The Press Commission Report (1964)- Some Extracts and a Brief Commentary
Posted on May 4th, 2014

By Senaka Weeraratna Attorney – at ” Law

  ” The Press is an instrument which is primarily meant to serve the real interests of a country. It can also be misused. If we were not satisfied that the newspapers of the Lake House and the Times groups were guilty of anti -national and anti – Buddhist conduct on a large scale, we would not have recommended a drastic change in the ownership of the newspapers belonging to these groups. From the evidence placed before us we are satisfied that the existing newspapers did not hesitate to fabricate, suppress, slant or distort news and views whenever it suited them. They have been further guilty of anti ”” national and anti – Buddhist activities, which are more serious than the earlier mentioned lapses on their part. Indeed, the most vehement critics of the present activities of the Press were the Buddhists and some of their organisations, and we are satisfied that their grievances are genuine and should be removed.

Buddhist leaders have been falsely accused of being intolerant. Their hopes and ambitions receive scant consideration, and the rightful place due to their religion has being denied to it by the newspapers. This has been deliberately done in order to help the minorities, in particular, the Christian minorities, to perpetuate the unjust privileges acquired by them during the last four centuries at the expense of the Buddhist Majority. “

Paragraph 212, Page 90 Final Report of the Press Commission (1964)

………………………………………..

The Final Report of the Press Commission (1964) is a significant historical document. It is the first Public Report that exposes among other things, the anti – national and anti -Buddhist conduct of mostly the English language newspapers of the Lake House (also known as the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd: which was then privately owned) and the Times of Ceylon Ltd. groups. This Report provides a rare insight into the conduct of the Press in Sri Lanka with a special emphasis on the factors that influence policy formulation and editorial direction of local newspapers. It also shows with reference to a series of instances of abuse of Press freedom, the manner in which a wrong impression is created in the minds of the readers on matters of national importance, through slanting, distortion arid fabrication of letters, and by various editorial stratagems.

Mr. William Gopallawa. Governor- General, appointed the Press Commission upon a recommendation of the Government of Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike, in September 1963. The Commission was required to investigate and report on a series of matters concerning the ownership, management and reform of the National Press, pursuant to the expression of grave dissatisfaction by the public, Buddhist organisations and Members of Parliament about the state and activities of the Press.

 A former Supreme Court Judge, Mr. Justice K.D. de Silva, headed the Press Commission. The other two Commissioners were

1) Mr. S. W. Walpita (lawyer), and

2) Mr. W.E. Abeyakoon (a District Judge). Mr Abeyakoon was appointed to fill the vacancy created bv the resignation of Mrs. Thejawathie Gunawardhana on November 19,1963.

The public sittings of the Commission commenced on December 5, 1963 and were continued till June 30, 1964. In all, sittings were held on 107 days. 15 Associations and 59 individuals gave evidence, while 75 Memoranda were received from the Public. The Commission terminated its public sittings on June 30, 1964. An Interim Report was released on July 28, 1964 and a Final Report on September 28, 1964.

The content of the Report is divided into five categories under the following headings:

1) Introduction

2) Conduct of the Press

3) The Role of the Press in a Developing Country

4) Press Council

5) Proposals

It is in the Section dealing with the Conduct of the Press, that much of the Report is found. This Section contains the following Sub -headings;

a) Conduct of the Press

b) The Press and the Indo – Ceylon Relations

c) The Press and National Unity

d) Anti – National activities

e) Anti – Buddhist activities

f) Cartoons

g) Partisanship

h) Tamil newspapers

i) Beauty Contests

j) Strikes

k) Trade Unions

1) Pressure from Advertisers

m) Fabrication, Distortion and Slanting of News

With a view to staying within the scope of this Seminar, this paper will focus mainly on the Sections of the Report dealing with the anti – national and anti – Buddhist activities of the Press, and recommendations made in the Report towards eliminating such conduct.

