Sri Lanka suspends five radio stations over report

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COLOMBO, Oct 26 (Reuters) Sri Lanka suspended five radio stations today, accusing them of airing a false broadcast about a Tamil Tiger rebel attack on a village in the far south.

The stations belong to ABC network and the suspension comes as the state and the rebels are locked in a propaganda war over renewed fighting in the north and east.

''The ministry had received information related to a false and irresponsible news broadcast over ABC network, as the minister responsible conducted an inquiry and recalled the licence given to the ABC network according to the recommendations made to me,'' Media Minister Anura Priyadarsana Yapa said.

''Because of this false, irresponsible news broadcast, we had to deploy police and army in that area,'' he added.

The network had aired a report saying there had been news of a suspected Tamil Tiger rebel attack on a village in the southern town of Tissamaharama.

The attack did not occur but the government said the report caused alarm in the area.

The broadcast came a week after the rebels attacked government forces and killed seven soldiers in the southern wildlife park of Yala, a popular tourist destination that is far from the northern battlegrounds.

In a separate incident, police detained a journalist from a national newspaper after a complaint from a minister that the journalist had tried to blackmail him.

Rights groups condemned both incidents.

''These acts are a serious threat to media freedom and this shows the government's attempt to silence and suppress the critical voices,'' said Sunanda Deshapriya, convener of Free Media Movement in Sri Lanka.

The government rejected the accusation.

''The action of the government is not to harass or not to be a watchdog for the media but the fact of the matter is when there is irresponsible reporting this is the procedure and the procedure has been practised. That does not mean that there is witch-hunting or the media is being harassed,'' said defence spokesman and minister Keheliya Rambukwella.

REUTERS SS RK1856

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