18 September, 2021

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Ten Years On: Colombo Telegraph & Sri Lankan Politics

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Last Sunday Colombo Telegraph marked the tenth anniversary of its launch as a public interest website and online journal. The journal was launched on 12 September 2011 by Uvindu Kurukulasuriya from London where he was living in exile. He had left Sri Lanka following the murder of his friend and fellow journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge on 8 January 2009, and the subsequent threat to his own life broadcast over national radio by the media advisor to Sri Lanka’s then President. Those were dark days for journalism and media freedom in Sri Lanka. In one year alone (2008-2009) 19 journalists and dozens of media workers – including newspaper vendors, were killed; hundreds of journalists were harassed and/or abducted. The notorious white van carried a special seat for journalists. Even the day Uvindu left Sri Lanka, another Editor, Upali Tennakoon was attacked in his house.

Uvindu and colleagues during the funeral procession of the Sunday Leader newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge on 12 January 2009, a short distance away from the entrance to the Borella General Cemetery

Uvindu launched Colombo Telegraph (CT) almost singlehandedly with 25 dollars to buy the domain, and writing and publishing everything himself. The idea and the inspiration for the initiative came from a July 2010 Stockholm congress for exiled journalists from around the world. Uvindu was invited to attend the congress as a moderator and one of its outcomes was the development of a supporting program for exiled journalists to assist them with website hosting. Colombo Telegraph has benefited from this program and its Virtualroad.org hosting provider.

But there was a lot more to the launching of Colombo Telegraph than the compulsions of an exile journalist. Sri Lanka in 2011 was in dire need of a viable independent media outlet, and CT as a public interest online journal was able to meet the famous twin requirements for an independent newspaper: a live editor and a (virtually) dead proprietor. For ten years, Uvindu has been publishing Colombo Telegraph depending almost entirely on Google ad income which is never enough to cover even operational costs. The same source is also used to give assignments to reporters in Sri Lanka and at times to support local journalists who lose their jobs for writing truth to power.

CT’s Mission Statement stipulated the need for it in Sri Lanka and the framework for filling the void from London – by turning the spotlight, locally and globally, on stories that are under-reported, miss-reported and/or censored in Sri Lanka. CT became a hit within a week. It now counts more than a million hits in a month which more than double whenever there is political turmoil in the island. Over the years, CT has provided a forum for hundreds of political activists, opinion makers, intellectuals and academics to proffer their opinions and contentions on Sri Lankan politics. It also provides a smorgasbord for comments by readers, ranging from the sharpest to the silliest and everything in between.    

When CT was launched in September 2011, Mahinda Rajapaksa was nearly two years into his second term as President. After the end of the war in 2009 and landslide victories in the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010, there were both possibilities and expectations for the country to be positively led back to pre-war normalities in civilian life, and for finding reasonable solutions to pre-war political problems involving the majority (Sinhala) and minority (Tamil and Muslim) communities. They were not to be.

Instead, the MR government went utterly off rail. It subdued the legislature, intimidated the judiciary, impeached the Chief Justice, picked a fight in Geneva, and changed the constitution to make the executive presidency a timeless possession for the first family. Corruption and cronyism became a way of life at the highest levels for the newly arrived. The people pushed back and in the 2015 elections they defeated the Rajapaksas and elected a ‘common opposition’ president and a diarchic prime minister on the promise of good government.

That promise was broken in no time through the infamous bond scam, and the no less infamous Ranil-Maithri diarchy lurched from one disaster to another leading up to the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019. The people had it with good government and put the two grand old parties out of misery in 2015. And the Rajapaksas returned – with a new makeover: Gotabaya Rajapaksa promoted as President and Mahinda Rajapaksa demoted as Prime Minister. Tweedledee was fired for ineptitude, and Tweedledum was rehired for miracle-work.

Except, there has been no miracle, only misery, made worse by a raging pandemic and a tanked economy. And compounded by unprecedented incompetence, knee-jerk reactions, and a biannual global auditing in Geneva. What now, is the preoccupying question. It is not for the media to provide answers to political questions. But without free and independent media, there will be no forum for raising questions and pushing for accountability.   

Ten years on, Colombo Telegraph is on track true its founding mission. While many things remain the same in Sri Lanka, politically speaking, quite a few things have changed and quite significantly so. Unlike in 2011, the government is more on the defensive now and its critics have grown bolder and louder than then. CT may still be hacked and blocked as it has been in the past, not only by the Rajapaksa government but also by folks in the yahapalana government. But it will not be silenced. For that and for all that has been achieved, Colombo Telegraph and Uvindu Kurukulasuriya deserve all the praise and kudos that CT users can muster. And to assure every support needed for its vigorous continuation.

