05 January, 2010 - Published 14:04 GMT

'Restore media freedom' candidates urged

Media organisations in Sri Lanka have urged main candidates at the presidential elections to prove that they are genuinely interested in restoring media freedom.

Eight media organisations said they will hand over a document titled "Implementing the Reform Program," to all candidates at 26 January presidential polls.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) accused all governments that came to power since 1994 of failing to implement pledges to strengthen press freedom.

Freedom of Information Act

FMM convenor Chulawansa Srilal challenged the government to produce the Freedom of Information Act that has been approved by the Cabinet, before parliament if the government is genuine in safeguarding press freedom.

Many journalists and media workers have left Sri Lanka during the past few months, he said, as a result of the "terror" against media.

At least 34 journalists are killed and many more were threatened and attacked since President Rajapaksa took over, according to Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS).

"Go and have a look how those exiled journalists' children and family members suffering," Mr. Srilal told a press conference in Colombo.

The Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) meanwhile recalled that many journalists, including SLWJA president Poddala Jayantha, were killed and assaulted during the past few years.

Mr. Jayantha has also left the country late last year.

SLWJA General Secretary Lasantha Ruhunage called upon the government to bring "at least one suspect" to book in order to show that authorities are genuinely concerned in establishing media freedom.

January marks one year since the assassination of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramathunga and the burning down of Sirasa/MTV media station in Pannipitiya.

FMM General Secretary Sunil Jayasekara said the media organisations are planning a protest to mark the anniversary.

Meanwhile, addressing an election rally on Monday, main opposition candidate Gen Sarath Fonseka said Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa should take responsibility for assassinations and attacks on journalists.

The Defence Secretary has earlier claimed that he was aware of who attacked the media.