Media Freedom under UNP
Posted on December 6th, 2017

Shenali D Waduge

The Prime Minister loves to take pot shots at opponent’s every time he lands himself in a quandary. It is his tactic to divert attention from his misdemeanors. The Bond Scam being a prime example has seriously damaged his clean record that has been his saving grace among UNP voters to argue in favor of his leadership. Now UNP support base finds themselves in a soup given that the vision has delivered nothing but a sell-out of or privatization of national assets to foreign countries & foreign firms with nothing delivered to the general masses. A favored subject of the UNP election campaigns has been to claim itself the beacon of media freedom & democracy. Actions speak volumes and to highlight and leave it for readers to judge, the speech made by Information & Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera made on the adjournment Debate on the demise of late journalist Sivaram Dharmaratnam (Taraki) on 6 May 2005 is extensively quoted.

No Government brought pressure to bear upon the media in this country prior to 1977, as a matter of principle. The UNP regimes since coming in to power in 1977 considered influencing the media as a matter of state policy.”

As soon as the UNP gained power in 1977, state owned media institutions, Lake House and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation were brought under the control of the Sirikotha”

The staunch UNP member Ranapala Bodhinagoda was appointed as the Chairman of the Lake House. Ranjan Wijeratne, who subsequently became a strong Minister was appointed as a Working Director.”

They started their control over the Lake House by harassing the SLFP and other leftist employees in various ways. Senior journalists such as Silumina Chief Editor Wimalasiri Perera, Dinamina Chief Editor Peramunethileka, Daily News Chief Editor S. Pathiravithana, Silumina Deputy Editor Nimal Horana, Dinamina Deputy Editor Poojitha Wijetunga, Dinamina News Editor Dayananda Kumaradasa, Dinamina Sub-editor Wimalaweera Perera, Daily News News Editor Nihal Ratnayaka and Dinamina Staff Reporters Upali Rupasinghe, Yapa Karunaratne and Kulatunga Somaratne were dismissed by way of political victimization.”

SLBC leading media person, Sinhala services Director H. M. Gunasekera, Amarabandu Rupasinghe, Premakeerthi de Alwis, and Newton Gunaratne were interdicted.”

The “Times” Company which published the leading newspaper “Lankadeepa” continuously over decades was taken over by the Government and was closed down.”

When Lankadeepa reappeared in circulation under the Vijaya newspaper group, President Premadasa pressurised it at length and at a certain stage, being annoyed by a news item appeared in the Lankadeepa, went to the extent of threatening its owner Ranjith Wijewardena in public saying “Ranjith, be aware of what is going to happen to you”.”

He (Premadasa) held out threats of murder in Parliament against Upali Group newspaper owner Upali Wijayawardena who defied UNP commands.”

By and large the private media were totally denied the media right of criticising the Government.” (UNDER UNP)

The newspapers “Attha”, “Janadina”, and “Sirilaka” were sealed over and over again.”

They were subjected to many harassments and the transport of their newspapers by bus was prohibited. Government advertisements were denied to them.”

Private institutions which gave advertisements to these papers were influenced. Such influence was exerted not only to political papers but also to independent newspapers.”

The raid of “Attha” press and taking its editor to the 4th floor became a daily routine.”

As far as the Lake House papers were concerned, not only the lead news, but also the headlines, pictures, captions and even page settings were the decisions taken by the Presidential Secretariat.”

Taking the pages of the Lake House papers to the President or their approval by the Information Officer was the general order of the day during that period.”

There was a habit of the President’s Information Officer visiting the News Unit of the SLBC at 3.30 a.m. everyday during that time. Ignoring all other important information, the News Broadcast had to begin with some news to bolster the President’s image. Each media institution had a Special Presidential Unit.”

The UNP, soon after coming into power in 1977 completely prohibited publication of Cabinet secrets in violation of the people’s right to be aware of information.”

The first action was filed in court under the State Secrets Act by former Minister Ronie de Mel against journalist Prasad Gunawardena of the “Island” newspaper.”

For the first time in history, newspaper editors were summoned to Parliament and tried under Parliamentary Privileges Act and were punished.”

On one occasion the “Observer” editor was summoned to Parliament for inadvertently inter-changing captions of two pictures.”

The Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act was passed in Parliament within three days on January 30, 1978 as an act of urgent national importance.”

On February 02 (1978), the two media men Philip Cooray and Herald Peiris were summoned to Parliament functioning as a Court of Law and they were punished.”

On that occasion Prime Minister J. R. Jayewardene in his address threatened that “In future offenders will not escape this place with a punishment of this leniency”.”

Journalistic activities of veteran journalist Dayasena Gunasinghe were subjected to injunctions for the sin of writing an editorial in the “Divaina” criticising President J. R. Jayawardene’s public announcement that “each person must look after his own security”.”

The then Justice Minister Nissanka Wijeratne misused the law in an attempt to control the media. An attempt was made in 1984 to amend the Press Council Act to prohibit writing articles in newspapers under pseudonyms.”

The UNP influenced not only the media institutions. They harassed media men endlessly.”

Richard de Soyza, the mediaman of international repute was abducted in the night of February 18, 1990, and was brutally killed and his body was thrown into the sea.”

All media personalities and civil organizations clamoured in chorus demanding a fair inquiry into this murder. UNP regime only lingered on a mild form of investigation while ignoring our cry as the Opposition in Parliament for a parliamentary debate on this murder.”

Following Richard de Soyza’s assassination, his contemporary colleagues Amal Jayasinghe, Arjuna Ranawana, Varuna Karunatilleke and Aruna Kulatunga fled away from the country to save their lives.”

