By Arjuna Ranawana –
I decided to go public with the following story because all our efforts to get a right of reply or a comment published on a story that appeared in the Sunday Leader of December 23, 2012 has failed.
In the last weeks of December a story appeared in the Leader headlined Bodhu Bala Sena To Rebel Against “Muslim Extremists” by-lined Raisa Wickrematunga and Niranjala Ariyawansha.
The report described a meeting that is purported to have been held on November 30 at the Navinna Raja Maha Viharaya, where Sinhala Buddhists opposed to Muslims had gathered to launch a “rebellion” against a Muslim “conspiracy.”
Much of the report relied on a document and an interview with the Coordinator of the Bodhu Bala Sena the Ven Aluthweva Ananda thero.
The article described inflammatory speeches made at the meeting by several leading lights in the movement against Muslims .
While I cannot speak to the authenticity of the meeting or the speeches that are purported to have been made, where the report goes terribly wrong is that it says this this document was “circulated by one Anupama Ranawana”….and mentions that the aforementioned “Ranawana [who] was present at the meeting.”
The document itself was circulated by an unnamed source. My daughter – Anupama Ranawana – also received it. She is a doctoral student resident in the United Kingdom and as the material in the document carries some relevance to her research, she passed it on to an activist and researcher colleague in Colombo in order to verify the events described within and also to gather information on the group Rebellion ‘12 . As it was unsigned and did not have the name of an organization on the forwarding list, verification of the facts was important.
Anupama was not the original source for the document, its circulation nor did she “attend the meeting” as reported by the Leader.
On reading the article my daughter sent the Editor of the Leader newspaper a Right of Reply, which was not published in the next issue of the newspaper. She then posted her Right of Reply as a comment to the article, which too went unpublished. All her efforts to get a correction published in the Leader have failed.
It is doubly galling because both Anupama and I have been contributors to the Leader. In fact there is one article co-authored by the two of us published by the Leader that remains in its archives. It would have been so simple for the reporters on this story to send an email to Anupama and check with her directly as to whether she was the source of the document and also request her permission to use her name if she was, in fact, the author of the document.
Also, knowing the nature of the people involved in these extremist organizations, lazy journalism that incorrectly infers that Anupama is some sort of “mole” reporting on the activities of these bodies and “circulating” that information places her directly in harm’s way.
More significantly, this incident highlights a very serious case of falling standards at the Leader, a paper which has always had a reputation for forthright and serious journalism.
In the past several months, we have seen the paper issue apologies to government ministers, and publish edited versions of articles that would throw members of the government in a bad light. As many in the media now yield to the severity of the Rajapaksa oligarchy, I am sad to see the Leader also drop its head in meek acquiescence.
For the year ahead, Sri Lanka faces many battles. True processes of reconciliation and reform must be put in place that acknowledge the immense suffering of marginalized, and the slow eradication of minority rights and representation in post-war Sri Lanka. As the attack on University students in Jaffna shows, even peaceful protest is inadmissible in the face of an army and a government acting with absolute impunity.
In such a situation, the media is often looked to as a check against the force of the state. It is not the time for lazy, opportunistic or sycophantic journalism. People at the Leader should know the consequences of such reporting. When my friend and former colleague, Lasantha Wickrematunge was the Editor of the Leader, certain sections of the State Media painted him a “traitor.” Lasantha was many things, but traitor he wasn’t. He found immense courage to expose the wrongdoings of the highest of the land because he truly loved Sri Lanka. But by painting him a traitor, those who wanted him out of the scene were able to justify his killing.
Also during Lasantha’s time responses to his stories, both positive and negative were published.
In failing to verify its facts, and denying my daughter a Right of Reply the Leader has shown how woefully low it has fallen.
Here’s hoping that the current staff at the Leader will have the courage to revive the spirit of that newspaper to its original independent self; until then, its motto, “unbowed and unafraid” remains meaningless.
Copied below is the Right of Reply which my daughter emailed to the Editor of the Leader, and later posted as a comment to the article; it was never published.
With regards to the above article I wish to make the following comment.
Assuming that the Anupama Ranawana that you are referring to in your publication is me, I wish to state that while I was in receipt of this document describing the Rebellion ’12 event, I am not the original source of its circulation. I did notify a fellow activist/researcher about its existence whilst attempting to find some information for my Doctoral Thesis. When I received this document it had no author and it was unsourced. It was sent on by myself out of academic interest. As I do not reside in Sri Lanka, I neither attended the meeting at Navinna, nor am I the author of the document in question. It may have been best practice for your reporters to have contacted me to verify its source. I am posting this response here as my original email to the Editor seems to have gone unheeded. It is sad to see that the Leader, a newspaper that used to boast very high standards, is losing them.