In the early 1960’s, there was a concentration of the ownership of the four principal newspaper companies in the hands of four families and a few individuals. The four principal newspaper companies were:

 1) The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

2) The Times of Ceylon Ltd.

3) The Independent Newspapers Ltd. (Dawasa Group)

4) The Virakesari Ltd.

Conduct of the Press

The Press Commission observed that the Press of this country, almost as a whole, had not conformed to the general principles of journalism followed in democratic countries. The witnesses had charged the Press with the publication of news, which was slanted, distorted or fabricated in order to serve the masters who owned these newspapers. Two additional charges were also levelled against the Press, which the Commission considered as ‘ somewhat unusual and can seldom be framed against the Press in other democratic countries. These two charges are that our newspapers have conducted themselves in a manner hostile to the interests of the country and Buddhism, the religion professed by the vast majority of the permanent population. ‘ (Press Commission Report (hereinafter cited as PCR) para 18, page 12).

It was the Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya (‘BJB’) who had vehemently brought these two charges against the Press. A large number of witnesses who followed, had endorsed the views of the BJB on these two matters. Mr. L. H. Mettananda, a former Principal of Ananda College and an educationist of great eminence, was the leader of the BJB.

The Report makes the following comments about the evidence given by the BJB:

” A vast body of evidence, both oral and documentary, was placed before us by them. That evidence proved to be of great importance and assistance to us. It is our duty to express our appreciation of that evidence and thank the BJB for the immense labour and industry involved in the presentation of that evidence. Their evidence, we feel, did also stimulate other public-spirited individuals to come forward and tender useful evidence before us. ” (PCR para 19, page 13)

Press and National Unity

The Press Commission held that the Ceylon Press was anti- national and fostered dis -unity. It observed that though the Lake House group and the Times of Ceylon group claimed to be national newspapers, in fact they were far from being that. If ‘national’ meant ‘ to be interested in national unity and national welfare ‘ the activities of these newspapers belay this. ‘ The two groups of newspapers use their English language and Sinhala language newspapers, and the Lake House group its Tamil language newspaper to preach disunity to the people and divide the nation ‘. (PCR para 38, page 21)

In similar vein in another section of the Report, the following statement is made:

”¢’ The Lake House and the Times of Ceylon are chiefly responsible for the prevailing disunity of the various racial and religious groups living in this country. Their English language newspapers are primarily accountable for this. The Editorial staffs of those

newspapers readily fall into line with the wishes of the management to fight for the preservation of the undue privileges that a certain class had obtained from foreign rulers These rulers had acted on the obnoxious principle ‘ divide et impera \ They realised the danger to their rule in the event of the various communities acting in unison to obtain the right to rule themselves. As aptly and succinctly put by the Editor of the Dinamina in his editorials of November 13, 1963 and December 10, 1963 the foreign rulers deliberately introduced seeds of dissension by granting undue privileges to the minorities. Any attempt to take away these privileges was resisted with vigour by those who enjoyed them. This resulted in hostility on the part of the minorities against the majority community. It was also a cardinal principle of these foreign rulers to disintegrate the majority into splinter groups. This too was successfully done. ( PCR para 111, pages 55 -56).

Patriotism in newspapers

” If these English language newspapers were sufficiently patriotic they could have made a very useful contribution to bringing about unity among the various communities after the country achieved its independence. They should have advised the minority groups to adapt themselves to the changing circumstances and exhorted the majority to be generous towards the former. They failed to do that. What they consistently did was to poison the minds of the minority groups and encourage them to fight to retain the unjust privileges they had received during the era of foreign domination. ” (PCR para 112, page 56)

 ” The journalists manning the Sinhala language newspapers knew fully well that this policy was wrong and unpatriotic but they themselves were compelled to follow, though unwittingly, the same policy due to pressure exerted on them by the management” (PCR para 113, page 56)

