The Special Report

9th January 2000

President and the Press

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Following are excerpts of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's chat on state television and radio, last week.

Despite predictions from various pundits who claim to be media personnel I thank the persons who voted for me. I have boasted lot about mycountryman when I was studying. I told that they have a sharp sense. This has been proved at this election.

The media is very important, particularly to every politician. I have a belief about the role of media. That is the reason that I took steps to proect the media which was destroyed by the former regeme. We went in processions with them. Got beaten up and as soon as we came to power we took steps to ensure media freedoom. It is a tragedy for the people in the country that certain journalists do not know to make use of the media freedom.

For the past five years, the media attacked me. During this election the media made various degrading allegations against me. I was not shaken up by this. I tolerated this. We cannot allow media freedom to be misused. The people have a right. They pay for the newspaper. They pay for the TV. I had confidence that the people will not be misled and therefore tolerated it. But in the future I am not going to be gentle about these.

We fulfilled our promises and are going ahead. One of the promises we could not fulfill, and now we have got a stronger mandate. I read the Sunday newspapers. Various kinds of pundits have given analysis about the 51% victory I achieved. One of them is Victor Ivan. He and Lasantha (Wickrematunga) attacked me on Ranil (Wickremasinghe's) brother's Television regularly. Victor Ivan said that I would be losing the election.

My analysis is that a political leader has never before been collectively attacked by the media in history. Basically all media organisations attacked me. The Maharajah Organisation, Ranil's brother's TNL TV and Radio, Ranil's uncle's Lankadeepa & Times newspapers, Ranil's uncle's ("Bappa") Divaina newspaper, the Leader newspaper, and the Peramuna newspaper, Yukthiya, Ravaya, and Lakbima newspapers.

None of these newspapers published a single word of truth about the work we have done. All of them collectively attacked us. I did not misuse the State media, because I believe in media freedom. It was not used to publish falsehood about me. I told the State media to be balanced. I told them to write about me, Ranil and the JVP in the same manner. We did not indulge in dirty methods to get the support of the State media.

In Lake House after the 1977 elections, as many as 400 innocent people who were provided jobs by the SLFP, underwent humiliation by being made to kneel and printing ink was poured over their heads. Some died due to the poisnous nature of the ink. But we did not take revenge from the UNP officials who perpetrated such horror and they are still sticking on to their posts there. These people however acted to our detriment at the last moment. They were hell bent on sabotaging us. We expected these people to understand our humaneness, our nobleness and stop harassing us. We have never asked them to disassociate themselves from the UNP, but they could keep their loyalties at home. Therefore except for a few, the Lake House is not also for us. We did not ask even those on our side to write dirty lies. They did not write any lies about Ranil, they did not write lies about me. In the circumstances I would like to make it clear that I won this election, after travelling an extremely hard journey.

I said earlier that media is a very important thing. This entire media got together and attacked me. Now that I have won, they cannot face the truth. But still I got 51% and now they keep on analysing the statistics calculating it, according to their fanciful thinking. That man called Ivan (what Ivan - she asks someone to help) Victor Ivan, is still analysing it. I don't intend to waste people's time on analysis but these are two main points. In 1994, not only he, everyone in the UNP, including Ranil Wickremesinghe said the same thing. "Who is teaching whom?" I do not know. That is not my concern either. He says that my 62% of 94 has come down to 51 which is a big embarassment, and a big defeat. The second is that Ranil and his friends say that such a corrupt election was never seen in this country.

Firstly friends, there is a truism that those who know Political Science know. That if any government stays for a term of more than 4 years, and if they win a second term, they lose a large number of votes. That is a truth that none can change in this world. I won with 62 percent because it was a special moment, a historic moment. The government of the day was a venomous one.

Maharajah's MTV even more UNP than the elder brother, put some crazy lawyer called Desmond Fernando on TV, who said that Chandrika's brain had got smashed and she is disabled. Then citing some point in the constitution implied that people should not vote for her.

We Sri Lankans feel sympathy for even a dog even when it is injured. Here is an attempt to assasinate the President, and I was so critically wounded, for 24 hours it was unsure whether I would live or die, but not a word about me is said either on TNL ot MTV, expressing concern about my condition. They put some lunatic on TV and told the people not to vote for me. The LTTE took microphones and went on the streets in the North, and did the same thing. As those people live in the jaws of the LTTE and are conversant with their terror acts, they could not be helped. The LTTE kills the Tamil people first, then the Sinhalese. Therefore they were scared. So they went and cast a vote that otherwise they would not have given.

