BFF-81 Sri Lanka President shuts TV network linked to PM

ZCZC

BFF-81

SRILANKA-MEDIA-TELEVISION-INTERNET-CENSORSHIP

Sri Lanka President shuts TV network linked to PM

COLOMBO, June 5, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – A television network owned by the family
of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was suspended by the
island’s telecom regulator Tuesday, worsening a power struggle in the
fractious ruling coalition.

The closure of Telshan Network comes days after the station criticised
President Maithripala Sirisena, who promised to end an era of draconian
restrictions on the country’s media.

Sirisena, who rules in an unsteady coalition with Wickremesinghe, has
specific oversight of the telecom regulator and the decision has aggravated
frictions between the men.

The network, owned by Wickremesinghe’s eldest brother, was shut after the
regulator accused its owners of defaulting on licence fees.

The network has denied the allegations, insisting it has paid its dues.

Wickremesinghe’s allies from his United National Party — which backed
Sirisena to election victory in 2015 — protested the decision in parliament.

“This is not something that we can accept. We are looking into this,” said
media minister Mangala Samaraweera, who said he was kept in the dark about
the decision.

The closure is regarded as the first act of censorship of a broadcaster by
Sirisena.

In November he blocked Sri Lankans from being able to access the London-
based Lanka E News website after it published an expose alleging graft in his
office.

Soon after being elected, Sirisena had lifted the internet censorship and
media restrictions used freely by his predecessor, strongman president
Mahinda Rajapakse.

Some 17 journalists and media employees were killed in Sri Lanka during
Rajapakse’s regime, which also blocked pro-opposition websites.

Sirisena’s commanding position has waned as ties with his erstwhile ally
have soured. The president has accused Wickremesinghe’s party of corruption,
while the UNP says Sirisena has obstructed reforms.

The gulf between the leaders has widened since their coalition was thumped
in local elections in February, and hit a new low in April when Sirisena
loyalists unsuccessfully sought to oust Wickremesinghe.

BSS/AFP/MRI/2055 hrs