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Latest comments

  • 13
    0

    ” While many things remain the same in Sri Lanka, politically speaking, quite a few things have changed and quite significantly so. Unlike in 2011, the government is more on the defensive now and its critics have grown bolder and louder than then. “

    Happy anniversary CT!
    The sound of the truth; breeze of freshness for those throwing up by foul framing and concocted stories; the air of vision for the humanity’s future.
    Long live and continue to be the friend in need for the weak and the deprived.

    • 15
      2

      If there was no CT, we would have gone mentally ill during that 10 years. Your fearless acts should be commendable by anyone with some sanity.
      :
      Congrats, we wish you more strengths, and let s hope no restrictions would come on you by srilanken Mugabe et al in the days to come.

      • 7
        0

        Thanks to Rajan for a comprehensive account of CT’s operations.
        “(CT) also provides a smorgasbord for comments by readers, ranging from the sharpest to the silliest and everything in between. ” In that regard, it is better than some of the mainstream media like the Daily Mirror, where somewhat dimwitted
        moderators see sharper comments as dangerous.
        Wouldn’t the above apply to some of the writers too?

        • 5
          1

          old codger

          “Wouldn’t the above apply to some of the writers too?”

          and commentators and readers like SJ.

  • 15
    1

    Agree that the Telegraph gives an opening to a range of writing and opinions which is very important in a democracy.

    However, can we say that in the past 10 years things have improved in the country ? If at all, the overall standard in civil culture, liberal thinking , democratic instincts and even intellectual standards have only receded. On the other hand we observe a further increase of intolerance, extremism, narrow mindedness , corruption and incivility.

    The inspiration for the website came from the brutal shooting of a journalist in broad daylight, on a busy street of Colombo .

    Has the assassin being found, the plot unravelled ?

    In 2015 we appointed a new government of which much was expected.

    That government , particularly that fraud Ranil, disappointed the nation very badly.

    The result ? The bad guys have returned, stronger than ever !

  • 12
    1

    Stay Safe Uvindu; We need you and the CT, all the more so, in these dark days of a Morbid Symptom known as Viyath Maga.
    The Rajapakses have throttled Srilanka with Textbook Fascism which exemplifies Militarised, Institutional order.

    Many More Years for the CT……..

  • 8
    0

    Yes CT continues to provide its readers the news items ( sometimes with in-depth study) that are totally different to what we see and hear in the mainstream media and other pro-government platforms.

    Congrats to CT founder, its staff and hats-off to the illustrious writers like Rajan, Kumar, Jehan, Dayan and so on ( pardon me for missing the names of other distinguished writers) for their extraordinary efforts to apprise its readership on the various subjects affecting the country.
    Long live CT…

  • 8
    0

    Well done CT.

  • 9
    0

    Thank you, CT, Uvindu. May you live long & go from strength to strength.

    • 8
      0

      Manel Fonseka

      Thanks to Uvindu, CT, writers, and all those readers who make CT interesting, maybe addictive.

      I am also grateful to Eagle Eye, soma, SJ, Jim softy, Ram, kali, Abhaya, sach, KASumanasekera, Vibhushana, Champa, Peter Casie Chetty, Ranjith(SPRRW), Cholan, reformed David Blacker, Lester, Dayan, M.Sivananthan, J.Muthu (Jamis Muthu Banda, Tamil Speaking Sinhalam), Ravi Perera (Sinhala speaking Demela), NAK, Max, …..
      and all those morons and contrarians who provided us with continuous entertainment and immense pleasure.

      If not for these crooks, murderers, mass killers, ….. racists, rapists, saffron clad thugs, inapt politicians, …………… there is need for CT.
      Therefore we should be grateful to all of them.

      I miss Spring koha, Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan Amarasisri, Ben Hurling, JULAMPITIYE AMARE, gamini, Dr.Rajasingham Narendran, vishvajith, Wuliangguobinjiu, ……. and many other descent souls.

      • 3
        6

        Native Vedda,
        “…. and all those morons and contrarians…”
        “… and many other descent souls.”
        —-
        Guys who cannot tolerate different views from others and appreciate only the views expressed by those who say things that are pleasing to their ears are highly vocal on preserving democracy and freedom of speech in Sri Lanka. Hypocrites!