These people who are trying to belittle my victory, are not insulting me.

I request these so called media people, to please get released from the mental deformities in their heads and rid themselves of the hate and jealousy and to serve the people, who provide them with their livelihood by paying for the newspapers. I ask them not to be carried away by those businessmen and UNPers who give them whiskey and brandy and lakhs.

This is the reason that I have no official around me who steals and that is why that media animal, he is not a mediaman, is trying to attack me saying that officials around me are rogues. He cannot point a finger at any one of them. They cannot bear this because for 17 years the UNP government robbed and I stopped all that and did not allow any of my people to rob. These people cannot bear all this. But I will say one thing, whether all the people in our government are honest, I will not say here. Everything cannot be done at once. I always say that we cannot make everyone a Buddha at once. I am now talking about myself and the political system that I implemented.

This venomous reptile of destruction has creeped into a place which is somewhat beyond the government's control - the media.

In my opinion, media is a sacred thing. The role of the media and arts are similar in their duties and obligations. Their main duty is to inform the public of what's happening around the world, keep them truthfully and well informed. That's their singular duty- give the public the unadulterated truth.

There's new information, new knowledge on science, technology, computer science, arts, human philosophy, religions. The media should impart with knowledge. Instead, what do they do? Under the guise of 'free media', after we freed them from their manacles and gags of yesteryear- they have commenced prostituting themselves shamelessly. Why? Because those elements who inject 'venom' in to parts of our body politic were behind them.

I am not speaking maliciously - but as a political scientist, a responsible citizen and thirdly as President.

I am saddened to witness how the cruel political culture created by the UNP has caught the private media in its hand to effectively inject that same venom into them.

When UNP was in power, licenses for a radio and TV channel were issued to the incumbent UNP leader's brother in an irregular manner coupled with enormous privileges. Two state development banks are yet to recover their loans which are yet to be repaid yet. Only a paltry sum has been repaid.

His own uncle has two so -called 'national' newspapers called 'Lankadeepa' and ' The Sunday Times' - they are giving the works.

Another uncle of his, Upali Wijewardene who wished to become the President someday commenced 'Divaina'. He was being promoted by J.R.Jayawardene but died unexpectedly. His paper attacked us in a low, untruthful and malicious manner. The papers were run by pro-UNP persons and are still at the helm.

While Upali Wijewardene was living, these people also delivered the 'negative' goods. Thereafter, the Maharaja Group which flourished during the UNP rule by getting 8/10 government contracts also joined forces. They got these contracts in the shadiest possible manner causing irrefutable revenue losses to the government. They still manage to get a contract or two by treating or contacting some of the right people but are angry with me because now they cannot get all the eight contracts they used to win from their old UNP friends. And this hatred is translated into action through their MTV channel which is handled in a disgraceful way.

MTV, TNL, Lankadeepa, Divaina- these are the groups. Then you have the State media. State media is State media. Our government is attempting to redirect these institutions as balanced media institutions. We try not to take undue advantage of these institutions. There may be small mistakes, but we try to strike a balance.

We also haven't chased any UNPers from state media institutions. During the recent polls, they worked against us. We'll see to that later.

However, I'd like to say something about media. Forgive me, for both of you are also media personnel. I have been subjected to brutal media attacks ever since I joined the SLFP in 1991 by Times, Lankadeepa and Divaina. Then that piece of paper called 'Leader' wasn't in existence.

Yet, I haven't spoken out till today. Because I do respect freedom of expression. We still give government ads to 'Ravaya' and 'Yukthiya'- two papers publishing blatant falsehoods about us. I haven't instructed advertisements to be stopped in the hope that someday they'd overcome their weaknesses.

I personally know their difficulties, as I found it difficult to survive without advertisements while publishing 'Dinakara'. So I opted not to do that and my MPs used to ask me whether I was insane.

And now let us talk about the alternative press- take 'Ravaya'. Ravaya has an editor called Victor Ivan. I don't want to talk about his personal life, our minister S.B Dissanayake spoke about all that. I justify S.B's comments because they were true.

