Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 14:47 UK

Colombo reporters decry new body

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Sri Lankan TV attack
Critics say press freedom is under attack in Sri Lanka

The main media organisations in Sri Lanka have urged the government not to re-establish a body that can fine and imprison print journalists.

They say that self-regulation, introduced six years ago, is working.

Seven media bodies, headed by the Editors' Guild which groups the main newspaper editors, have written to President Rajapaksa.

They say that the reactivation of the Press Council fills them with deep concern and disappointment.

The reporters say that media culture should not be based on charging, fining and jailing journalists and added that Mr Rajapaksa himself had spoken up in favour of an independent press while in opposition seven years ago.

For the past six years a self-regulating Press Complaints Commission has fielded any readers' grievances.

The writers of the letter said this mechanism had the overwhelming support of those working in newspapers.

The old council was reactivated earlier this month by the government.

Staffed with government appointees, it adjudicates complaints against newspapers and has the power to imprison and fine journalists.

Contacted by the BBC, the media minister declined to comment on the matter.

In a separate development, lawyers who were defending a newspaper accused of defaming the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, have withdrawn from the case.

The defence ministry website said they had decided not to oppose the defence secretary "due to his dedication for the country".

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