By Walter Jayawardhana reporting from Colombo

Free media advocates in Colombo complained that the selection of an unprecedented number of individuals engaged in the news industry both in the electronic and print media in Sri Lanka as UNF electoral organizers sadly demonstrated UNF Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s notorious attempts to plant his henchmen in the media to control it.

Under well known restrictions in the newspaper by pro-Ranil Wickremesinghe factions the Island newspaper published a list of young media personalities who used their news jobs as spring boards to jump into the political arena under the guidance of Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose father once successfully used the Lake House group of newspapers to break a left leaning government.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has described himself as a failed journalist, during his tenure as the Prime Minister , through coercion of party affiliations, personal relations of blood relatives, the strong arm tactics of a media police called Prime Ministers Media Unit who sometimes operated in a Gestapo style, and planting party men who were called callous youth in the media especially in the privately owned television channels stopped all public discussions on the controversial ceasefire agreement between him and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The opposition’s only alternative was to use street demonstrations, sometimes disrupted by the water jets of the police, to oppose it. The Wijeya Newspaper Group, the Upali Newspapers, the TNL television channel are owned by his relatives while Swarnavahini TV channel and Sirasa TV channel are owned by his party affiliates. The party organizers selected are mostly from the privately owned television channels. The number of media men selected as electoral organizers and put forward first to organize the forthcoming Presidential elections

and thereafter to contest the future parliamentary elections are unprecedented, media watchers said.

Kinihira and Deshapalana Sathiya, were two current affairs political programs broadcast by the obviously partial ‘Swarnavahini’ television channel. The producer of the programs, the young and energetic Didula Bogahakumbura, was appointed the Badulla District organizer to lead Ranil Wickremesinghe campaign. Didula Bogahakumbura told the media that one could never find an impartial journalist. Objectivity was no matter of concern to this Ranil Wickremesinghe fan and journalist. He said he would contest the coming parliamentary elections.

TNL Television channel is owned by Ranil’s brother. A paramount policy of the channel is not to publish anything that would damage Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political career. A producer and commentator of TNL’s Jana Handa , Swarnavahini’s Rathu Ira and Kinihira current political programs of the two channels , Chandana Sooriyabandara has been appointed as Ranil Wickremesinghe’s party organizer of the Kandyan electorate of Senkadagala. In addition to the above channel he had also worked for Sirasa, owned by the Maharaja organization believed to be spending millions for the election of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sooriyabandara also would contest the next parliamentary elections on the UNF ticket.

Buddhika Pathirana, who changed his media jobs from TNL channel to Sirasa channel, has already become a member of the Provincial Council of the Southern Province. He would contest the next parliamentary elections at Akuressa.

Manusha Nanayakkara had served the state owned Rupavahini channel and the Swarnavahini channel before he became Ranil Wickremesinghe’s electoral organizer for the Galle District.

Erwin Weerakkody , presently owner of the Phoenix Advertising Agency came to political prominence after he produced a false election poster that printed a so called quotation of former Presidential candidate which said “I have no prince to crown” This was an attack on the mother son political alliance of former Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike and son Anura. The very words were not uttered by the Presidential candidate but allegedly composed based on an idea that he had no family to put into political power. But immediately after the election victory the winning candidate, J. R. Jayewardene “crowned his prince”, his nephew, Ranil Wickremesinghe contrary to his promise. Weerakkody is also a former newspaper reporter of the now defunct Davasa and Eththa.

Ranil, following his family tradition, also has not forgotten his family. He has appointed Ruwan Wijeyawardene , the son of the owner of the Wijeya Newspapers, Ranjith Wijeyawardene, and his cousin as the organizer of the Biyagama electorate . Ranjith’s newspaper group, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Times and the Lankadeepa are notorious for publishing distorted political news in support of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Thilanga Sumathipala, owner of former illegal bookies in the country is a owner of the Lakbima newspaper too. He was recently appointed as Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Anuradhapura organizer. His first act was to order the newspaper’s political cartoonist not to draw any cartoon portraying Ranil Wickremesinghe. The extremely pro-UNP Leader newspaper’s until then was carrying on a vigorous campaign to arrest Thilanga Sumathipala, President of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board for forging a passport and sending a criminal abroad to enjoy a World Cricket event as a favour. Sumathipala was allegedly having underworld connections

Thilanga was in the remand jail and was out recently on bail. But the editor of the Sunday leader did not utter a word of protest when he was appointed Ranil’s Anuradhapura organizer.



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