Relative influence of the Newspapers

The Report states that most of the politically and economically influential people in this country rely primarily on English language newspapers, and only seldom read what appear in the Sinhala language newspapers. (PCR para 45, page 25)

Communalism in the Press

On the issue of communalism in the Press, the Report quotes Dr. K.N. Jayatillake, Professor of Philosophy, University of Ceylon, as follows:

” With regard to the English reading public, the impression has been created that the communal and religious minorities must get together and oppose the Sinhalese Buddhist majority if they are to get any rights at all. The point of view is put forward that the Sinhalese Buddhist majority is intolerant and is trying to deprive the minorities of their rights. As a matter of fact it is not so.'” (PCR para 46, pages 25 -26)

 Conduct of the Tamil Press

In respect to the conduct of the Tamil Press i.e. the Virakesari, the Report quotes V.A. Kandiah and G. Kumaralingam, members of the Ceylon Journalists Association and sub -editors of the ‘ Tholaly ‘ as saying ‘ It is carrying on a continuous communal propaganda in issue after ‘issue. Virakesari is owned and run by Indian nationals, and as such their purpose is to spread the idea of Indian domination of this country and condition the people ‘ Referring to the ‘ Thinakaran ‘ of the Lake House group and the Virakesari, Mr. Kumaralingam was quoted as saying ‘ Briefly these papers are infecting the Tamil population with communalism, thus disrupting the unity of the Sinhalese and Tamil people. These papers should be properly controlled to enable us to play up national unity.’ (PRC para 47, page 26)

Spreading of false communal propaganda

The Report specifically refers to the ‘ Ceylon Daily Mirror ‘, ‘ Ceylon Observer ‘ and the Times of Ceylon ‘ as newspapers largely responsible for spreading the communal propaganda line that the minorities in this country were denied their due rights, and that they were treated as second class citizens. These newspapers promoted the view that the position of the minority groups was analogous to that which existed in South Africa Angola and Rhodesia, where the indigenous black Africans were subject to blatant racial discrimination. The Press Commission observes in relation to this media campaign of disinformation that’ there is no English language newspaper published here which points out the falsity of this mischievous propaganda. Added to this, there is a vicious whispering campaign carried on, at a personal level, in England and the USA against the Sinhala people.’ (PRC para 48, page 26)

Sir Nicholas Attygalle, the Vice – Chancellor of the University of Ceylon in his evidence said that he had come across mischievous propaganda against the Sinhalese on his visits to England and USA, and he believed that the source of this false news was our own leading newspapers. (PRC para 49, page 27)

The Press Commission observes that ‘ As a result of this campaign one naturally finds a hostile (foreign) press against this country, and an atmosphere of prejudice is created thereby against Ceylon. Indeed, it is unfortunate that there is no organisation available at the moment to present an accurate and impartial picture of what is actually happening here.”  (PRC para 49, page 27).

Anti – national Activities

Though the local newspapers had been consistently engaged in grandiloquent talk of the freedom of the press, and of their vigilance in protecting the human rights of the citizen the Press Commission Report observes that this vigilance was not sufficiently maintained to prevent an attempt to bring down the Government by force in the early part of 1962.

The Report states that certain witnesses had alleged that the Times of Ceylon was aware that a coup detat was going to be attempted in the early part of 1962. While conceding that there was not sufficient evidence to accept that view with certainty, the Report points out that the editorial comments of the Times of Ceylon during the two months preceding January 27, 1962, were calculated to generate confusion in the minds of its readers and provoke hostility against the lawfully constituted Government. The Report adds that the role the Times of Ceylon adopted ‘ was not however to warn the Government and the people, but on the other hand to prepare the people psychologically to accept the new Government when established. ‘ (PRC para 51, page 27)

Ven Narada’s warning of Catholic Action

Ven. Narada Thera in an open letter to the Prime Minister in March 1957, had pointed out with almost prophetic vision, the dangerous trends appearing in the Armed Services due to the constitution of their personnel. The Venerable monk had said that if prompt action was not taken to remedy the problem, a situation similar to the one that arose in South Vietnam was likely to arise here. He had drawn the attention of the Prime Minister to the disproportionate low number of Buddhist staff officers in the Armed Services. Roman Catholics and other non- Buddhists were holding most of the key positions in the Armed Services.

