Rajpal's Column

19th March 2000

Those NGOs, and people born to be wild

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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A state-newspaperist was spewing his spittle last week, blasting a NGO activist from abroad who partied. Before the spittle was dry on the page, Minister Samaraweera announced that he is going to take the Commonwealth Press Union to court.

Party till you fall at Temple Trees. That's because a party at Araliaya Medura is cute — peduru party or whatever it is called; but party at any other place, and you invite the Daily Noise leader writers spittle, at its skunkiest.

Coming from all places, the Lake House press, a tirade against any type of drinking sounds rich. Anyway, to fill in the story, a representative from the CPU was in Sri Lanka, and according to the DN, she was spotted someplace in Colombo getting high, and had apparently "fallen." ( Lucifer, move over thou.)

So the sober journalists at Daily News got the story. The Lake House, which publishes the DN, has a very sober journalistic tradition, hear ye folks. So sober, that in its entire existence, very few editorialists there have put pen to paper without some form of liquid fire starter.

Mervyn De Silva was an impish sort, who graduated to the Orient Club later, but who loved his alcohol from most any watering hole in and around Fort. Then there was one Editor who quite famously asserted when an intrepid member of the Management questioned him, that "any Editorial Department functions under the influence of liquor, so there.'' And there were others too numerous to mention.

If the lady from the foreign NGO had 'fallen', its a good idea to write a book of essays about some of the things that had happened to recent Lake House Editors who imbibed. All these were mind you, gentlemen to the fingertips. Some began with a gin and tonic, some with a vodka. Ah! those variety of exotic brews, some amber, some translucent but scintillating colourless, some a sanguine red, all rarely chased with anything except some spittle, maybe a little sweat dribbling from a walrus moustache or a month old grey beard.

Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain could have never conjured up wilder characters — and Hemingway was no spring chicken himself in the spirits department. But, these chaps wrote editorials, and for national newspapers. Often they wrote as if they were the country's conscience and only surviving brains , and believe me, they were often believed. The myth and legend is that these gentlemen could not have functioned without alcohol, even if they functioned without food, which they often did. Lake House managements were the best proponents of press clubs, because successive Lake House bosses knew that the best way to sell their papers, was to keep these gentlemen well oiled.

Now comes one of the inheritors of this 100 - proof Beira tradition, complaining that a foreign NGO lady was high and "fallen'', and therefore could not have carried out her responsibilities. By this logic, all Editorials that have been written in the Lake House newspapers since perhaps in the sweet old days of independence would have been irresponsible drivel.

But, the Lake House going against its grain these days is absolutely positively hilarious to watch. Mangala Samaraweera, who is the Lake House Zeus, has been a very unhappy man in recent times, because he feels foreign NGO's and foreign lobbies are (drat it ) doing the dirty on the country's image.

This is an old grouse, and is as old as the old Lake House bar-hopping habit. Foreign NGO nosey–parkers, for instance, drove late President Premadasa into forming the NGO Commission, with the express intent of identifying NGO's with nasty agendas. At this time, Samaraweera and the People's Alliance which was still in its diaper days, were courting the foreign NGO's, their ladies' gentlemen poofs and the whole eating - drinking falling lot. The PA didn't entertain these people at the Sandagiri either.

Now, Samaraweera and his PA cohorts, having opened the foreign NGO tap, want to close it. But, NGO's can't be turned on and off like the bulb. Seems like the PA doesn't know if it wants to love or hate foreign influence anyway . Samaraweera on the one hand enjoys and continues to relish his daily dose of foreign bashing. But, perhaps with all the verbosity generated, he doesn't quite see that his President is inviting the Norwegian government, another foreign influence, to mediate in the Sri Lankan conflict. Norway is a nation which by Samaraweera's yardstick, has not been very positive about this country's image either .

It's great comedy that the PA which courted the foreign NGOs to bring the UNP down, feel now that these NGOs have turned against the country. The state PA managed press is now going at the foreign NGOs the same way that the state press did during the time of the UNP. By Jove, their language even, is a bad ( bad!) try at imitating the flair of the UNP days.

This is an old story of course. From the time foreign opinion became important since the ethnic war began, various potentates here in Colombo have been aggrieved, a lot of the times justifiably, that wool gathering Western media tykes were making Sri Lanka look like a primitive minority bashing banana republic. Often they were immature reporters, the local potentates urged, who were using a strife-torn country as a launching pad for their careers. Lalith Athulathmudali, in a moment of near-panic, called the "western liberal value system'' pro minority by its very wretched nature.

So Mangala Samaraweera and his Beira boys, are regurgitating what is palpably last decades dinner, only with banal slogans replacing substance. Try to get the CPU and their lady on substance, if there is any, and perhaps people will listen up. But, here we have the vacuous name calling, a string of badly worded bromides. M. S in a recent bout calls the journalists who took the CPU lady around "traitors.'' That's like the Minister complaining that politicians these days are nothing but a bunch of ex-fashion designers…

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