Sinhala version of the following reply was sent to Ravaya, but they did not carry it.
“Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth” – Oscar Wilde.
As a reply to a short report I wrote to the Colombo Telegraph, Victor Ivan, the Editor of Ravaya has written a long reply titled “Reconcillation (sic) and the Gotabhaya Factor”. In the first part of his letter he questions my reporting, gives instructions as to how I should have written it and avers that that report is untrue. In the second part he analyses a background he has identified in a “crisis”. Thirdly, he analyses the good, the bad but not the ugly of the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence.
His reply should be discussed for two main reasons. First, it is a question of the professionalism in journalism. Second also, it is a question of the professionalism in journalism.
The discussion at issue had taken place among Victor Ivan, Minister DEW Gunasekara, his partner Barbara Seneviratne and Wilfred Wickramasingha, a businessman closely associated with President Rajapaksa. This was not a casual chit chat or a dinner but, as Victor Ivan himself has written, a serious political activity taking around two-and-a-half hours. What Victor proposes now is that I should have obtained information after contacting all the discussants and verified the authenticity of the information. Even if I quote hundreds of articles he has written in his 25-year media life span checking facts, not only on all sides but with even a single person, I asked him, before finding fault with others, although he had the ability, to show it by action knowing very well that I would not be exonerated from the charges he has levelled at me. On the other hand, thereby any civilized discussion would have been prevented. What Ivan states is that though I talked to him there was no confirmation of such information. According to him what I had asked him was only whether he had been at a dinner with DEW. He also states that he said “yes”, disconnected the phone because of lightning and that after been satisfied with what he said I had written the report.
What Really Happened?
One of my sources was talking to me and, quoting Wilfred Wickramasinghe, said Victor Ivan is doing a fantastic job of canvassing on behalf of Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa, in a way no one else is able to do. My reply was “It’s something that everybody knows. Can you call this a news item?” But my curiosity was aroused because of the connection of businessman Wickramasinghe. So I asked him to get me some more information on this matter. What the source divulged two days later was that, at a discussion at Wickramasingha’s residence, Victor Ivan had said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was not aware of the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake’s visit to Sri Lanka, or why he was coming. Blake had given a letter to be given to the President and G.L. Peiris had not passed on the letter. Apparently Blake and Mahinda Rajapaksa never met prior to the US- backed resolution against Sri Lanka. And the External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris was the main culprit.
Victor Ivan has said that Mahinda Rajapaksa is kept ignorant purposely by people close to him. Victor’s big worry is that if a sufficient number of MPs cross over the government would collapse, and he is doing everything he can to prevent this. The suspicion is that most of the President’s close associates are not sincere. Neither G.L. Peiris nor President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunge can be trusted.
I decided to write this. I spoke to Victor on the phone. I asked him whether it’s possible to speak with him. “Yes” he said. As I said “This a news item about you. A friend of Willa said that you’re doing a huge task on behalf of Mahinda and Basil”. Victor angrily retorted “Here you Uvindu, you can write anything you like!”. When I asked him “Don’t you complain that journalists write unilaterally?” he was softened a bit. When I asked him ”Did you have dinner at Willa’s?” he replied “Not only Willa but DEW was also there”. Then he began to explain his advocacy project on “uniting politicians and the people”. He stated that he meets not only government parliamentarians but opposition and Tamil Alliance MPs and continued to describe his project. He vehemently rejected what, according to my source, he had said about G.L. When asked whether he said Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the cause of every problem for the regime, he did not deny it straightaway, but said that he disagrees with some of Gotabaya’s actions while agreeing with others. Victor Ivan cut short the phone conversation saying there was heavy lightning in Colombo. The conversation between Victor and me took 7 minutes.
