By Colombo Telegraph –
The Sunday Leader’s new owner Asanga Seneviratne terminated its editor Frederica Jansz’s contract and replaced her early on in the week with Sakuntala Perera a former journalist employed at Wijeya newspapers.
Asanga Seneviratne on Thursday September 13, 2012 announced to staff at The Sunday Leader and its sister newspaper the Iruresa that he was the new owner. That the takeover of the two newspapers was official. Colombo Telegraph reliably learns that Seneviratne’s stake in the two newspapers is 72% with former owner Lal Wickrematunge holding 28%. Wickrematunge however remains as Chairman. Asanga Seneviratne has been heard consistently touting the name of the President claiming close connections. How factual this maybe is not clear. However Seneviratne and Sajin Vaas Gunewardena share a close relationship.
Despite having repeatedly assured Frederica Janszof maintaining editorial independence, four days after Asanga Seneviratne visited the offices of The Sunday Leader at Ratmalana where he addressed editorial and other staff insisting that his intention to change editorial content to suit “President Mahinda Rajapaksa was only rumour” he on Monday September 17 wrote Frederica an email asserting, that “Very few people actually read the paper anymore.” He added to Frederica that articles carried in The Sunday Leader are, quote, “malicious and degrading and is mostly targeted at the First family. This is definitely not the way we want to continue,” he said, unquote.
“Some inside page articles are pure rubbish and only degrades the President,” he told Jansz.
Speaking to Colombo Telegraph Frederica Jansz said, “I repeatedly offered my resignation to Seneviratne before the sale of the newspaper asserting that if he wished to make this paper pro government or pro Rajapaksa he would have my resignation. He however, repeatedly assured me that he had no intention of taking the paper down that road insisting he needed me at the helm to continue maintaining an independent press. Clearly, he never meant what he said.”
Frederica added that she tried to accommodate Seneviratne by even agreeing to have delivered to him a CD of the final paper before it went to publication which she did no sooner he took over. Seneviratne however insisted he never received the CD which was delivered as agreed to his officer once the newspaper was finalized on Saturday September 15.
“I agreed to this arrangement despite my never having had to do this during my entire 3 1/2 year tenure as Editor in Chief. Have the owner peruse the final pages before print. This has been the editorial policy of The Sunday Leader during the entire 14 year tenure of my predecessor Lasantha Wickrematunge and mine after I took office. Nevertheless, since I was determined to make this new arrangement work for the betterment of the newspaper I agreed to allow Seneviratne to see the pages before going to press.”
Seneviratne however not only did not appreciate this gesture but together with Sajin Vaas Gunewardena is believed to have manipulated a complaint to police on Monday September 17, asserting that two nutshells published on the front page of the newspaper could incite violence against President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The “Nutshell” column has been published in The Sunday Leader for the last 18 years and are written tongue in cheek or in lighter vein. Frederica told ColomboTelegraph this column has never been intended to cause harm or incite violence against any individual. Seneviratne however together with Sajin Vass Gunewardena did not agree. Despite the fact that not a single member of President Rajapaksa’s family nor his head of security have complained that the nutshell in question was offensive or in anyway threatening to the security of the President.
On Friday September 21, Seneviratne terminated Frederica’s contract with immediate effect. He replaced her early on in the week with Sakuntala Perera a former journalist employed at Wijeya newspapers. Colombo Telegraph has made repeated attempts to contact Sunday Leader Chairman Lal Wickrematunge for clarification on the issue, but the Lal has remained unreachable so far.