Colombo Telegraph

Are The Chickens Coming Home To Roost…?

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

To complete the title of this piece appropriately please complete it by adding “…or is this simply an aberration?”

The editor of the Sunday Island has displayed the kind of integrity that many who’ve known him over the years have attributed to that veteran journalist by carrying on the front page of his paper of April 25th the unequivocal apology tendered by one of Sri Lanka’s most reprehensible writers who has long paraded his skills in support of the most violent and corrupt government in the history of this land, supping very heartily at its trough.

I speak here of Malinda Seneviratne and the fact that he has tendered an unequivocal apology to a much-respected retired civil servant whom he accused, without an atom of supporting evidence by his own admission, of settling “estate Tamils” in areas subsequently deemed to be part of Eelam by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

For starters, I would suggest that Colombo Telegraph stops publishing the poorly disguised excuses for a Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka that this man keeps producing from a mind that I would far rather not choose to describe. It was not so long ago that CT black-listed Vickramabahu Karunaratne for far less reprehensible conduct.

The old dictum applied to those plying the journalists’ profession used to be “Facts are sacred, comment is free.” I trust that CT has not consigned that cornerstone of journalism to the garbage heap of history thanks to the influence of the Malinda Seneviratnes of this world.

I expect that a side-bar at this point would not be out of place. Malinda Seneviratne’s father who, I understand served in the Civil Service at approximately the same time as did Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, has been only too ready to rush to his son’s defence on several previous occasions. Perhaps, he would care to comment on the conduct of this seed of his loins subsequent to the admission of deliberate falsehood published as news and/or comment? One can but wait with bated breath to see whether it is or is not true that the fruit does not fall far from the tree?

Malinda Seneviratne, sometimes in tandem with that other monumental disgrace to the profession of journalism, particularly in the days that they played Heckle and Jeckle in the now-thankfully-deceased Lakbima News was a veritable fount of viciousness and malice. That tandem that I once described as providing a journalistic puzzle in the matter of which was the organ grinder and which the monkey, bestrode Rajapaksaland, with nothing to impede their reign of journalistic terror while their Monarch reigned. I trust readers will permit a small mea culpa here: I was wrong in trying to differentiate the roles of these two abominations to journalism because they were both monkeys and the organ grinder was Mahinda Rajapaksa.

One can but hope that those days are over because if they aren’t Sri Lanka could well be in line for more of the same and no nation on earth deserves such a fate.

In case readers of this piece do not have access to the Sunday Island which carried the report, here is what it said under a headline reading “Malinda apologizes to Nesiah over 2011 article:”

“..I wish to submit an apology to Dr. Devanesan Nesiah. The article alleged that Dr. Devanesan Nesiah “ attempted and to a large extent succeeded in colonizing with ‘Estate Tamils’ who at the time did not have citizenship in this country” The allegation was in respect of the action attributed by me to Dr. Devanesan Nesiah when he functioned as the Government Agent of Mannar in the 1960’s.

The said allegation is unfounded and false.[1] I understand and accept that my said allegation could have caused only grave humiliation, embarrassment and pain of mind to Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, but also adversely affect the reputation and respect he enjoyed as a public servant with an unblemished record. Therefore, I hereby withdraw unconditionally the said allegation contained in the article published in the Sunday Island of 6th March 2011 and apologise to Dr. Devanesan Nesiah for the humiliation, embarrassment and pain of mind caused to him by the said publication.”

A couple of editorial comments, in passing, would not be inappropriate at this point. I) I am sure that the prospect of significant damages overshadowing all of this and the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa could no longer issue orders to the judiciary of this country had nothing to do with Malinda’s admission of guilt and 2) What steps are the media now going to take, The Island and Sunday Island obviously included, to ensure that this kind of calumny does not continue to be published? Apologies such as Malinda Seneviratne’s come far too late to undo the damage they do people’s reputations because justice delayed is certainly justice denied.

I think there are other implications to all of this as well.

The Committee responsible for awarding the Gratiaen Prize chose to disregard this man’s public record as one of the most active mouthpieces for the Rajapaksa regime, spouting malice and calumny, to award him Sri Lanka’s foremost prize for writing in English. I suppose that panel could well trot out that very well-worn cliché that a person’s behavior in the public realm, no matter how abominable, should not influence the recognition of his ability to write fiction or poetry in the English language. I suppose it might be a bit of a stretch to suggest that, by the same token, Adolf Schickelgruber’s water colours should have been hung in the Louvre with the added reality that the city in which that wonderful gallery is located was, for a considerable period, under the heel of Herr Schickelgruber! I suggest that such deliberate equivocation is precisely what has got this country into the pickle it is currently trying to get out of.

Will the Gratiaen Committee withdraw the prize awarded to this man as a gesture of acknowledgement that it takes more than some facility at a keyboard to receive such?

There is an added irony here in that I distinctly remember Noel Gratiaen, the very distinguished brother of Doris Gratiaen, Michael Ondaatje’s mother, as arguably the finest jurist that this country ever produced and a man of impeccable integrity. That Malinda Seneviratne should have been given an accolade carrying the Gratiaen name simply defies description in the circumstances. And please don’t tell me that those who made that judgement weren’t aware of Mr. Seneviratne’s conduct as a columnist and regular contributor to the media in other ways, not to mention the fact that he was deemed the “right” person to take the position that was “vacated” by Keith Noyahr[2] at the Nation, a paper that no less a person than Mahinda Rajapaksa proclaimed as being “ours” at the time that Noyahr was very nearly dispatched to the other world by, presumably, Martians not connected to the goon squads run by the regime that Malinda so assiduously supported (and continues to support).

The conduct of the Committee that made the award to Malinda is, unfortunately, symptomatic of what prevailed in this country for far too long: convenient myopia on the part of those equipped with binoculars if there was the slightest risk of offending “those who mattered” or their underlings. I have more often than I care to remember made reference to the culpability of those who looked away while this country was being reduced to a paradise for feral canines. There is an opportunity even at this late stage for those who can do something to affect at least a partial recovery of respectability.

Come on Gratiaen Committee and Colombo Telegraph, what is your response to the questions I have raised?


[1] My “bolding.”

[2] In the event that readers are unaware of the facts, Mr. Noyahr was an editor at the Nation at the time that a British resident bearing the name Rajapaksa bought it, was beaten very nearly to death and went to Britain where he has remained incommunicado since, presumably in fear of his life.

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