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 trade union.

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 government.
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 censorship.

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.


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