ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 47

DM vs. DM: Allegations and denials

Media rights groups defend freedom of expression

Controversy arose this week when media organisations accused the Secretary, Defence Ministry of threatening the ‘Daily Mirror’ Editor over some reports published in that newspaper. The Government denied the allegations. The Sunday Times publishes the statements issued by the Editors’ Guild, the FMM and the Government on this issue.

Editors’ Guild

“We consider this a serious threat to media freedom and also to editorial independence. Referring to a news report published in the Daily Mirror the Defence Secretary has threatened the editor and attempted to intimidate her over the telephone. The Editors’ Guild totally condemns the behaviour of a senior officer of such a calibre,” the Guild said in a statement.

The Guild adds that he being the brother of the Executive President and also being the head of the defence establishment the public of this country would expect a decent and professional conduct from Mr. Rajapaksa.

“Threatening or intimidating the editor cannot be tolerated at any cost,” it said. The Guild called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to conduct an impartial inquiry into the incident and further requested all officials and politicians to act with a sense of responsibility and dignity at this crucial juncture.

Free Media Movement

The FMM is outraged to receive news that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who is the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had threatened the Editor of the Daily Mirror Champika Liyanarachchi, over the telephone on the morning of April 17.
The Defence Secretary had allegedly expressed his deep displeasure over the conflict coverage by the newspaper. Referring to a front-page news item published the previous day (Armed Karuna faction running its writ in Pottuvil), the Defence Secretary had said the story had angered the Karuna faction and furthermore was written against the Government. He had gone on to say that Champika should not be surprised if the Karuna faction turned violent against her. In such an eventuality, he had said that she should not expect any security from the Government to protect her. Citing another article by Daily Mirror reporter Uditha Jayasinha (Mutur IDPs: Battling a man-made tsunami in the guise of war), the Defence Secretary had continued his vicious tirade by castigating the reporter and expressing his severe displeasure that the article carried negative remarks by IDPs on the Sri Lankan Army. These statements of the Defence Secretary beggars belief. This gross misconduct of a high-placed public official clearly demonstrates the challenges facing free media in Sri Lanka today. The FMM unequivocally deplores the threat made by the Defence Secretary and condemns what is tantamount to violence against the media. We strongly feel this latest assault on free media essentially ridicules this Government’s promises to uphold and strengthen media freedom. Given the volatile situation in the country, the FMM also fears that this threat sends a chilling message to the media community at large in Sri Lanka.The FMM notes that on previous occasions as well, Government leaders had criticized the Daily Mirror over it’s coverage of the conflict. It is an open secret that Government leaders and close allies are pressurizing the independent media to toe its line on war and peace. We see this latest development as a calculated process of coercion by the Government that forces media to abandon its role of watch-dog of democracy, and instead adopt the supine role of a lap dog to those in power.
The Government can no longer abdicate the responsibility to prevent a further erosion of media freedom in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, the FMM urgently and firmly requests the Government to make its position public regarding this incident and also calls upon the Government to take remedial steps to ensure that loose tongues and wild imaginings of its ministers and allies are kept in check by educating them on the need to secure and strengthen free media as a vital foundation of democratic governance.


The Government strongly rejects the accusations levelled against the Defence Secretary by certain media organizations that he had threatened a newspaper editor of a local English newspaper. The Government regards this as a malicious attempt to tarnish the image of the Defence Secretary.

The latest accusation against Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa comes in the backdrop of attempts by some political elements to build a negative opinion against him following false allegations of fraud in connection with the MiG 27 deal. Despite the success of the humanitarian operations launched in the East under his guidance some demanded his resignation from office following the LTTE attack on the Air Force base in Katunayake. The Government believes that the latest allegation against the Defence Secretary is part of a wide plan to remove him from office to satisfy the aims of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam. The Defence Secretary, a retired military officer has already proved his commitment in ensuring the national security of Sri Lanka. Through the consecutive victories achieved in the Eastern theatre of operations, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has exhibited his professionalism and experience as the most proficient Government official to hold the office of Defence Secretary. The general public appreciates the invaluable service rendered by the Defence Secretary at a time when the national security of Sri Lanka is threatened by the LTTE.The Government condemns the attempts made by certain media organizations to discredit the image of the Defence Secretary who has always acted with responsibility while maintaining a cordial relationship with media personnel.
Lanka Sama Samaja Party

The Sri Lanka Sama Samaja Party has expressed grave concern over the threats allegedly received by the editor of Daily Mirror from the Defence Ministry, a statement said.

“The secretary in his statement to the media stated that he did speak to the complainant on the telephone on certain news stories carried in the Mirror, that his was a friendly chat and that there was no question of any threat being made. We are in no position to judge the veracity of the statements of the parties concerned but we wish to point out that in this instance there has been a breach in the code observed by the administration when dealing with the media on news stories or other matters that need to be corrected. A prompt correction from the ministry press secretary was all that was necessary,” the statement said.

“We are glad that president Mahinda Rajapaksa had, as reported, contacted the editor and had assured her of her safety. This however is not merely a question of one person’s safety and peace of mind it touches a larger professional community and its freedom,” the statement said.

Top to the page

Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.