Editor sacrificial goat for Tamil Nadu jokers

"Apparently even chosen editors for the two flagships of Lake House are pawns to the press tsar and commissars in the stupid power game for which the newspapers are harnessed.”

by Gamini Weerakoon

(December 14, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Some Sri Lankan editors and other varieties of journalists entertain the mistaken belief that even though anyone on two legs is fair game for them, not so themselves. Two weeks ago UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe came under attack from a fair cross-section of the media for being harshly critical of a columnist in the Daily Mirror and on the next day for coming down on the editor of the paper.

Even though it is not prudent these days in this country for politicians to be critical of the state media and the so-called 'independent media,' Wickremesinghe bashed the Daily Mirror, giving his own reasons.

We are not defending Wickremesinghe's criticisms but wish to remind one and all that politicians have the right to be critical of the media just as much the media has the right to be critical of politicians.

There is a fatuous school of thought being built up that the Sri Lankan media comprises of some sacred knights in shining armour who can do no wrong and can bash anyone freely under the banner of the 'freedom of the press' but any criticism of them amounts to sacrilege. The fact that we of The Leader give as much as we get and at times give much more, needs no illustration.

Sacking editors

In contrast to this strong bond of media brotherhood, last week we had two editors of the two leading English language newspapers sacked from their posts and sent down to some nondescript posts in the bowels of the Lake House bastion. But till the time of writing these comments we have not seen any effective, save, for some short, bland news items in the inside pages of some of the 'kept independent press' announcing their removal and an editorial comment attempting to shift the focus on Tamil Nadu politicians.

Apparently even chosen editors for the two flagships of Lake House are pawns to the press tsar and commissars in the stupid power game for which the newspapers are harnessed.

We are not blaming the press commissars for they too are pawns on the chess board and can suffer the same fate of the two editors. This is also not the first time that editors were fired without rhyme or reason since Sirima Bandaranaike took over the once mighty press bastion in the name of 'broadbasing' ownership.

The executioner who presses the button to send editors into space is the Head of State - the tsar. That is the freedom of the press that our media enjoys.

Cap and bells

What was the reason for the two editors to be fired on the same day? The Chairman of Lake House who is also the headline reader in an early morning TV show did not give reasons, officially or on his TV show.

Some journalists of the two papers had leaked out the news that the reason for sacking of the Observer editor had been the publication of the alleged comments of the Army Commander Sarath Fonseka to the effect that some 'jokers' in Tamil Nadu were demanding military operations in the Wanni be stopped.

Gen. Sarath Fonseka's shooting from the lip appears to be as effective as shooting from the hip. He shouldn't be called upon to apologise for describing jokers as jokers. Withdrawal of the alleged comments would be an affront to our armed forces. He should tell the jokers: Put on the cap if it fits you and also offer bells to hang on the cap to make it a perfect gift for the festive season

However, to go on the offensive against the Tamil Nadu jokers is to evade the issue of the shabby treatment accorded to the editor of a national newspaper. The government at times takes the position that Lake House is an independent organisation where journalists have the freedom of expression. Indeed under the law they are not bound by government regulations although the press tsars and commissars for over three decades have made independent newspapers propaganda sheets of the ruling party.

Did India protest?

A point to ponder is whether the Indian government protested against the publication of this news item about Tamil Nadu jokers in the Observer. India it is well known enjoys complete freedom of the press and journalists have the freedom to say anything about any politician, Indian or foreign, although they could be liable under the laws of libel.

If New Delhi did take the position that the Observer was under state control, Sri Lanka could have referred to many instances over the years where successive governments including this government had maintained that Lake House was not state-controlled. Even though the defence of the fig leaf of independence of the press was a trifle too thin it could have been a diplomatic defence.


Or is it that the Sri Lanka government has been reduced to the pathetic position of cringing before New Delhi and agreeing to whatever ordered by the New Delhi Brahmins? Is it that even our Army Commander should be made to eat his words?

Another aspect is: Where oh! where is the much flaunted freedom of expression of the Sri Lanka press? Recently the Editors Guild was making much song and dance about the 'progress' made on the freedom of expression. Much was made of the 10th anniversary of a 'Weligama Declaration' which apart from the exclusive cabal of editors know little about.

There is also the Code of Ethics for journalists, now a part of the law of the land. But this code is the chain which journalists have shackled themselves with. A code of ethics for journalists without a code of ethics for press commissars and barons is an open licence to hire and fire journalists as the tsar, commissars and barons want.

Private sector barons can take directorships in exclusive government boards which would be beneficial to their business interests. It's a 'you scratch my back I scratch your back' game between the tsar, commissars and barons. Editors will be sacked.
- Sri Lanka Guardian