SINHALA NEWSPAPERS LANKADEEPA, DIVAINA, LAKBIMA,
RAAVAYA CENSORED ADVERTISEMENT AGAINST GOVERNMENT'S PRIVATIZATION
By Walter Jayawardhana
reporting from Los Angeles
A trade union charged that all leading Sinhalese language newspapers
were involved in censoring an advertisement sent for publication against
the Ranil Wickremesinghe government's privatization policy of profit
earning state institutions.
Insurance Employees Union leader R. S. Nanda Lal criticized the daily
newspapers, The Lankadeepa, The Divaina, The Lakbima, and The Raavaya
for refusing to publish a paid advertisement after many of them were
contemplating on it for about a week.
The trade union said since the state and privately owned media were
full of praises for the government policy of privatization of state
institutions and publishing only pro-government views the trade union
wanted to publish facts against the propagated ideas of the government.
Though this is not the first time strong measures by the government
had been used to censor anti-government information through unofficial
methods this was the first time such methods had been used against a
Critics expressed surprise, that Victor Ivan, editor and owner of the
Raavaya , who was once considered a champion against censorship and
a vociferous leader of a movement called "Free media Movement "
was alleged to be involved in the censoring.
R.S. Nanda Lal of the Insurance Employees Union said the advertisement
was a reply to widely distributed government propaganda justifying the
privatization of state institutions earning profits.
The Lankadeepa , published by the Times of Ceylon whose major share
holder and chairman is Ranjith Wijeyawardene, is the maternal uncle
of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe .
The Divaina , published by the Island group of newspapers is also owned
by relatives of the Prime Minister. Lakbima, owned by a family who owned
illegally run bookies formerly are closely connected with the ruling
United National Party. Raavaya has become a pro-UNP supporter of the
R.S. Nanda Lal said the Lankadeepa newspaper said they were ready to
publish the advertisement without the statistics. Since the statistics
reproduced in the proposed advertisement carried the weight of the arguments
they did not agree to the advertisement being published without those
numbers. The trade union said they were prepared to give an affidavit
to the newspaper assuring the accuracy of the statistics. But the newspaper
was determined not to publish it.
The Divaina and the Lakbima also refused to publish it.
After the refusal the advertisement was sent to the champion of free
media, Mr. Victor Ivan through Godphrey and Hemachandra Fonseka, personal
friends of Ivan the trade union said . Ivan reportedly told the two
Fonsekas that the insurance Corporation was a huge tree with a hollow
center. He advised them to give up the advertisement.
Speaking to the BBC's Sandeshaya , Gnanasiri Kottugoda , the editor
of the leftist tabloid Haraya said though it was claimed that there
was freedom of the press in Sri lanka that freedom was available only
for the venture capitalists. This incident showed that there was no
freedom for ideas and free discussion of issues in Sri Lanka any longer
despite the Free media movement.
While there was no officially imposed censor laws in Sri Lanka, issues
pertaining to privatization matters and the government's peace process
are heavily censored through unofficial methods.
A unit , known as the Prime Ministers media unit , operating from the
Prime Minister's office and manned by newspaper writers involved in
pro-UNP propaganda work in the past has been overseeing the unofficial
The trade union said they finally printed thousands of copies of the
censored advertisement and found a method of putting those leaflets
inside the same newspapers who refused to publish them and distribute
them all over the island.