The “Divaina” newspaper photographer Wimal S. Surendra who took a photograph of a powerful UNP female activist in 1983 was mysteriously murdered on the road right opposite the house of former Minister John Amaratunga.”

That was a death that remains a mystery to date.

H. E. Dayananda who serialized “Wame Kathawa” in the Wednesday supplement of “Divaina” newspaper was murdered.”

The script writer of “Kavuda Me, Monawada Karanne” drama, Dehiwala MMC of the UNP itself disappeared mysteriously.”

Kithsiri Samaranayaka, the Lankadeepa journalist who at times criticised the Government severely, was stabbed to death at the bus halt opposite the mosque of eye hospital junction.”

The Dickwella area correspondent Gunasena Kasturiarachchi was murdered mysteriously.

Apart from this, the Government never bothered to hold a formal inquiry in respect of the murders of veteran journalists of high esteem like Premakeerthi de Alwis, Thevis Guruge and Kulasiri Amaratunga.”

The Bomiriya residence of the “Divaina” newspaper was attacked with bombs.”

“Attha” cartoonist Yoonus’ mouth was cut by employing thugs.”

The doors of the SLBC were closed to artistes of the highest national fame like Premasiri Khemadasa, Pandit W. D. Amaradeva, Nanda Malani, Vijaya Kumaranatunga, Sugathapala de Silva, Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra and R. R. Samarakone because they demanded the withdrawal of a proposal to abolish former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s civil rights.”

Piyadasa Malalgoda who wrote and published the poem “Devadattha of the modern era” was taken to the dubious 4th floor on 12 occasions for interrogation and he was prosecuted.”

…private electronic media had no chance to announce news”

Announcement of news was a Government monopoly.”

The resignation of Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayaka from their portfolios over the impeachment issue was prohibited to be published.

The UNP which did not tolerate workers’ agitations over their 17 year rule completely banned publication of news relating to workers’ strikes through the State media.”

The State radio and television left no room for publication of news pertaining to the opposition and completely banned showing opposition members on the television.”

The UNP who toppled the Freedom Alliance and regained power in 2001 resumed their usual media policy which they pursued throughout their 17 year rule since 1977.”

They dissolved the Information Department. A separate media unit was established under the Prime Minister’s Office.”

All the State media institutions were brought under the control of UNP henchmen within that unit.”

The decisive posts of private media institutions were filled by appointing their henchmen. It was these henchmen who were necessarily participated in the foreign tours and discussions abroad attended by the Prime Minister.”

The international sojourns by these groups at the expense of public funds became the order of the day. The selected crowd of journalists obedient to Government received highest perks. An invisible mechanism of horror was in motion against independent journalists.”

The victims of this mechanism included not only the local journalists but also the foreign journalists. The deportation of the internationally renowned journalist Paul Harris is the best example in this regard.”

While Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister, the doors of State media institutions were completely closed to the opposition.”

The journalists who were deemed not loyal to the Government were deprived of their employment. Some were transferred.

Some were intimidated. Opponents were tortured mentally and physically.”

Live political debates participated by politicians of the opposition were completely barred from telecast.”

Even in case of dialogues among the ruling party members, if a listener were to express opinion, it had to be approved in advance before the programme is telecast.”

The State media was used perennially to slander and unease organisations and individuals not supportive of the Government.”

‘A number of North East journalists came to be brutally murdered even while a ceasefire was in force. “Dinamurusu” newspaper Editor Ramesh Nadarajah belonging to the EPDP was murdered. Aiyadurei Nadesan, the “Weerakesari” reporter was killed on May 31, 2004.

Kandasamy Aiyar Balanadarajah (Sinnabala), another journalist was murdered on August 16, 2004. On July 26, 2004, “Dinamurusu” newspaper free lance reporter S. Kamaladasan was shot at on his legs. On March 06,2005, “Dinamurusu” reporter Sathasivam Kamalanathan was shot at causing him fatal injuries. This murder was clearly a result of the power struggle among armed groups in the North East. We have to severely condemn these killings, whoever the perpetrators were.”

What is poignant about the above quotes is that it is being said by the same minister now holding the post of Media & Finance under a UNP government that he alleged.

In all the number of deaths attributed against UNP is over 10

The number of persons killed or intimidated is no less than 40.

Since 1977, this is the third stint of UNP rule – have policies towards media changed? 

Shenali D Waduge

One Response to “Media Freedom under UNP”

  1. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Traitor alugosuwa (to Sinhalese only) thambi mudiyanselage jr@ started the rot in Sri Lanka. Jr@ introduced pathala
    men to silence the opposition. Ever since it has been the MO for the catholic run UNPatriotic party. Then traitor
    alugosuwa put foundations to break up Sri Lanka by introducing 13, 13A to please tamils, mussies and the catholic
    west, india. Now thanks to traitor jr@, Sri Lanka is a melting pot.

    Now traitor alugosuwa’s nephew, traitor chief die hard catholic token Buddhist Bay gal karaya mega thief mega thakkadiya Batalande Wadakaya pol pot r@nil wickrama Sinhala killer is ruling Sri Lanka, traitor lot back in business murdering, looting destroying Sinhalese race, Sri Lanka and Buddhism. All the newspapers are under the jack boot
    of Batalande Wadakaya. Even lajja, baya nathi aga matta has the audacity to claim several times there is no white vans now. That is an insult to people when all the people know how under traitor catholic run UNPatriotic party
    Sinhalese were killed like dogs. That’s how pathetic pathala man pm is? Batalande Wadakaya thinks, all the people are fools like the traitor low life. For the crimes this monster has done to destroy Sri Lanka, Sinhalese race and
    Buddhism I’m sure he is going to be hung in public after the elections!

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