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CPA challenges validity of recent regulations concerning TV broadcasting in Sri Lanka

By Centre for Policy Alternatives

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) this week filed action in the Supreme Court by way of a fundamental rights petition, challenging the validity of recent regulations concerning television broadcasting.

The Minister of Mass Media and Information promulgated a new set of regulations on 10th October 2008, cited as the Private Television Broadcasting Station Regulations, under powers conferred by the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Act, No.6 of 1982. These new regulations seek to regulate all aspects of private television broadcasting, including classification of stations and services; issue, revocation, and duration of licenses; fee structure; territorial coverage; ownership; duties and responsibilities of private television broadcasters; extended powers of the Ministry; and content controls.

CPA is of the view that the regulatory regime imposed by the new regulations violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression recognised by the Constitution, balanced against the legitimate aim of reasonable regulation. In particular, the wide areas of discretion conferred on the Minister in respect of the grant, suspension, or cancellation of television broadcasting licenses lead us to believe that the new regime would be seriously susceptible to abuse, both in respect of the freedoms of expression and information, as well as the independence and integrity of the Sri Lankan media. Moreover, we do think that the power to make regulations conferred on the Minister by the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation Act, extends to such a broad area as the new regulation seek to cover.

We also note that the new regulations are an attempt to introduce wide-ranging controls and regulation of the televisual broadcasting sphere without adequate regard or reflection about the implications of technological advances of the last decade or so, especially in respect of internet and telephony based communications. Furthermore, it is our firm belief that the necessary regulatory regime in this field is a matter that is more properly to be dealt with by legislation enacted by Parliament, rather than by executive fiat and subordinate rule-making.

CPA hopes that the Supreme Court would be pleased to grant leave to proceed with its application, and further, that the Court would use the opportunity afforded by this case to further develop its jurisprudence in securing, protecting, and advancing the freedom of speech and expression in Sri Lanka.

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The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) was formed in the firm belief that there is an urgent need to strengthen institution- and capacity-building for good governance and conflict transformation in Sri Lanka and that non-partisan civil society groups have an important and constructive contribution to make to this process. The primary role envisaged for the Centre in the field of public policy is a pro-active and interventionary one, aimed at the dissemination and advocacy of policy alternatives for non-violent conflict resolution and democratic governance. Accordingly, the work of the Centre involves a major research component through which the policy alternatives advocated are identified and developed.

For more information, please visit http://www.cpalanka.org