Examples of on-going web censorship in Sri Lanka

The President may have halted planned web censorship with Chinese involvement, but as I asked recently, what of the existing censorship of websites?

Here’s just one example. http://www.lankanewsweb.com does not open on Sri Lanka Telecom’s ADSL connections.

It does however open on Mobitel’s HSPA connection.

What gives? The State has a majority share in SLT, and Mobitel is a fully owned subsidiary. One would assume that sites blocked on one are also blocked on the other. Yet, even with news.tamilcanadian.com and some other sites, what’s blocked on ADSL is accessible via HSPA. This is also the same haphazard approach to web censorship employed by 12 sites actually banned by court order (none of the news websites blocked to date from SLT and other ISPs have been with any legal authority).

Noting that media regulations controlling the media had never been issued under his government, the English version of the President’s Manifesto in 2010 notes on page 100 that,

I will operationalize a mechanism which gives priority to produce accurate information and portray a true picture of the country to the rest of the world and thereby uplift the reputation of the country, instead of the current practice of certain media institutions which strive to tarnish the image of the country by portraying Sri Lanka as a state with an unsatisfactory track record.

Firstly, draft media regulations were in fact issued under the President’s government. The proposed Private TV broadcasting regulations in 2008 were atrocious and contained only through relief obtained from the Supreme Court. The draft National Media Policy issued in 2007 was again a terrible set of policies. Neither was enacted, but clearly in content and expression demonstrate a disturbing approach to and understanding of the freedom of expression by the Rajapaksa regime.

Perhaps the operationalisation of the mechanism the President outlines in his manifesto is linked to blocking inconvenient websites? Truth, it can be argued, can only be defined and framed by the President. Ergo, alternatives to this truth, such as those which expose the inhumane conditions of internment in IDP camps, the erosion of the rule of law or the callous insensitivity of the regime even post-war, risk censorship or worse.

In many domains such as governance and human rights, the State does in fact have an unsatisfactory track record which cannot be erased by websites to promote tourism or government propaganda. Robustly interrogating these issues of enduring importance is not to erase what is good, positive, beautiful and what we love about our country. But a government that unofficially and completely illegally blocks websites with such content is not one able to understand this, giving rise to fears best articulated by columnist Kumar David in the media recently.

The problem is this, the government will get draconian measures ready but will not reveal them till after the elections – why give the opposition another handle to beat it with – then will come the Lanka Information Dark Age (LIDA) communication straight-jacket and legislation to smother dissent.

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