Editor of the state owned Daily News Rajpal Abeynayake has described himself as Sri Lanka’s Rush Limbaugh in an interview with the New York Times newspaper which calls him a gushing admirer of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
In an article entitled ‘A Sri Lankan Journalist Eagerly Toes the Line’ the New York Times profiles the Daily News Editor as the most influential English language journalist in the country.
“I think, if I may say so, that they’re comfortable with me,” Abeynayake told the New York Times, referring to the governing Rajapaksa clan.
“Mr. Abeynayake is unapologetic about violating what many see as a basic norm of journalism: giving both sides of a story,” the newspaper says.
“We have a media that is far freer than that in the U.S., U.K. or the rest of the Western world,” the newspaper quotes Abeynayake as saying in one of the many black-is-white statements he made in an hourlong interview. “Take the invasion of Iraq. Can you tell me whether the U.S. media was against it, including your newspaper?”
The reason Sri Lanka needs state-owned and state-dominated news media, he said, is that otherwise the government’s views would be ignored.
“A coterie of privately owned media could bring down the government by manipulating the news,” he said, “and that doesn’t do justice to those who elected them.”
The newspaper says Abeynayake cites Noam Chomsky and the government shutdown in the United States to defend Sri Lanka’s press restrictions.
“You cannot allow the freedom of the wild ass,” he said, referring to the animal. “And if media are manipulated to serve as the instrument of others’ agendas — like imperialists or multinational corporations — you need to counter that,” the Daily News Editor told the newspaper.
Abeynayake also dismissed the international estimates of the war casualties, and he said many of the journalists killed were spies for the Tamil Tigers.
“These were terrorists using journalism as a cover,” he said. “Terrorists get killed by governments, and, yes, that’s O.K.”
His first stint as the editor of a government-owned newspaper, The Sunday Observer, ended in 2005 after just eight months when he wrote an editorial mildly disagreeing with President Rajapaksa, the report says.
“At the time, I wasn’t sure how they’d turn out,” Mr. Abeynayake said of the Rajapaksa government. “I was skeptical that these people could deliver. I wasn’t very comfortable with them in 2005. Now, I’m very comfortable.”
Mr. Abeynayake noted that no Sri Lankan journalist had been killed since 2009, and he said that those who had fled the country were either working as agents of those countries or were looking for free tickets out.
“They are economic migrants,” he said, “just like these people who get on boats to Australia.”
Abeynayake told the New York Times that he and others at government-owned publications were no more constrained in their work than those at privately owned newspapers.
“All journalists to a very great extent are forced to toe a certain line,” he said. “In the end, you gravitate to a place where the management views are in consonance with yours. And I have gravitated to that place.”