Victor’s method and my method
It was from Victor that I learnt DEW Gunasekara had participated in this discussion. Now Victor accuses me of not getting the correctness of my information verified by talking to those present at the discussion. Getting the information authenticated by the discussants is one method. Instead, the method used was to assign this task to two of the closest associates of the discussants. It took some days. The dinner had taken place on the 3rd. I wrote the news item on the 10th. Hence, the time taken. There was absolutely no disparity in what my first source divulged and the information given by the other sources. What happened was the accumulation of further facts, one of which is that DEW Gunasekara’s partner, Barbara, had also participated in the discussion. DEW Gunasekara had participated in the discussion to obtain information from Victor as DEW believed that Victor is a very close associate of the President and that the President tells everything to Victor. In the process of answering Barbara’s questions Victor had busted the “number plate” of the former President. Except for the last-mentioned facts about Chandrika Kumaratunga all other facts were included in my report. Anyone interested in this can read about it on this website.
Accuracy and Truth
Everyone agrees journalists must tell the truth. “Journalism’s first obligation is to tell the truth” is a maxim. Similarly, there’s another principle as “accuracy, fairness and truth”. Now, why is there one principle as “truth” and another as “accuracy”? What’s the difference between these two? What is meant by “accuracy” is the accurate reporting of facts gathered by the journalist. Sometimes however, it is possible that the information reported may not be true. Sometimes it may be partially true. In journalism, as at all times, “truth” is a process. Truth, it seems, is too complicated for us to pursue. Or perhaps it doesn’t exist, since we are all subjective individuals. There are interesting arguments, maybe, on some philosophical level, which are even valid. It is actually more helpful, and more realistic, to understand journalistic truth as a process—or a continuing journey toward understanding—which begins with the first-day stories and builds over time. This is why “follow up” and “right of reply” exist. The report I wrote is incomplete. It is true that it doesn’t contain what Victor has purported to have said in two and a half hours. It was a short report.
Victor says that what I have written are imaginary things. But Victor has practically proved that “truth” is a sorting-out process that develops between the initial story and the interaction among the public, newsmakers, and journalists over time. In the first paragraph of his reply he says that during his two- and-a-half-hour serious discussion he had not stated that Gotabaya is the cause of all problems. Therefore, let us turn to the last paragraphs of his letter. While speaking good of Gotabaya, Victor advises him not to be mischievous. Here are the relevant sections from his last two paragraphs:
“After the conclusion of the war, the President removed General Sarath Fonseka who made an enormous contribution to the success of war, from his position. Though, it is not justifiable that he is kept in custody, the decision to remove him from the position that he held at that moment can be considered a good decision. If the Defence Secretary was not (sic) happened to be the brother of the President, similar (sic) fate would have fallen on (sic) him as well. But it was the President who got down his brother from the USA. He accomplished the task assigned to him at optimum level even risking his life at times.
“It appears that the President is compelled to remain silent in the face of whatever he does whether good or bad because of this family bond. The Defence Secretary should be prudent enough to understand this situation. He is intelligent and endowed with special talents. He should either change the tough policy that he adopted at (sic) the war and transfer to a mild policy which is appropriate for peace. Or else he should withdraw from the old role and adopt a new role which is appropriate for peace. Otherwise nothing may prevent him loosing (sic) the love of the people and the glory that he deserves”.
What is the difference between what I wrote to the effect that Victor stated certain things and this quote? The title of my article was “Gota Is the Cause of All Problems”. According to the above quote from Victor’s letter what I had written does not get invalidated. Have you ever heard something smiler from Victor Ivan before?
As Victor has surfaced a serious question about my professionalism I would like to reciprocate it with a question and throwing down the glove. My report was published on April 10th. Today is April 29th. Why is it that, except for Victor, the others in the “serious” discussion have not repudiated the contents of my article?
Notwithstanding the other discussants, as a responsible Minister whom I know quite well, DEW Gunasekara should have rejected my report as false if it was incorrect. I throw down the glove for businessman Wilfred Wickramasinghe, DEW Gunasekara and Barbara Seneviratne to pick up. If you can, reject my report by honouring the right of the people to know the truth. Please write to the Colombo Telegraph or Ravaya what you said at Wickramasinghe’s residence that day so that its readers can compare your versions with what Victor writes to the Ravaya.
I have stated above part of my reply to the main question surfaced by Victor regarding my reporting. I expect to give the other part of my reply to the other questions and accusations levelled at me by Victor.