Sri Lanka poll body chief withdraws TV censorship order

Sri Lanka’s Election Commission chief on Sunday backed down from plans to censor a state-owned TV station following criticism that his actions were supporting the main Opposition candidate at this month’s presidential polls.

In a surprise move, Commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya had banned any political programming on the Independent Television Network (ITN after accusing the channel of harming the campaign of frontrunner Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“After considering many representations by several parties that my order was discriminatory, I revoke the (censorship order issued on ITN,” Mr. Deshapriya said in a letter to the broadcaster. The censorship order, which had been due to come into effect midnight on Sunday, came after ITN aired a programme alleging loyalists to the previous regime thwarted a corruon probe into strongman ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s family.

Independent poll-monitoring group the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL said privately-owned TV stations were worse than ITN in violating campaign laws and in supporting one candidate over others.

“We have always maintained that it is discriminatory to target only state-run media because the bigger offenders are the private channels,” said PAFFREL chief Rohana Hettiarachchi.