbent SLPP won a landslide victory with a two-thirds majority. Incumbent Prime Minister [and former President], Mahinda Rajapaksa remains in office with his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President.

In a statement to the press on 12 August, newly appointed Mass Media Minister,  Keheliya Rambukwella said that, ‘One of the main priorities of the government would be to consolidate the confidence placed by the people in the media and hence the newly formed SLPP government under no circumstances would put restrictions on the media or suppress it’.

While PMA welcomes such a clear statement of intent, we note that Rambukwella served as Media Minister when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President. Those days were particularly dark for the media in Sri Lanka – in 2015 the country ranked only 165 out of 180.

Sri Lanka has done well in terms of combatting COVID-19 with only 11 deaths recorded, but the new government and new minister need to build public trust with an open and free media that can hold those in power to account. PMA will continue to observe and looks forward to reporting on progress in the country.

Header Image: Galle Face Green beach and waterfront park and residential area in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Credit: Stefan Tomic/iStock