The Sri Lanka Chapter of The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs organised an event on 10 November 2023 at which a range of free speech issues were discussed.
The event, put together by the Round Table International Advisory Board member, Dr Dayanath Jayasuriya PC, and chaired by him, was titled ‘Free speech reform initiatives and legislative trends in the Commonwealth’. The Editor of The Round Table, Venkat Iyer, delivered a lecture in which he discussed the Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in Good Governance, including its provenance, objectives, evolution, and potential benefits (Dr Iyer was involved in the drafting of the Principles, a process which began in London in 2018). Also examined in the lecture were issues around the legal and ethical regulation of hate speech and fake news which have been the subject of much contention in many jurisdictions, including within the Commonwealth. In the discussion which followed Dr Iyer’s lecture, the audience raised many questions and challenges which governments and civil society organisations were grappling with in relation to the free speech.
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The occasion also saw the introduction, by Dr Jayasuriya, of a book entitled ‘Sri Lanka @ 75: Perils of Complacency in a Fragile Nation’ which had been published just a few days earlier (and which had originally been scheduled as a special issue of The Round Table). The book covers Sri Lanka’s development since independence from British rule in 1948 in such areas as education, health, law, constitutionalism, the economy, status of women, and religious reconciliation. Dr Jayasuriya explained the scope of the book and noted that it had the potential to offer illumination on many issues of continuing importance and concern.
Participants expressed the view that the event had provided an opportunity to examine and discuss, in a constructive manner, both historic and contemporary matters of relevance not only to Sri Lanka but to the wider world, and they hoped that more such events will be organised in the future.