Though copies of this letter had been submitted to the Ceylon Daily News, Ceylon Observer, Times of Ceylon, Dinamina and Lankadipa, none of these newspapers had published this letter. Only the Journal ‘ Buddhist Opinion ‘ had published the letter in its March 1957 issue.

The Press Commission Report has published extracts of this letter, which points out to the aims of a World – wide Catholic Movement called ‘ Catholic Action ‘. Ven. Narada says:

 ” Vietnam is a country with a predominantly Buddhist ( 90 % ) population. It is now under a Catholic dictatorship. The dictatorship was established through the aid of the World – wide Catholic movement called CATHOLIC ACTION. The movement was initiated by the Pope in 1923. Its purpose is to utilise the services of lay Catholics for increasing the power of the Pope and the Church. The Modus Operandi of this movement is to infiltrate into key positions in the Aimed Services, the Police and the Public Services, and the organs that mould public opinion such as the Radio and the Press. Through the Press and the Radio arid other modes of propaganda, they create confusion, cause tension and bring about a state of social unrest. Thereafter they always wait for the opportune moment to capture power and control the Department. It was through infiltration into commanding positions in the Armed Services, the Police and the Public Services and by obtaining the control of the Press and the Radio and by obtaining foreign aid during a period of unrest that Catholic Action succeeded in obtaining supreme power in Vietnam.”

  The Monk adds:

In this Memorandum I wish to point out that a similar process of infiltration has been going on in this country (Ceylon) since independence was granted. The extent of the infiltration shows the danger with which we are faced. As a Bhikkhu I know what would happen to the Sangha if Catholics gain control of the State “

Catholic Action controls the English language newspapers

Ven. Narada Thera further says:

It is well known that Catholic Action controls the English newspapers. The two Managing Directors of the Times Group of newspapers are ardent Catholics. The Editorial Staff of their English newspapers are almost entirely Catholic. You will be most surprised to know the number of Christians and Catholics on the Editorial Staff of the ‘ Daily News ‘ and the ‘ Observer ‘.

 ” As I mentioned earlier Catholic Action is always bent on creating social unrest and this they do through the newspapers by distorting facts and presenting news in a particular manner. The Catholic Church with Press support has opposed almost every national and progressive movement in this country. They were opposed to Free Education; to the use of Sinhalese as the Official Language; the teaching of Buddhism to Buddhist children in State Schools; and the use of National dress and Prohibition. “

The Press Commission Report states that ” the events of January 1962 when Ceylon almost miraculously escaped from the brink of disaster, justified the fears of the Venerable ( Narada ) Thera. ” (PRC para 54 pages 29 -30).

 Anti ”” Buddhist Activities

The Press Commission Report devotes around 24 pages to the examination of the evidence on the anti – Buddhist activities of the mainstream newspapers of the country. This is the topic that has been allocated the largest space in the Report. The Report cites several examples to illustrate the anti- Buddhist policy and conduct of mainly the English language newspapers. A couple of these examples are listed below;

Buddha Jayanti celebrations

1) The 2500th Buddha Jayanti was an event of great importance to Buddhists both here and abroad. Hon. Dudley Senanayake, the then Prime Minister suggested that the Government should take part in the celebrations connected with this great day. The Roman Catholic Church did not welcome this approach. It feared that this event would turn out to be a rallying point for the Buddhists in the resurgence of their religion. When a Cabinet sub ~ committee was formed to report on the form of assistance that the Government should give for the Buddha Jayanti celebrations. The Catholic Messenger of

