Columns - Talk at the Cafe Spectator

PR experts make mess of Premier's speech

Communications, or public relations to be more precise, are a serious field. Those practising this fine art could make or break personalities or institutions. This is why most go seeking for the services of professionals when it comes to image building.

That is the reason that even the Government of Sri Lanka has chosen to hire multi national PR firms paying them millions of dollars or billions of rupees from public funds. Yet, some local PR experts, though paid, could do more damage to their clients than their enemies.

Examples are many. Once, the Sunday Times carried a front-page lead story about stoppage of construction work in the north. Two PR experts of the State, instead of one, tried to discredit the story, prompting the Sunday Times to publish a circular to prove it was spot on. In another instance, many years ago, a media czar wrote to a defence correspondent saying "you have lowered the morale of our troops who have laid down their lives for the country." He was of course speaking "posthumously."

This week, alert External Affairs Ministry officials averted what might have been acute embarrassment to Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne. This is over his National Day message. This is what the draft of a Freedom Day message (already circulated) said:

"Message from the Prime Minister

"A day to heartily rejoice with a high level of self-esteem as a nation that enjoys the true meaning of freedom has dawned once again upon us, the Sri Lankans, who, for the past thirty years celebrated the Independence Day with a denied-opportunity even to inhale the blissful air of liberty from the British Throne.

"As we pass the sixty-second milestone since independence, we have been successful in convincing the entire world the reality form of "freedom of living" that partakes all sorts of divisions, based on elements of race, caste, creed, party, social-strata, etc., among human beings who live in a society where a variety of definitions are provided to the term "freedom" according to individual taste and intelligence. In my opinion, it is not merely a decent response to those so-called liberators who took hostage of human lives in the name of liberation or politicians who strictly follow the theory of opportunism.

"Those foreign allies, who from a time undefined, have set their eyes on this pride motherland abundant with all sorts of natural resources on earth, as well as those local foes, should clearly understand one single truth now, i.e. every inch of this great motherland is soaked with the blood of heroic Sri Lankans. It is none other than their heroism that is cast on every flag that blows a clarion call and on every single flower that blossoms and leaf that bears in trees within the entire extent of this land, be it from the North to the South or from the East to the West.

"I am of the view that from this moment onwards the independence, which we celebrate today, should not be confined or limited to a customary event or a mere hoisting of flags, but a freedom with independent thinking that need to be cherished every second we breathe and required to be carried forward to the future.

"Who else could be the true creator of such a liberal thinking or the true maker of an independent Sri Lankan Nation other than His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa? "Had we not received his kind protection, we would still have been a community that faces the death warrant of Prabhakaran.

"How should we balance the independence we regained from the British throne on 04th February, 1948 and the supreme freedom we successfully secured on 18th May, 2009 after a fierce battle shedding a pool of blood of our gallant soldiers? How should we pay our debt or express our gratitude? That question is something to be answered by conscious of every individual Sri Lankan.

"At this moment when we proudly celebrate the 63rd Independence Day, the main challenge confronted by all Sri Lankans is none other than the way they should contribute to achieve the development goals set out in the 'Mahinda Chinthana Idiri Dekma' manifesto.

"It is at this very moment we require a liberal thinking than any other time, which could break all limits and barriers of race, caste and creed. It is just because, such liberal thinking citizen would become the usherers of a developed country. The colour, the structure, the basis of the struggle for development should necessarily be substituted by the common feeling of a united Sri Lankan Nation. We should add colours to make our country more beautiful and not to decorate those disgusting thoughts that sometimes emerge on our minds. I am quite confident that the most beautiful island of this entire world would be successful in its struggle to emerge as a Power in technology and modernity.

"What is required to that end is the unspoilt confidence on the leaders who lead the cause and to extend fullest support to them. We should never forget that we, as citizens who enjoy freedom of a united nation, are obliged to do so. Then only we could gain the valuable status of a 'secured nation', in all aspects. Such a nation would never become a cat's paw of colonization and thus they would never become traitors of the motherland.

