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Radio stations closed for misreporting

The Sri Lankan government has ordered the closure of five FM news radio stations run by a single company, ABC, for roadcasting a false report on Wednesday, reports PK Balachandran.
Hindustan Times | By PK Balachandran, Colombo
UPDATED ON OCT 26, 2007 05:39 PM IST

The Sri Lankan government has ordered the closure of five FM news radio stations run by a single company, ABC, for broadcasting a false report on Wednesday, saying that the LTTE's suicide squad had attacked a Sinhala village near Weerawila, the site for a major airport in South Sri Lanka.

The government said that the broadcast had triggered panic in the entire Tissamaharama area, which is a religious centre housing the famous Skanda or Murugan temple at Kattaragama.

The report had come within two days of the LTTE's air and ground attack on the Sri Lankan Air Force's training base at Anuradhapura in which the SLAF lost eight aircraft worth millions of dollars.

The Free Media Movement's Sunanda Deshapirya told Hindustan Times on Friday, that ABC radio's local reporter had quoted some eyewitnesses who said that they had seen some people in black uniforms who looked like the LTTE's Black Tiger suicide squad, which had attacked the Anuradhapura air base on Monday.

However, within five minutes, the ABC's stations broadcast a denial, as the original report was incorrect. But the government said that the report had already caused panic in the area.

The broadcasting licensing given to ABC was promptly cancelled, Deshapriya said. But ABC staffers said that only a closure was ordered. The radio station was trying to negotiate a settlement with the government as the fault lay with the radio station, the staffers added.

However, Deshapriya said that the government's action smacked of intolerance of media freedom and political vendetta. He said that the ABC stations were taking voice casts from the LTTE and broadcasting the latter's version of events in the war-affected Tamil areas and that the government had been against this practice.

An additional irritant was that the proprietor of the radio stations was an up and coming politician in the opposition United National Party (UNP), he pointed out.

Journo and mother held

The Sunday Leader reporter, Arthur Wamanan, was arrested in Colombo for doing a story alleging that Enterprise Development Minister Mano Wijeratne had asked one of the departments under his control to pay his wife's cell phone bill. The Minister alleged that the journalist had tried to blackmail him over the phone. The Tamil journalist's mother was also taken into custody because he had used her cell phone to speak to the Minister.

But the journalist's contention was that he had called the Minister to check on the story that the Gem Authority, which came under his jurisdiction, was asked to pay his wife's international roaming charges.

Commenting on the arrest Daily Mirror said in an editorial on Friday, that there was a suspicion that the government was "bent on silencing those making an effort to expose fraud, corruption and abuse of power."

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