Victor claims to have been one of my confidantes and claims that we have now fallen out with each other. And the reason touted is that I have become corrupt which gives him no option but to have continuous exposures. All fibs, imaginary claims , an he is no friend.

When I was dragged into the SLFP folds in 1991 by S.B Dissanayake, Mangala Samaraweera, Nadimitra Ekanayake an the likes, Victor Ivan was brought to my house and introduced to me by Anuruddha Ratwatte. I have heard of him as a person who lost his hand when attempting to bomb somebody during his JVP days, but I haven't seen him before.

I have also heard some other things about him which I do not wish to discuss here. We were introduced at a time when he was among the anti-UNP activists, though not extending special support to the SLFP.

This was the time when Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake were also expelled from the UNP by President Premadasa and have formed an alternative force.

Victor Ivan was closer to Lalith and Gamini than to me. I used to meet him once a month the most, perhaps once in two months - at my place or at a common 'political' ally's place. We used to discuss politics an he has never granted a special favour for me.

I recently did an analysis of his newspaper's contents. He has written about Lalith Aluthmudali ten times with pictures, 5 - 6 times about Gamini, but about Chandrika just once, and that too with some ugly pictures perhaps to lower my estimation in the eyes of the public.

Victor Ivan did not 'politically build' Chandrika. But he was an integral part of the anti UNP grouping. I met him just the way I used to meet others. We used to meet people and freely exchange views. That's all, but he certainly was not a personal friend. He was merely a person I got acquainted with due to politics.

When we assumed office, we offered various responsible jobs in media related institutions which he declined to accept. He only asked for advertisement and we promptly instructed government institutions to advertise with the 'Ravaya', which was why the paper managed to keep itself afloat.

Within a month, a zealous attack was launched by 'Ravaya' alleging I was corrupt. It took only one month. So I asked him to come over and questioned as to why he was doing this?

I told him that he definitely knew that I could never be corrupt. He said that he was reliably informed. I had such lofty ideals about media and tremendous faith in these people as honest and civic conscious journalists until then.

I told him that according to the norms of decent journalism that I still believed that both sides deserved to be given an opportunity to explain themselves -even though some may be bitter enemies, prior to publishing any story.

Specially when the news item is defamatory or vilifying an individual, at least a telephone call should be made to ascertain the truth. Then the story should be published with that explanation. If the explanation appears farfetched, that need not be published. I told him to call me at the Temple Trees anytime and leave a message, and promised I would return the call within two hours. He never did, but the venomous attacks continued with renewed vigour.

He tried to portray me and the ministers and officials who were close to me as corrupt. A minister replied that he (Ivan) expected to be appointed as my political consultant.

If I made him my political consultant, I would have been 'politically finished', years ago.

Thereafter, I distanced myself from him and didn't meet him either. I distance myself from those who oppose my policies - not kill, condemn or attack. I just keep my distance and don't bother about them at all.

Several months later, two of my ministers told me to take pity on him and meet him because he had a difficulty. We met each other just here. He told me that he required Rs. 20 million to purchase his press and the building which housed 'Ravaya'. He also said that he had to pay up several bank loans.

I told him : "Victor, how can I have Rs. 2O million? Even the party didn't have so much. "But I promised to raise Rs. 2 million somehow for the moment, I could give Rs. 500,000. I was being shrewd when I gave 5 lakhs to him - just to see what he would do. Many people have warned me to be careful of him, but I didn't believe all that. I usually give people the benefit of the doubt and don't believe in the dark side of the human personality until proven bad.

I didn't heed the warnings to be careful as he was known to bite the very hand which feeds him. By that time I have realized the truth so to some extent and gave him Rs. 5 lakhs.

The following week I was brutally attacked. He has left this place and gone straight to Thirukumar Nadesan's house - a member of the Maharaja establishment and a man with illicit business interest. Ivan raised the required money from Maharajas whom in turn instructed Ivan to 'lambast Chandrika from today' which became his job. If these are false, say so.

But our people must learn to respect the free media - and for this, they must know the truth. We will create a truly vibrant and free media movement. Hence this explanation.

Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was the then General Secretary of the SLFP. There was no time to discuss these trivialities with him because there was turmoil within the party. Ratnasiri once told me about the attempt to disunite our family. It was Ratnasiri, myself and Indrapala Abeyweera who worked hard to bring everybody together.

