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Right to information bill signed by the Speaker

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya placed his signature on the much-awaited Right to Information (RTI) Bill which was unanimously approved by Parliament on June 24, Mass Media and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Gayantha Karunatilaka said today.

He told the weekly cabinet news briefing that the RTI would be made a fundamental right of the media and the people by incorporating it in the statute book.

The minister said a fully independent Media Commission will be established to ensure media freedom in Sri Lanka and as such the suppression, refusal or depriving of any official information to the media or to a citizen by any public official would be considered a violation of fundamental rights, the right of a journalist and the Right to Information Act.

"However, any one can complain to the Human Rights Commission if he or she was deprived of this right but the ‘Independent Information Commission’ will have more legal teeth to deal with those who violate the Right to Information Act," the minister said.

He said clauses to safeguard national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country have been included in the draft Bill and information pertaining to those vital areas would remain out of bounds, to the media or the people, which is an accepted norm in any country.

"With the incorporation of the Right to Information Act in the Constitution, all government circulars issued up to now restricting the dissemination of information to the media will be made ineffective," the minister said.

He said journalists would have a bigger role to play with responsibility and decorum to protect the dignity and ethics of the media while enjoying the fully fledged independence through self-regulation, self-censorship and ethical guidelines if they are to benefit fully from this exercise. (Sandun A Jayasekera)