"I strongly believe that the mothers of this country need not migrate for house-maid employments abroad if we have sufficient freedom to live, safety, comforts and development in our country. Never on this soil will conflicts emerge for self-determination if the country entertains the valuable principle of 'equal treatment to all communities'. What we should bring forward and present to the future generation is none other than unity and love. In such circumstances the possibility of foreign elements to interfere in our internal affairs would come to naught.

"At this moment we have climbed up to the pinnacle. We should now carefully observe the valley. Then we will be able to realize our own mishaps, mistakes and ignorance. Then only we can calculate the number of opportunities we have missed for self-correction. Then only we can open up our hearts that were shut due to petty motives with great love.

"Now the path too lies ahead of us. The journey is also comfortable. What is required now is one single step forward by someone. The first and the last man who step on that path will be a free man with a liberal thinking. He lives in the hearts of both you and me. Be ready to experience the pride of a true Sri Lankan of an independent and free Sri Lanka. Do your duty!

"Long live Sri Lanka."

A new thoroughly edited version was later sent out by the EAM. That is what will now appear in the media on February 4. For once, the Ministry has prevented some major embarrassment to the country.

Sajith prefers his own menu

Since January 21, United National Party (UNP) leaders had gathered at their headquarters, Siri Kotha in Kotte, to discuss nominations. Their discussions which began in the morning ended only during the wee hours of next morning.

At lunchtime, General Secretary Tissa Attanayake was busy asking participants what they wanted for lunch. He wrote it down on a piece of paper. Some said they wanted rice and curry, whilst others opted for short eats or finger food.

The lunch was obtained from outside caterers or hotels. When all sat down to eat, they found that at least one of them never placed an order for a meal. That was Sajith Premadasa.

He brought with him a boxful of short eats. He ate them and sipped a Coca Cola. He is following in the footsteps of his father, said a senior UNPer. Of course, the late Ranasinghe Premadasa, carried his own meals when he undertook outstation trips. He was extremely careful with his diet. That was more for medical reasons than others.

Threats to Karu

UNP deputy leader, Karu Jayasuriya, who heads the party's steering committee working out strategies for the upcoming local authority elections had a tough time with unsuccessful aspirants to become party candidates.

There were several calls on his mobile phone. One caller said he would come over to Siri Kotha and commit suicide. Another declared he would jump in front of his car when it was moving on the road.
The businessman-turned politician told party seniors that whichever vocation he was in, such threats never ended.

UNP loses Chilaw over Identity Card number

The UNP's nomination list for the Chilaw Pradeshiya Sabha was rejected on the grounds that one of the male candidates was holding an identity card usually issued to a female.

The third digit in the identity card number of a male should have digit below five and the identity card of a female should have a number over five and below nine. However the nominee, Mohammed Ameen Sifan had number seven and therefore the entire nomination list of the UNP was rejected.

UNP Puttalam district MP Palitha Range Bandra said he now hopes to take the matter up in courts as it was no mistake of the holder of the identity card or the party fromwhich the nomination has been rejected.

Police media spokesman like flat tyre

In the wake of a possible outbreak of a dengue epidemic in the Colombo city and its suburbs the Colombo municipality had sought the assistance of the police to help clean up the city. The police were on the job on Friday morning clearing some tyre shops close to the Sugathadasa Stadium.

A Sunday Times photojournalist who heard about the event visited the scene to take photographs as he thought it would be a good opportunity to create awareness among the public about prevention of dengue.

As soon as he started clicking, a policeman approached him and told him not to take the photographs. The photojournalist thought the next best thing to do was to seek the help of the Police Media Spokesman Prishantha Jayakody.

His response was surprising. "The best thing you can do is take the pictures on the sly and rush off to your office'. The photojournalist responded, "Thank you for your advice" adding "that's what I would have done anyway".

He told him that we need not have an officer handling media if he cannot get permission for a simple photo coverage which in fact would be a plus point for the police besides helping to create public awareness

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