Statement by the Editor

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in an interview broadcast island-wide by State Television and Radio made a reference to me by name and designation.

This is what she said:

'Lasantha Wickrematunga then returned from Australia and was writing as the political correspondent of The Sunday Times which is owned by Ranjit Wijewardene. Sinha Ratnatunga was the Editor.

'From the time he knew I was joining the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, each week, at least thrice every four weeks, he wrote absolute falsehoods about me. I was only an ordinary member of the SLFP. I did not take any notice of this. I didn't have to fight him. There is no point fighting ants. I don't want to sin by killing ants.

'But on two occasions when he told lies, the dirtiest of lies, that harmed me, I sent a correction to Sinha Ratnatunga saying the story is absolutely false, giving reasons about whatever was referred to. He didn't publish it in the newspaper. 'Then I telephoned Ranjit Wijewardene. I knew Ranjit Wijewardene very well. Vijeya also knew him well. Ranjit's wife is my classmate.

'I telephoned and said "Ranjit" this was during the Presidency of Premadasa, "your paper is always attacking me everyday. I didn't say anything, but when I was attacked in that dirty way. I waited a week, I telephoned Sinha Ratnatunga personally and then sent the correction. I have met Sinha Ratnatunga once or twice at the homes of friends, we have discussed matter cordially. I requested him to kindly publish the correction. Then he said "Ah, wasn't it published? I will ask them to publish it". It was not published. It never was published.

'Some months went by, I didn't talk to Ranjit about it. Some months later, in another article, Lasantha attacked me in a more derogatory manner. That time too, I wrote a reply, in a way the newspaper can publish it, otherwise they can say that they did not publish it because the newspaper was criticised, so I replied saying what was false, and giving the true facts.

'Actually what had happened was advantageous to me, but it was falsely written in an opposite way. I wrote the truth and gave it to them. This time I didn't telephone Sinha Ratnatunga because I learnt a lesson the last time. I telephoned Ranjit directly and asked him if I can meet him. I drove the car which was at home and went.

'I didn't go in my car. I borrowed a friend's car,- this was because Premadasa was following me, for Ranjit's protection, because I didn't want others harmed. Otherwise I could have said, "let anything happen" and gone any way. I went to his house. I was greeted cordially by his wife and himself it was about 6 'o'clock I can clearly remember I gave the correction to his hand no correction has been published up to date'.

This is what I have to say.

To put it mildly I have no recollection whatsoever of receiving a telephone call from Ms. Kumaratunga ever, not only regarding a clarification, but I don't think I have spoken to Mrs. Kumaratunga ever on the telephone.

Elsewhere in her interview, broadcast last Monday, I believe the President said she has never told an untruth in her life, and if she has, it was as a joke.

So as far as her telephoning me - lets say she was probably only joking.

It's indeed a tonic to add some humour into our body politik today. It serves as a good antidote to the highly volatile and acrimonious statecraft in this tortured land.

Granting though not conceding that Ms. Kumaratunga did in fact send The Sunday Times a clarification, she has not specified what this clarification was about. More than seven years later, we would like to know what this clarification could have been, if ever there was one.

In this context, the President also gives an erroneous impression that The Sunday Times has never published clarifications sent by her.

We publish below at least two clarifications sent by Ms. Kumaratunga and published in The Sunday Times to show that we have not deliberately ignored Ms. Kumaratunga a Right of Reply.

At the conclusion of the President's interview she once again referred to The Sunday Times Page 1 lead story of last week. She referred to the story as an 'utter falsehood'.

We have dealt with this elsewhere in this issue, suffice to say that we stand by the story.

In the course of the President's concluding remarks she says;

'Yesterday's and today's papers are trying to cover up the UNP - LTTE axis and say that the PSD is trying to kill me. It was Ranil's uncles paper that started attacking the PSD..... What are they doing ?

This is not a joke. What Prabhakaran could not finish; they are trying to dishearten and demoralise the PSD and finish the job, by Ranil's uncle's papers. This, my friends, is the free media in Sri Lanka'.

We at The Sunday Times reject this notion unequivocally.

Didn't we published these....

From The Sunday Times
of June 13, 1993

From The Sunday Times
of July 17,1994

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