27th May 2001
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Editors Guild deplores bomb attack on Ravaya office

The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka has expressed concern about Wednesday's smoke bomb attack on the Ravaya newspaper office and condemned the incident.

The Guild in a statement said it remained apprehensive about the motives for the attack and the general disregard by the state law enforcement authorities to investigate a series of attacks on journalists.

"Frequent requests for immediate investigation on such attacks have fallen on deaf ears," the statement said.

"The Guild condemns these cowardly attacks intimidating journalists and reiterates the point that these anti-media elements whomsoever they may be, take courage primarily due to the law enforcement authorities being unwilling and/or incapable of dealing with such situations," it said.

An unidentified person had thrown a smoke bomb at the Ravaya office in Maharagama on Wednesday afternoon and escaped. 

Nobody had been arrested until Saturday evening. 

Editors renew media law reforms campaign

The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka has launched a renewed campaign to bring in media law reforms with the support of political parties and legislators.

As a prelude a delegation of the Guild met Speaker Anura Bandaranike and Deputy Speaker Sarath Munasinghe this week and presented them with copies of draft bills the Guild had prepared.

The bills call for the repeal of more than 100-year-old criminal defamation laws, the abolition of the Press Council, the amendment of the Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act and the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act and a Contempt of Court Act.

The delegation pointed out to the Speaker that Sri Lanka had acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR on October 3, 1997.

These international accountability mechanisms meant that it was essential for Sri Lanka's Parliament to enact and reform domestic legislation in keeping with its international obligations, the delegation said.

As Sri Lankan domestic law relating to the media stands at present, a number of laws and regulations empower state authorities to impose constraints on the freedom of information in a manner that is inconsistent with or in violation of international laws and standards. The main areas identified relate to the arbitrary use of criminal defamation laws, restrictions prevalent in laws related to parliamentary privilege and contempt of court, the lack of a Freedom of Information Act and unfair law and practices relating to censorship.

The delegation pointed out that in 1995, the Government established the R.K.W. Goonesekere committee on media law reforms. This committee finalised its work and a report was submitted to the Government in mid 1996. However, the Government had not implemented crucial recommendations set out in this report up to date, the delegation said.

In 1997, a Parliamentary Select Committee on the Legislative and Regulatory Framework relating to Media was set up following intense lobbying by The Editors Guild and other media organizations. 

Even after three years, the Select Committee was unable to come up with Recommendations relating to media law reforms.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary debate on a motion on legal anomalies affecting the media jointly introduced by Government and Opposition MPs began in August 2000, but the dissolution of Parliament resulted in the debate not being concluded.

The Motion included recommendations to repeal Section 479 of the Penal Code and sections 14 and 15 of the Press Council Law relating to Criminal Defamation; replace the Press Council with a Media Council; introduce a Freedom of Information Act; and introduce a Contempt of Court Act.

In these circumstances, the delegation urged all-party consensus to modernize the archaic framework of media laws in the country. 

The delegation also suggested that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker explore ways and means of allowing the media and the public access to the sittings of parliamenatry committees such as the High Posts Committee, COPE etc.

Speaker Bandaranaike assured the delegation that he would offer whatever assistance possible to obtain across the board support in Parliament for the introduction of media law reforms in the country and added that the televising of Parliamentary proceedings on selected days was under serious consideration.

The Guild delegation later met JVP and SLMC leaders to present their case.


Rendezvous in the hills
A senior minister was seen last week secretly making his way into a former UNP minister's house in the hills. Secrecy was at its peak because the minister parked his vehicle right inside the premises. A second meeting followed few days later.

These meetings though held behind closed doors, curiosity was high and party supporters are still trying to fathom what took place.

Tattered identity
The Parliament staff is eagerly waiting for their defaced and tattered parliamentary identity cards to be replaced. The ones they wear still bear a July, 1994 date with former Secretary General Bertram Tittawella's signature.

