According to a leading survey, Sri Lanka did not show any significant improvement in press freedom last year, remaining at the same spot as last year on the World Press Freedom Index.
The annual World Press Freedom Index for 2017, compiled by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), ranked Sri Lanka 141st out of 180 countries, although the overall global score improved slightly to 44.34 this year from 44.96 last year on a 0-100 scale with 100 being the worst.
The index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country.
The RSF, presenting its world map on media freedom, said in Sri Lanka, while President Maithripala Sirisena has said that he wanted to reopen all investigations into the murders of journalists, only limited progress has been made.
According to the media watchdog, some progress has been made in the investigation into Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder but most other investigations of this nature go unresolved.
The RSF said the new Government also assured journalists that they would not be persecuted due to their political views or their coverage of sensitive subjects such as corruption and human rights violations by the military. However, an attack on journalist Freddy Gamage in June 2016 fuelled the doubts of both the public and media freedom defenders. The Tamil media, often the target of attacks and censorship both during the civil war and after, are still on their guard, according to the RSF report.
In March 2016, the Ministry of Parliamentary Reform and Mass Media ordered all news websites to register with the Government or become illegal.
“This vague and disproportionate directive immediately reminded the media and citizen journalists of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s censorship methods,” the RSF report said. The media watchdog said the 2017 Index shows an increase in the number of countries where the media freedom situation is very grave and highlights the scale and variety of obstacles to media freedom throughout the world.
Norway, which is ranked first, with Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Netherlands round out the first five places in that order. China, Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea ranked at the bottom of the index.
In the South Asian region, Nepal was up five places at 100th, Bhutan improved 10 notches to 84th, Pakistan improved to 139th from 147th last year, India dropped three notches to 136th, Maldives dropped to 117th from 112th in 2016 and Bangladesh dropped down two notches this year to 146th.