By Dayan Jayatilleka –
An axiom of professional journalism is that comment is free but facts are sacred. Another is that a story must have balance, in that facts must be checked by getting in touch with all sides to the story, notably the main protagonists.
I fear that a Colombo newspaper has failed to observe either norm, in a story entitled ‘(Un) diplomatic spring cleaning’ in the column ‘People and Politics’ carried prominently on May 10th 2012 in its editorial page, under the by-line of (Ms) Darisha Bastians.
This reporter failed to reach out to me and get my side of the story as a matter of professional ethics and decency when writing a story in which I am prominently featured, but has instead engaged in blatant falsehood and falsification.
For purposes of record, I shall limit myself to correcting those blatant untruths, or to put it less diplomatically, lies.
The story says that “Typically true to form, President Rajapaksa’s meeting with Jayatilleke had been ‘cordial’ according to press reports and the Executive had gently advised his appointee to refrain from making statements about the Ministry publicly and to answer the Overseas Administration Division’s call for explanation as any other serving public official would be compelled to do.”
It is indeed true that my meeting – and luncheon—with President Rajapaksa was indeed ‘cordial’, as all my meetings with him have been for over a decade. However, the rest of the sentence which reads “and the Executive had gently advised his appointee to refrain from making statements about the Ministry publicly and to answer the Overseas Administration Division’s call for explanation as any other serving public official would be compelled to do”, is completely, totally and utterly without foundation in fact. It is, in short, a lie. You would appreciate that I cannot divulge the contents of my conversation with the President, at which the Hon Minister of External Affairs was present, but I can categorically say that His Excellency said nothing to the effect reported by your columnist. The subjects covered in our conversation were entirely different.
The story goes on to say that “Kunanayakam it is now public knowledge, reinforced by her own words during an interview with a weekly English newspaper last week, is a close associate of Jayatilleke and shares his political ideology – a healthy disregard for the “imperialist West” and admiration for socialist regimes in Cuba, Vietnam – and even Venezuela and North Korea…Jayatillake is the foremost voice raised in support of Sri Lanka opening a mission in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. That intellectuals of the calibre of Jayatillake would view Hugo Chavez’s regime in Venezuela as something Sri Lanka must aspire to, fundamentally undermines everything Sri Lanka has stood for since it inherited a liberal democracy post 1948. That Kunanayakam and Jayatillake view the near-failed state of Cuba, being run for 53 years by two brothers with no iota of hope for the dawn of democracy in the near future, as the way forward for Sri Lanka”.
This is the second lie-and a compound one-pertaining to me in the article. I challenge the columnist, or anyone else, to provide a single shred of evidence that I have ever (i) expressed admiration for North Korea (ii) advocated the opening of a Mission in Caracas ( which however I support, just as would the opening of a Sri Lankan Mission anywhere in the world) (iii) ‘view Hugo Chavez’ regime in Venezuela as something that Sri Lanka must aspire to’ (or indeed as any kind of model for Sri Lanka) or regard Cuba ( which I admire greatly) ‘as the way forward for Sri Lanka’ ( indeed I have argued the contrary in print, asserting that Sri Lanka does not have the option of adopting a Cuba-like stance).
The story says that “…Ambassadors like Jayatillake and to a lesser degree, Kunanayakam, are liabilities in Sri Lanka’s overseas diplomatic set up, whose voices raised on behalf of their personal political ideologies were jeopardizing Sri Lanka’s relationships with its traditional liberal democratic allies…. That intellectuals of the calibre of Jayatillake would view Hugo Chavez’s regime in Venezuela as something Sri Lanka must aspire to, fundamentally undermines everything Sri Lanka has stood for since it inherited a liberal democracy post 1948. While cultivating Latin America and socialist regimes elsewhere in the world is perfectly acceptable from a strategic perspective, such alliances cannot take place at the cost of our relationships with countries with which we share democratic values.”
This is richly ironic, not only because Sri Lanka’s relationship with a founding liberal democracy, France, has hardly been ‘jeopardised’ by my stewardship. The invitations for me to address colloquia in Paris and at the UNESCO on the theme of the New Humanism, including by prominent liberal democracies such as Spain; my prominent advocacy of the implementation of the LLRC recommendations and the 13th amendment; my recommendation of the Myanmar example of opening up as a response to external encirclement; my commitment to the values of pluralism and the causes of anti-discrimination, power sharing, devolution, provincial autonomy, anti-racism, the strengthening of domestic human rights mechanisms, accountability on issues such as the case of the Trinco-Five; Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship on my watch, of the US resolution declaring an International Day of Jazz defined as symbolising ‘free expression’; all indicate a far greater congruency of liberal democratic values between myself and Sri Lanka’s traditional liberal democratic allies, including the largest liberal democracy in the world, India, than between my critics within and outside the system and liberal democracy both in Sri Lanka and outside. I might add that some of these critics are hardly paragons of liberal democratic virtue, and unlike me who has always adhered to and advocated universal values and norms, are reluctant to endorse such universality of values.
Far from being an advocate of the ‘cultivating of Latin America and socialist regimes elsewhere in the world…at the cost of our relationships with countries with which we share democratic values”, I have repeatedly advocated a policy of ‘tous azimuths’ meaning ‘all points of the compass’, and indeed have been a votary, at some risk to my present employment, of the policies and practice of liberal democracy, such as accelerated political dialogue for a sustainable peace, which would precisely strengthen “our relationships with countries with which we share democratic values”, including the largest of such countries in the world, our closest neighbour, India.
The story moves to its conclusion stating that “Jayatillake has been placed, rather officially, on notice.” This too is utterly untrue, either ‘officially’ ‘or ‘unofficially’.