Asia - Pacific
Sri Lanka
Index 2024
150/ 180
Score : 35.21
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
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Index 2023
135/ 180
Score : 45.85
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
Social indicator
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Press freedom issues are closely tied to the civil war that ravaged the island until 2009, and to the still unpunished crimes of violence against many journalists when the Tamil rebellion was being crushed. With a media sector lacking diversity and highly dependent on major political clans, journalism is still in danger in this country of 22 million inhabitants. 

Media landscape

State-owned media dominate the sector. The Ministry of Mass Media manages, among other outlets, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC)the Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC)the Independent Television Network (ITN) and the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL)whose editorial staff – be they print, radio, TV and internet – lack almost all independence. Journalists in the private sector are in essentially the same situation, as most owners of the major media outlets have clear political affiliations. In the print media, the four largest newspaper owners share three-quarters of the country’s readership. The main press group, Lake House, which is owned by the Wijewardene family, alone owns more than half of the country’s publications. An RSF study concluded that fewer than one in five Sri Lankan citizens have access to politically independent media.

Political context

The political situation has been extremely volatile since 2022, when Sri Lanka was rocked by a political crisis known as the “Aragalaya” (or “struggle”). This huge wave of protests led to the fall of the Rajapaksa family, headed by then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country in July 2022. Between 2005 and 2015, he emerged as the leader of the “white van squad”, in reference to the vehicles in which at least 14 journalists were kidnapped to be executed. While his departure marked the end of his relentless crackdown on press freedom, the media landscape is still extremely polarised and subject to political vagaries. 

Legal framework

Sri Lankan law does not restrict freedom of expression, but nothing guarantees the protection of journalists. The 1973 law creating a Press Council to “regulate” the media poses a major problem because the president names most of its members. The authorities often use the prevention of terrorism law to silence journalists, especially those who try to investigate the living conditions of the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island. Parliament passed an internet regulation law in January 2024 creating the Online Safety Commission, whose members are appointed by the president. Under the guise of defending “national security”, it can censor the content and accounts of dissident voices on social media, and suspend the confidentiality of their sources. 

Economic context

The mainstream media market is highly concentrated. The four leading broadcast media companies share approximately 80% of the total audience. The authorities exert a great deal of influence over the appointments and dismissals of their managers and editors, whether through political friendships, blackmail for grants and advertisement or, simply, corruption. As a result, it is now on the internet that the most independent news reporting can be found, such as on web TV channels. The journalists who run them are not, however, exempt from pressure and intimidation. 

Sociocultural context

The Sri Lankan media mainly addresses the Sinhalese and Buddhist majority, who make up three-quarters of the population. In this context, open criticism of the Buddhist religion or its clergy is very dangerous, prosecutors having, in the past, used the penal code to imprison journalists on suspicion of religious hatred. Generally, covering issues involving the Tamil or Muslim minorities is extremely sensitive. Journalists and media outlets who have risked doing so in recent years have been subjected to arrests, death threats and coordinated cyber-attacks. 


Many media professionals were killed or disappeared during the past two decades, marked by the crushing of the separatist Tamil Tiger rebellion. No journalist has been killed since 2015, but the previous killings have gone completely unpunished. The tenth anniversary of the end of the civil war in 2019, was marked by a troubling increase in attacks on reporters based in the north and on the east coast, the traditional Tamil homeland. Journalists there are subjected to systematic surveillance and harassment by the police and army, and independent media are excluded from these areas.