    • 1
      0

      Dear Manel,
      .
      It is clear to me that you know Uvindu well; that you have met him, etc.
      .
      I am a less informed, less connected old man living in the backwoods of Uva. I have never met you, never spoken to you even on the phone, but we have exchanged many emails. Also, you regularly, but not often, make brief but intelligent comments. From all that I know you to be bold and upright, although your current existence is not easy.
      .
      I have read Colombo Telegraph regularly after the ban on it was lifted in early 2015. I have made too many long and unintelligent comments since then, and even written a few articles. I have always told the truth as I see it, but not as elegantly as you. For that I have had to email Uvindu a few times.
      .
      Going on all that, may I second your vote of thanks?
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela

      • 0
        0

        Panini — you’re mistaken.
        .
        I dont know Uvindu,. Have never spoken to him or met him.
        .
        I wonder how you came to believe this — not that it’s of any consequence.
        .
        May you live long, too.

  • 6
    0

    Congratulations to CT. Mr Kurukulasuriya is among the few fearless journalists maintaining the tradition of exposing the uncomfortable truth & I wish him well.

    In fact, CT has become my only source for current news of SL at grass root level. While it is expected that the contributors to CT are professional & experts on the subject of the discussion, it is entertaining as well to read the contributions of self acclaimed pundits & critics, although, I don’t bother with some whose opinions are biased or hateful, which disgusts me.

  • 4
    1

    How many politicians even know about Colombo Telegraph, let alone read and understand the contributions in it?
    How many will contribute their views to be read by all?

    • 3
      0

      Justice,
      “How many politicians even know about Colombo Telegraph,?”
      The fact that they tried to ban CT shows that they are well aware of it.

  • 8
    0

    I join rest of the readers in thanking CT and Uvindu. I have read some of his traumatic experience in Lanka and sincerely admire for taking up this project in providing reliable information. Not just because of a busy schedule, but not having any reliable media, print or digital news outlet in Lanka , I never wasted time looking for any. I came to know about CT by accident when Rajapaksa government tried blocking CT along with two other news outlets right in the very beginning. This made me curious to check out the site, and since then I have followed CT as my only source. Now because of the Pandemic at times I check the headline news in digital version of DM. Thanks again Uvindu, CT and few of those journalist who strife in providing the truth.

  • 5
    0

    Thank you Uvindu, CT and Rajan. Please keep on going.

  • 4
    0

    Many best wishes to Uvindu and CT.
    Thanks Rajan
    Uvindu, continue your good work

  • 3
    0

    Uvindu & CT: CONGRATULATIONS! Well done and wish you the BEST of courage, determination, and resolve to further the course for “Fair Play” and “Justice”.

  • 4
    0

    If there is one area – field is too high a word – I would profess ineptitude at, it is Journalism.
    .
    I seldom read. I form my thoughts around the things I observe. I have a keen eye and a well tuned ear. Yet, I was feeling dull and bored, until I came across Colombo Telegraph. Ever since, my boredom has disappeared.
    .
    Yes, Uvindu Kurukulasuriya is the physician of my mental alertness. Thank you, Uvindu. Thank you Colombo Telegraph. I wish ‘both’ a productive future.

  • 5
    0

    Colombo Telegraph ……….. bloody marvellous!

    Congratulations …….. and best for the future.

    Let there be freedom …….. and light.


    “The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.”

  • 4
    0

    I have criticized and disagreed with editorial policy of CT on several occasions, but acutely aware all along that CT is a rare facility in the Sri Lankan political climate for free comment on political affairs, and a necessity that I hope will endure even harsher times to come, when dissent could become a rare privilege reserved for ones who do not pose a serious threat to those in power.
    I admire the fighting spirit and wish CT and Uvindu the courage and strength– for at least as long as it takes us to see sanity prevail.

  • 4
    1

    Happy 10th Anniversary CT.

    Hopefully in the next 10 years CT and its readers (despite EE and SJ) and contributors would have achieved the objective and CT become a Sri Lanka based print as well as an electronic media competing with other free media reporting on stories of united Sri Lanka and economically advanced Sri Lanka and democratic Sri Lanka and corruption free Sri Lanka and Rajapaksa free Sri Lanka where all religion and language and ethnicities are equal and living in prosperity

    if not we are all screwed!!

    • 3
      3

      Rajash,
      “…corruption free Sri Lanka and Rajapaksa free Sri Lanka where all religion and language and ethnicities are equal…”
      —-
      You forgot to mention ‘Separatists free’, ‘Terrorists free’, Wahhabi Muslim Fundamentalists free’ Sri Lanka where ‘Tamils give equal status to their fellow Tamils belong to low castes’.

