Colombo: A private Sri Lankan television network said on Monday it had received complaints that two local pay TV operators had blocked its live telecast of an appearance by new opposition presidential candidate Mithripala Sirisena.
Sirisena resigned as health minister on Friday and said he would challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a snap election in January. Rajapaksa is seeking an unprecedented third term and remains a popular leader despite foreign criticism over his sweeping powers and human rights record.
Sirisena made his first television campaign appearance on Saturday and it was to have been carried live by the Sirasa network. But viewers complained that the telecast was blocked by two pay TV operators, a subsidiary of Dialog Axiata and Peo TV, owned by Sri Lanka Telecom in which the state has a more than 50 percent stake.
Sirasa later switched the programme to other channels in its group, but they were also blocked, viewers said. Later, Sirasa carried the programme via radio and webcast.
"Our terrestrial signal was working fine and there was absolutely no way that there was any technical error on our side," Chevan Daniel, group director at Capital Maharaja Organization Ltd, which owns Sirasa TV, told Reuters.
Dialog Axiata and Sri Lanka Telecom, the two main pay television operators in the South Asian country, blamed the blockage on unspecified technical issues.
According to the 2013 earning reports from the two companies, there were over 420,000 pay-television subscribers in Sri Lanka, whose population is 20.5 million.
Anusha Palpita, head of Sri Lanka`s state Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), said he was unaware of the problem. "I haven`t got any complaint yet. If it`s something to do with technical, we can attend to it."
Many Sri Lankans criticised the incident in social media, with some tweets complaining of censorship and accusing the president of ultimate responsibility for the blocked telecast.
Political analysts say the Rajapaksa administration has used state and private media for propaganda as many media outlets are controlled indirectly by government proxies.
The government banned news websites during the final phase of a 26-year war against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels that ended in 2009.