Sri Lanka minister slams Facebook over ‘censorship’

Sri Lanka People’s Party presidential election candidate Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. (Reuters)
Updated 12 November 2019

Sri Lanka minister slams Facebook over ‘censorship’

COLOMBO: A senior Sri Lankan minister accused social media giant Facebook on Monday of censoring comments he made questioning the citizenship of presidential election frontrunner Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The nationality of Rajapaksa, brother of former strongman president Mahinda, is a key issue ahead of voting Saturday as Sri Lankan law prohibits
dual citizens from holding elected office.

Communications Minister Harin Fernando asked in a Facebook post on his official ministry page Sunday whether Rajapaksa should be allowed to stand, suggesting he was still a US national.

“Is Mr. Rajapaksa legally able to contest at a Presidential election in Sri Lanka?” Fernando asked in the now-deleted post.

“If elected, will he able to take oaths and discharge the duties of the office?“

Gotabhaya became a US citizen in 2003, giving up his Sri Lanka passport after migrating to Los Angeles following a 20-year military career.

BACKGROUND

Last month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said it would not censor political speech.

He returned to Colombo in 2005, when he says he reclaimed Sri Lankan citizenship and was appointed defense secretary in his brother’s administration.

Gotabhaya insists he renounced US citizenship in May this year.

Fernando said Facebook took down the post from his official ministry page on Sunday, and he repeated the allegations on Twitter while complaining he had been censored.

The same post was still visible on his private Facebook page, however, including a screenshot of what he claimed was Rajapaksa’s US passport.

“American companies shouldn’t interfere on behalf of an American contesting a SL election. I stand by my every word,”
he tweeted.

A Facebook spokesperson said they routinely took down any posts containing personal or confidential information.

“We remove this content whenever we become aware of it,” the company told AFP.

Last month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said it would not censor political speech.

“I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100 percent true,” he said.

Rajapaksa’s nationality is also the subject of a police investigation, but the next court hearing will only be held after the election.

If he wins the vote he would be immune from prosecution during his term.

Social media has been abuzz with speculation about Rajapaksa’s citizenship, while a copy of a purportedly canceled US passport shown by his lawyers has been challenged as fake.

The US embassy in Colombo has declined to comment on the issue.

Rajapaksa and current housing minister Sajith Premadasa, are the leading candidates in a field of 35 contesting Saturday’s election.


Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

Updated 13 August 2020

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

  • The new program will support local media outlets

The Facebook Journalism Project, in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), has announced that it will invest $300,000 in a program that aims to support the stabilization and recovery needs of journalists and news organizations in Lebanon affected by the Beirut explosion.

The new program called “Supporting Beirut: Response and Recovery Fund” will assist in supporting local media outlets that have suffered damage to infrastructure and resources.

ICFJ and Facebook will award $150,000 in emergency relief funds to Beirut-based news organizations and journalists directly impacted by the blast and in need of urgent financial support.

The first phase of this program will involve identifying Lebanese news organizations and journalists who require financial support. These journalists and news organizations will then be able to apply for immediate emergency relief grants. ICFJ will award grants to select Beirut-based news organizations and journalists who meet a set criteria.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lebanon and everyone affected by this immeasurable tragedy,” said Mohamed Omar, news partnerships manager, Middle East and North Africa, at Facebook. “We’ve been getting regular updates from our contacts in Beirut; the damage to the city’s infrastructure, including its many newsrooms, is enormous. In spite of these devastating circumstances, the news industry is working hard, under extraordinary conditions, to keep people informed and updated,” he said.

“We applaud their efforts and are continuously working with our partners to both understand their needs and support them the best we can,” he added.

ICFJ, a non-profit organization focused on raising the quality of journalism worldwide, will mobilize its local networks to implement a two-phase response and recovery initiative for the Beirut crisis.

Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ’s senior vice president for new initiatives, said: “People turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe. As the impact of the devastating explosion continues to unfold in Beirut, ICFJ is prepared to work with the Facebook Journalism Project to provide tailored support to Lebanese journalists and news organizations that are providing critical information to a nation in crisis.”

The Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ will offer additional, deeper support to select Beirut-based news organizations during phase two, depending on the longer-term impacts of the crisis.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would donate more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by its community as part of a Facebook fundraiser.