      • 4
        3

        Evil, if at all it should be you,thanking CT profusely, for allowing your daily racial rants, which you call as “different views”. By the way when will CT be free from you ???

      • 1
        0

        Eagle Eye – You forgot to mention ‘Separatists free’, ‘Terrorists free’, Wahhabi Muslim Fundamentalists free
        ——
        Mahinda and Gota – are now pulling the strings – they can create separatism when they like
        they can resurrect LTTE when they like
        They can set off another easter bomb when they like
        ========
        Eagle Eye – ‘Tamils give equal status to their fellow Tamils belong to low castes’.
        are all Sinhalese equal?

      • 3
        1

        Eagle,
        “You forgot to mention ‘Separatists free’, ‘Terrorists free’, Wahhabi Muslim Fundamentalists free”
        May I humbly add “free of Canadians who want to talk about the rights of Sinhalayo” ?

  • 3
    8

    Colombo Telegraph did identify a niche market.
    By providing a free space for venting pent-up jealousy and hatred towards the poor majority of this country it won the hearts and minds of sakkili separatists and crafty Wahabis scattered all over.
    Their agenda is to keep to the pot of hatred boiling for any cooling down leading to peace among the people is anathema to their avowed scheme.
    A gathering of people with such unity in purpose I have never witnessed.
    Their hypocrisy coupled with total absence of logic is a statistical rarity.
    CT dutifully caters to their need to process the truth to suit the requirement.
    My experience in my attempt to engage them in a polite, logical manner is akin to entering a large kennel of mad dogs.
    .
    Recently when CT published an article by one sakkiliya describing Sinhalese as savages for 2500 years the joyous acclaim it received put me in a thoughtful mood. I was wondering what an ‘editorial policy’ is. I WhatsApped the link to all my friends.
    .
    I wish every Sinhala Buddhist in this country reads Colombo Telegraph.

    Soma

    • 1
      0

      S
      I dearly wish that there will be more of balanced articles and comments from all sections of the political spectrum.
      Abuse of specific ethnic groups has been done by many here and even you have done it, perhaps under provocation.
      There are too many here with nothing positive to say but hurl insult at persons and populations.
      A few of us cannot change it.
      Why don’t you encourage those, especially Sinhalese, who speak sense and present positive suggestions. A discussion of that nature will naturally exclude all the rubbish.
      Be positive.

    • 3
      1

      soman

      Welcome back to civilised world.

      Please explain what do you mean by “sakkili”.
      Mind you, your ancestors and relatives might get highly offended.

      Did Gota send his brother to Rome to pick up and bring a dog on his return?

      Is Lohan your relative or employer?

    • 1
      0

      Dear Soma,
      I can see that you are frustrated.
      .
      You are intelligent.
      .
      May be a few Tamils have hurt your feelings. There are more Sinhalese who just not hurt the feelings of Tamils, but go a step further, harming them.
      .
      We shouldn’t be ruining our future quarreling all the time.
      .
      It is up to educated people like you to turn things around.

    • 1
      1

      Soma , you mean Eagle. N.perera.RCP and many more here in CT. It is okay Soma, the racist in Lanka have the whole media to vent 24/7 let others have CT unless you too think like Rajapaksas to suppress dissent. Yet without CT readers help Lohan Rat what the F is givimg free publicity to the whole world. What happened to you ? After brief absence your thinking and vocabulary seems to have skewed.

      • 2
        1

        By the way Soman it is Lankan racist in the first placepushed Uvindu out. If not CT may not exist. I guess as long racist like you exist Uvindu and those Sakilli and wahabis too will be around to give company.

    • 2
      0

      Soma,
      The Sinhalese don’t need any help from others to screw themselves. Could even Prabharan have done a better job than Lohan Ratwatte? If these are the people the Sinhala Buddhists vote for, 12 years after the war, what do you expect?

    • 1
      3

      CT same as Tamil Net and Attha News Paper. Most of the Tamils (11.4% Tamils in Sri Lanka ) reading CT hardly 74.% Sinhalese Aryans not reading this CT it is same like JVP. Normally millions of people attending for JVP election meetings at the end of the Election there candidates losing their deposits getting very very low votes. This is gospel truth also

  • 1
    1

    By the way Soman it is Lankan racist in the first placepushed Uvindu out. If not CT may not exist. I guess as long racist like you exist Uvindu and those Sakilli and wahabis too will be around to give company.

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