July 3, 1954 objected to this step on the ground that the Government should not assume religious obligations on behalf of a particular denomination. (PCR para 84, page 42)

The Lake House authorities supported that point of view. Whereas the Dudley Senanayake Government was of the opinion that the Government should organise the Buddha Jayanti celebrations, the Kotelawala Government which succeeded it took a different view i.e. that an unofficial Buddhist Council should be established to organise the celebrations. The Lake House welcomed the decision of the Kotelawala Government. In an Editorial of the ‘ Daily News ‘ of September 18, 1954 under the caption ‘ Buddha Jayanti the newspaper said, inter alia, that:

” The Government’s decision that it should not organise celebrations for the Buddha Jayanti itself but that an unofficial Buddhist Council should be set up for this purpose, is to be welcomed.”

The rationale for this view in the Daily News, was that

” This decision is in keeping with the principle that the State belongs to all communities and that it should not give preferential treatment to any one religion as against another.”

The Press Commission saw extraneous factors forcing the Editor of the Daily News to adopt that line. The Report observes as follows;

” It is idle to deny that Buddhism has a very special place in this country. That being so, how is it that the leading organ of the Lake House and, in fact, of the entire country decide to object to the Government organising the celebrations of this unique event. The Lake House was founded by a Buddhist with his own capital. The founder is now dead. The person who now guides the destinies of this institution belongs to a different faith, and the editorial boards of its newspapers are also manned by non – Buddhists. It is that fact, in our opinion, which prompted the Editor of the Daily News to adopt the attitude he did in the editorial in question ” ( PCR para 86, pages 42 – 43)

Distortion of news concerning the persecution of Buddhists in South Vietnam

On May 8, 1963, the Wesak Day, the South Vietnamese Police and Army fired at a procession of Buddhists in the Town of Hue, resulting in the death of eight persons.

The Daily News completely blacked out the news relating to this shooting of the Buddhists. The first information on this incident was published in the Daily News on May 17, 1963 via a letter from one J.F. Samaranayake, an unofficial representative of the South Vietnamese Government That letter tried to put the blame on the Communists rather on the minority Catholic Government of Ngo Dinh Diem.

 Several letters responding to this letter of J.F. Samaranayake were not published in the Daily News. Only upon a personal appeal to the Chairman of the Board of Directors, were a few letters published. In the course of his letters Samaranayake contended that South Vietnam was not a Buddhist country; that the Buddhist population did not even amount to 25 % and that Roman Catholicism was one of the national religions of that country. These letters were given great prominence and space in the Daily News though much of the content was factually untrue. (PCR para 91, pages 45 – 46)

 The manipulation of Statistics on Crime to proclaim to the world that the predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka is a highly criminal country.

 On umpteen occasions there have been editorials in the Lake House newspapers pointing out to the intolerance arid criminal tendencies of Buddhists The Ceylon Observer in its Editorial of May 11, 1963 (Wesak Day) under the caption ‘ Tolerance is all ‘ stated inter alia ‘ On Poya Days voices rise in unison to repeat with dogged persistence the precepts of the Buddha. But the hands that come together in silent worship are on the morrow raised to kill one’s neighbour ‘.

 The Editorial of the ‘ Daily Mirror ‘ of June 25, 1964 while dealing with crime statistics appearing in the report of the IGP referred to the island as ‘ the land of the Buddha ‘

After rejecting the often-repeated assertion by leading newspapers that the rate of crime among Buddhists is higher than that among people of other religious denominations, the Press Commission stated as follows:

“We are of the view that our English language newspapers supported by Roman Catholic priests, deliberately try to proclaim to the world that Ceylon is a highly criminal country. This is a very dangerous attitude to adopt. It is not only anti – Buddhist but also anti – national because it presents an unfavourable and untrue picture of Ceylon to foreigners.” (PCR para 94, page 48)

In another section, the Report observes that:

” The editorials of the kind under reference are a part of the campaign of misrepresentation and vilification carried on by the Lake House arid Times Ltd; directed against the peace – loving Buddhists. These newspapers day in and day out harp on the intolerance of the Buddhists. ” (PCR para 97, page 49)

The Evidence of Ven. Amunugama Sri Vipassi ( Mahanayaka of the Malwatte Chapter)

In the course of his evidence, Ven. Sri Vipassi stated as follows:

” The newspapers always publish news items of an insulting nature regarding Buddhist activities and Buddhist places of worship. Even if a disturbance takes place close to a Temple, it is given publicity as something, which has a connection with the Temple or its dayakayas. The newspapers never publish news relating to incidents of a very serious nature which occur near Churches or in connection with them. ” (PCR para 117, page 57)

Publication of World Buddhist News

The ‘ Yomiuri Shimbun ‘ the largest and the most powerful newspaper in Japan has a total circulation of over 5 million. Out of its 16 pages, 3 pages are exclusively devoted daily to the publication of World Buddhist News. The Press Commission Report adds that ” according to the evidence placed before them it is very difficult to obtain coverage in our newspapers for important Buddhist functions and events. ” ( PCR para 213 page 91).

 Dr. K.N. Jayatilleke in his evidence said that foreign news which was of real interest to the Buddhists was never given the publicity it deserved.  He recalled one incident where on proceeding to Lake House to hand over an article, he had been shown some Reuter’s news telegrams. He had then noticed a large number of items of news of interest to Buddhists but that these were never published. He said that the explanation may lie in the fact that the Editor who was not a Buddhist, was not interested in publishing something which would have been of interest to the majority of the people of this country. (PCR para 159, page 71)

Pressure from Advertisers

Most newspapers depend entirely on advertisement revenue for their profits. Advertisement revenue is their life-blood No newspaper can be successful without the advertiser. Sometimes these advertisers try to influence the Press in matters that do not directly concern them. In one instance Sir Chittampalam Gardiner made a threat to withdraw his advertisements from the Ceylon Observer unless its Editor Mr. Tarzie Vittachi agreed to publish a letter from a Catholic priest. (PCR para 183, page 78)

Lack of impartiality and fairness

D. B. Dhanapala, a leading Journalist and Editor of the Dawasa, in an article published in the ‘ Ceylon Today ‘ November 1961, said:

 ;‘ There is no other country in the whole of the East, perhaps, where the Press as a whole has acted with such utter contempt for objectivity, impartiality and fairness as in Ceylon in recent years often going so far as the very invention of bogus news ” (PCR para 198, (page 84)

Missionary Educational Background of local Journalists

The lack of sensitivity of Journalists attached mainly to English language newspapers, to the traditional culture, national history. Buddhism and ways of living of the Sinhalese people was described by the Press Commission in the following terms:

‘ In Ceylon many of the Journalists, especially of the English language Press, have other shortcomings. Most of them have been educated in Roman Catholic missionary schools;

some are seminarists, having completed that education in Europe. They not only do most

of the writing in the English Press but lay down policy for the Sinhala and Tamil papers as well. Missionary education was an imperialist device meant to condition the recipient to accept the Graeco – Roman – Christian tradition which goes as European and Western civilisation, as something superior. The European missionary, in following his mission, had perforce to look down upon and decry Eastern civilisation. His system of education fully ensured that. The missionary educated journalists took for their standards those of the West. That our only international news, photographs, and feature articles come through the Reuter’s London sieve, is of immense help to him. They are accepted without question. An article in the Time Magazine or Osservatore Romano is good copy and gives him the line on any controversial international event. Any news from other sources is brushed aside as so much propaganda. ” (PCR para 200, page 85)

