Hotline for journalists | Sunday Observer

Hotline for journalists

Watchdogs of the society, Voice of the voiceless, The Fourth Estate are some of the names used to identify media. But as a group of professionals who contribute to society across many stratas, they themselves need a voice at times.

In the Global Press Freedom Index Sri Lanka holds the 131st place out of 190 countries which clearly indicates a less healthier working environment for journalists. We, as a country, have heard about various types of harassment of journalists. Censorship, pressure, threats, physical abuse, violent attacks or fatal violence against journalists take place very often.

As a bold step to end impunity against journalists and media the Government Information Department will introduce a hot line for the benefit of journalists, which will be open to communicate any harassment, threat or attack they may face.

“During the last regime there were instances where journalists were attacked and harassed. Some of them were killed and some disappeared. Many had to flee the country. After this Government came to power, we have taken a number of steps to strengthen the freedom of expression including media freedom. Hence, freedom of expression is respected and protected by the Government” said the Director General of the Government Information Department, Sudarshana Gunawardene in an interview with the Sunday Observer.

“I think we have progressed. But that’s compared to the former regime’s time. If we take that as a threshold, it’s very wrong. We need to do better. However, I consider this as a transition period” he added.

The Government Information Department is the main government institution that deals directly with journalists simply because they issue the media accreditation card.

According to the new process which is going to be introduced soon, if a journalist is attacked, he or she can directly inform the Department. Then the Department will get the location and inform its district officer and then will contact the respective police.

“At the same time we will inform the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka so they can inquire into the incident. We must ensure the safety of journalists physically, digitally (avoiding probable hacking of electronic devices) and legally. But we just want to perform a facilitator role. This initiative is being endorsed by many media movements and associations. In fact, this will be good support to those media associations” he elaborated. Gunawardene is still planning the components of the new programme and as he said, there will be staff dedicated to answering the phone calls.

“Journalists in Colombo may have contacts, but others, specially journalists in the north east areas have less contacts and they have the language issue too. So, this is going to be a huge benefit for them”

Gunawardene has broader plans of launching this service in more user friendly communicational channels like Whatsapp and Viber sometime in the near future.

The Director General believes this system would open the doors to ensure job security of journalists in certain situations. “Recently one journalist came to me and complained about the termination of his job in an unjust way. I advised him to file a case at a Labour Tribunal.

Likewise, we could attend to such things in a more structured way if we had a proper system” In the meantime, the Department of Government Information planning on making a comprehensive review of the media accreditation card. Sudarshana Gunawardene invites the media fraternity to take part in the ensuing dialogue.

“Introducing a hotline for the assistance of journalists is a good initiative. We welcome that. But our key demand is, do justice to the reported attacks on journalists” C. Dodawatta, the Convenor of the Free Media Movement said.

According to Dodawatta, several incidents were reported even in the recent past.

In such situations, taking necessary action is also vital as much as introducing a hotline number for the security of journalists.

Dodawatta said that Free Media Movement as an organisation has been compelling the successive governments since 80s to take measures on media security.

One reason behind forming the FMM is also attacks on journalists in the 80s. We didn’t see justice is being done to those cases. Nevertheless, at the peak of the war, we saw severe attacks on journalists and media organisations. Journalists are in the process of providing information in the public interest.

They don’t work in their own interest. In order to make this process of providing information safe and practical ,there should be a free and secure environment for them” he further explained.

When discussing the security of journalists, self-security cannot be forgotten. When a journalist performs his/ her duties, he or she must show a great concern about self-security.

“Amidst all these measures journalists have to follow a code of ethics while reporting. Otherwise, they will be inviting unnecessary threats. We are actually in the process of training journalists to avoid such incidents”Dodawatta elaborated further.