By Emil van der Poorten –
If the responses to my recent columns to Colombo Telegraph have done nothing else, they have provoked responses that should give at least a few of us cause for even a small degree of optimism: there ARE people who perceive the deception and deceit that is being performed under cover of Yahapalanaya, covering the backsides of those who have done very well, thank you, under the Rajapaksa dispensation!
However, identifying the problem (not merely the symptom) as individuals is not enough, in and of itself. We need (particularly us septuagenarians who might be of fit mind but somewhat feeble body!) to rally the troops because the generations that have succeeded us are tech-savvy to an extent that few of us can aspire to. We need to keep them rolling as they appear to have done during the last Presidential election where, I understand, young people familiar with the use of community media such as Twitter and Facebook and fluent in the national languages of this country played no small part in the demise of the leader of the most violent and corrupt government this country has ever encountered. I hope that what I am about to relate strikes a chord with them and that they will expend their energies to expose simple financial self-interest parading as some kind of “freedom of the press.”
The fact that Ranil Wickremesinghe appears driven to surround himself with a Praetorian Guard of old boys of his alma mater is one of the saddest spectacles confronting this country. Apart from the fact that it appears to provide evidence of some pretty deep-seated insecurity not befitting someone with ambitions of leading Sri Lanka and while his team might well be a more “civilized” bunch than the Rajapaksa Mafia, it is NOT all that is needed to deliver the goods.
I will continue to espouse the “Feet to the fire” slogan relative to Mr. W’s bunch whose primary qualification appears to be to have entered that educational institution down Reid Avenue and/or belonged to the traditional Uncle Nephew Party clique of yore. As an aside to this, may I recommend that Ruwan Wijewardene finds someone with at least minimal speech-writing skills before he next addresses such as the Kotelawela Defence Academy? There was little substance or style in what he delivered and certainly a great deal to be desired in the matter of the “facts” that he sought to detail. Those of us who grew up in that time and had the benefit of Aubrey Collette’s cartoons and Tarzie Vittachchi’s biting prose have a far better and more accurate picture of John Lionel Kotelawala than Mr. Wijewardene who probably depended on the “official line” of those who constitute the power behind the current throne – the Wijewardne newspaper dynasty of which he is a part – who NEVER distinguished themselves as champions of democracy but simply defenders of their own narrow class and business interests. One thing that can be attributed to them, however, is consistency in the matter of knowing on which side their bread was buttered, though they had often, I am sure, to hold each slice by the edges because the dairy product was so generously applied to both of the larger surfaces!
A recent example of this was the two page paean of praise to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private armed force, parading as a news item while, very obviously, an “advertorial.” I don’t know to which of the three armed services it belongs seeing as how it probably has connections to all of them, from the purchase of MiG jets to the use of assault rifles usually associated with the army and operating on the high seas! This ran in two of the English language newspapers to my knowledge and, while I don’t recall in which it first appeared, it certainly had a very prominent spread in the Sunday Times, without benefit (to the public) of so much as a mention of the fact that it was an advertisement for a large and sophisticated private shore/sea-based armed force without a semblance of government oversight of any description entering into the equation.
That a newspaper owned and operated by the current Prime Minister’s uncle and supposedly not the creature of the late-unlamented Rajapaksa regime should descend to such depths appears to confirm what those allegedly on the “loony left” have had to say about the two primary political configurations of Sri Lanka: they are two peas in a pod, six of one and half a dozen of another.
When I expressed my surprise at what the Wijeya Newspapers group had done, my interlocutor at the time had a very simple explanation: “The advertising rupee supersedes all other considerations, certainly those of principle or journalistic ethics.”
Perhaps, this is so. However, I believe it is up to those of us who still cling to the last vestiges of democratic practice and morality of even the most minimal kind to expose these businesses pretending to act in the public interest for what they are: simply profit centres, devoid of anything resembling principle. When the Sunday Leader was at its shrill but, nevertheless, vibrant peak under the guidance of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Frederica Jansz, these same media power brokers manipulated the annual awards to the journalistic fraternity so that their employees won even when they were not qualified to compete in the categories in which they walked away with the prizes. That such as the Sri Lanka Press Institute and The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka turned a Nelsonian eye on this kind of strong-arm journalism simply remains a matter of record. In fact, I would suggest that the first blow, against what was the “Last Man Standing” among Sri Lanka’s independent newspapers, was struck then and what followed, culminating in a creature of the Rajapaksas taking over complete control of the Sunday Leader was little more than a coda to that performance.
There have been some significant stirrings among younger writers contributing to the electronic pages of Colombo Telegraph and other publications devoted to public affairs and I hope and trust that they will direct their attention to the hypocrisy and duplicity of those who have apparently succeeded in taking cover under the Yahapalanaya blanket after making their contribution to the monstrosity that paraded as “governance” under the Rajapaksas. Both they and the money-grubbers who’ll sell their own mothers for an advertising dollar need to be exposed and so exposed that they will think twice before they indulge their duplicitous skills in support of fascism, dictatorship and private armies, no matter in what disguise.