 ” It is not surprising, therefore, that he has tended to look at the East, though he continues to live there, and Afro- Asian nationalism, with a jaundiced eye. Foreign Western Embassies have no need to correct or explain away any unfavourable news. It is done for them with so much expertness and sympathy and understanding by our missionary trained journalists. Other Embassies on the contrary have a job of it, producing and distributing news-letters. Embassy hand – outs and bulletins. The overwhelming complaints against the Press cannot be explained away by pointing the finger only at the Press Baron. The journalists themselves must take some share of the blame.” (PCR para 201, page 85)

Role of the Press in a developing country

” The Press of an under – developed country should be a transformed and re-invigorated Press. We, as a nation, suffer from an economic backwardness inherited from our colonial past. The Press of a developing country must have close links with the wishes, and aspirations of the people. It has to mould public opinion, voice the grievances of the people and take a keen interest in national reconstruction. The problems that an under -developed country are confronted with, must be reflected in the Press with sympathy and understanding. ” (PCR para 204, page 86)

Some Recommendations

The Press Commission called for far – reaching changes in the structure and organisation of the Press and a re-educating of those that serve in it.

The Commission said that the entire Press must conform to a code of ethics, which is not repugnant to the principles of democracy ” Such a code should be compiled with the assistance of persons who are interested in Journalism and who have experience in the newspaper business. A newspaper should in the first instance be patriotic, just as every loyal citizen is expected to be ” (PCR para 25, page 15)

 Code of Ethics for Journalists

The Press Commission recommended the following Code of Ethics for Journalists based on the suggestion of the Press Association;

1) Patriotism

2) Responsibility

3) Truth and Accuracy

4) Independence

5) Objectivity

6) Fairplay, and

7) Decency

Press Council

In recommending a statutory Press Council, the Press Commissioners made the following observation in the Report:

 ” We are satisfied that the existing Press as a whole has been instrumental in denying and suppressing the rights of the Buddhists and we are of the opinion that this should not be allowed to continue. This is one of the main reasons for our recommending that the present concentration of ownership of the newspaper business should be broken up and that adequate machinery should be set up to prevent the repetition of the existing state of things. In order to make the newspapers realise that they should not hereafter, inter alia, ignore the just rights of the various religious and cultural groups inhabiting this country we thought that the establishment of a statutory Press Council beyond the reach of political and other pressures was a paramount necessity. ” (PCR para 214, page 91)

Press Tribunal

The Press Commission recommended that the Press Council be empowered to inquire into complaints of defamatory news reports and publications and to take steps to have the offenders dealt with by the proposed Press Tribunal. Further the jurisdiction to try offenders under Chapter XIX of the Penal Code should be vested exclusively with the Press Tribunal, where the offence is alleged to have been committed by publication in a newspaper, weekly or periodical.

There was no need for the sanction of the Attorney – General as all matters would have been initially investigated by the Press Council. However the Press Tribunal must be empowered to award compensation and to punish an offender in a single proceeding. The proceeding in the Press Tribunal should not be a bar to an action for damages in the regular Courts (PCR para 251, page 106).

Conclusion

The Press Commission Report provides a sense of ‘ deja vu ‘ to those who have lived long enough to witness a brief period of Buddhist renaissance nearly half a century ago, and are now seeing the state of play in the Mass Media in this opening decade of the 21st Century. To the others, particularly those born in the post-1956 period and who are nevertheless concerned about the accuracy and adequacy of the coverage given to Buddhism and the Buddhist viewpoint in the newspapers, the Report provides much food for thought.

 The Report could not be implemented as the Government that appointed the Press Commission was shortly after the release of the Report defeated at the General Elections held in 1965. The scope of the investigation and its findings, nevertheless stand out as a unique undertaking in the history of this country, aimed at rectifying serious problems in the ownership, management and editorial direction of leading newspaper groups.

 It is hoped that the publicity generated by the re-focusing of attention on this Press Commission Report would revive public interest in its investigations and findings, and in turn lead to a long overdue media reform in Sri Lanka.

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