Freedom of Expression news from Sri Lanka

Special Report 02- May  06th 2009 :

Media freedom and denial of Visa to journalists

6th May 2009

We note with serious consternation the recent media reports quoting the Controller of Immigration and Emigration, P.B. Abeykoon, who has stated that his Department has deported or denied visas to a large number of foreign journalists, on the basis of a belief that these journalists are not capable of ‘balanced reporting’ (see report by Sandun A Jayasekera, Daily Mirror, 30th April 2009). The official states that, “We were forced to deport certain media personnel and prevent some others from entering the country to protect national interests after finding their reportage was detrimental to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and national integrity and compromised its security. Any foreign journalist with good intentions and practices balanced reporting however, is welcome in our country.” (Emphasis added).

Referring to the recent deportation of The Times of London reporter Jeremy Page, Mr. Abeykoon says Mr. Page has been “black listed in Sri Lanka for biased reporting. ‘He had applied from New Delhi for a visa unaware he was not allowed here and had arrived at the BIA. We had to take steps to prevent him entering the country and sent him back.’”

We find both Mr. Abeykoon’s actions as well as his justifications to be completely inconsistent with international standards on freedom of expression and media freedom, and are surprised that he subsequently went public with this kind of objectionable sentiment. While it is certainly within the scope of Mr. Abeykoon’s official duty to grant or reject visas and entry permissions on the basis of the law of Sri Lanka, it is totally unacceptable and outside his remit that he should be making administrative decisions on extraneous grounds such as whether a journalist will or will not file copy consistent with Mr. Abeykoon’s opinions. Under internationally established principles of administrative law, officials exercising discretionary power are not entitled to make decisions on the basis of capricious considerations, and are certainly not entitled to use their own political opinions as a substitute for proper, objective and reasonable decisions.


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