And the same applies to the temporary passes issued to the parliamentary correspondents. Mr. Tittawella retired from service three years ago. The question that arises is why the authorities have not taken any step to renew the identity cards for the past seven years despite high security risks that certainly merits such an action.
Top executives and media personnel were invited for the launch of an internet service by a leading telecom provider. On entry into the ballroom of the five-star hotel where the event took place, invitees saw the place had been transformed into a thick jungle with dim lights and big plants all around. All that was very nice except for the mosquitoes which had come uninvited along with the plants. So it was swattingtime

Political cancer: youth body head quits

By Chris Kamalendran
A head of a state-run institution for youth affairs has resigned, saying he was unable to carry out his duties due to excessive political interference and lack of funds.

Raymond Perera, chairman of the National Youth Service Council for the past five months, said he handed over his resignation letter to Youth Affairs Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga after little or no action was taken regarding his complaints.

Mr. Perera had said in his complaints that his official vehicle was being used by an officer who was close to former youth affairs ministerS. B. Dissanayake. He had also said some council employees were not co-operating with him and as a result he had problems in carrying out the programmes.

Three-year course on photojournalism

Applications are being called from young photographers in press photography, photo journalism or documentary photography for a three-year seminar programme organsied by the World Press Photo Foundation and the Institute of Sri Lankan Photographers.

The programme beginning in July this year is aimed at providing an impulse to the professional advancement of the selected press photographers and is supported by the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

The applicants must be below 35, be able to converse in English and have had their works published. Employers or prominent photojourna-lists may also nominate applicants with their permission.

More details are available with the Institute of Sri Lankan Photographers at No. 9, Balahenmulla Lane, Colombo 6.

Govt. backing campaign for cheaper drugs

The government is throwing its full weight behind the campaign to slash the medical bills of patients by promoting the wider use of drugs under generic names instead of the highly expensive brand names.

Health Ministry Secretary Tilak Ranavirajah said regulations existed for the prescribing of drugs under generic names instead of brand names and that instructions also had been issued to this effect. But some doctors were apparently unwilling to do so, probably because they believe that brand names might be more effective, he said.

On behalf of the government, the ministry secretary urged patients to ask their doctors to prescribe drugs under generic names and also to insist that pharmacies do not ignore the generic names and sell the expensive brand names.

The secretary said the government was also looking into the possibility of introducing strict new regulations binding doctors to prescribe drugs under generic names, but the ministry was also aware that if something went wrong the doctors might blame the ministry and the regulations.

Medical and social analysts had said that patients could slash their medical bills by as much as 70 percent if they were given drugs under the generic names. Moreover the country's overall drug import bill could also be slashed by upto 70 percent if about 300 essential drugs are imported under the generic name, in contrast to the present situation where as many as 5,000 varieties of drugs are imported under highly expensive brand names. For example, the generic paracetemol cost only 30 cents a tablet, while the same drug is sold under various trade names at prices ranging from Rs 1 .50 to Rs 4.00 a tablet.

Medical experts say that in terms of efficacy and content there is no difference between the generic drug and the variety of brand names.

Though the ministry appears to be putting the responsibility on doctors, the Government Medical Officers Association says the state needs to take more efficient action for the import and sale of drugs under generic names.

GMOA secretary Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya told The Sunday Times the doctors were ready to cooperate fully in the campaign to ensure the health rights especially of poor patients by giving them drugs at the least possible price. He said that even when doctor prescribed drugs under generic names some pharmacies were known to be persuading or fooling patients into buying the much more expensive brand names which they were apparently promoting in collaboration with big drug companies.

The GMOA chief said upto 25,000 pharmacies were known to be operating outside legal procedures and they were among the main culprits in the promotion of highly expensive brand names instead of the cheaper drugs. The GMOA has called on the government to take stern action against the illegal pharmacies and ensure that they issue generic drugs which are prescribed by doctors.


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