Colombo Telegraph

WikiLeaks: US thinks Daily News has become like Pravda

By Colombo Telegraph

“The government’s Daily News has become at this point little more a Rajapaksa daily campaign brochure. We believe that it is now fulfilling the same function as the old Soviet Pravda: aimed not so much at persuading a general audience, the paper primarily serves as a guide to the latest official campaign position for party and state functionaries.” the US Embassy in Colombo wrote to Washington.

This remark on State run media came after US Ambassador’s meeting with the Elections Commissioner Dyananda Dissanayake no December 18, 2009. The remarks by Washington’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, are revealed by the Wikileaks leaked cable. The Colombo Telegraph found the cable classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” by ambassador Patrica A. Butenis.

Under the Subheading “WHAT CAN THE EC DO TO ENFORCE EVEN-HANDEDNESS IN THE MEDIA? “ the Ambassador wrote, “not very much, the EC has allotted 45 minutes of air-time for each candidate on state television. The EC also has the authority to appoint a ‘competent authority’ to take over management of state electronic media. The EC explained that if he were to receive a complaint, he would issue a warning to the offending party.”

“He would not mention whether he had yet received a formal complaint, through the opposition already has been making loud public complaints. If the warning were not heeded, he would then appoint a competent authority, who would take over the day-to-day management of the state radio or television outlet. The legislation did not provide, however, for a competent authority to oversee state newspapers.” the Ambassador Butenis further wrote.

In paragraph 6 the Ambassador wrote “Given the short campaign season, it may not be until the very end of the campaign that the EC would get around appointing a competent authority – a model that was followed in a previous provincial elections, when the EC appointed a competent authority two days before voting. Beyond appointing the competent authority, the EC has very little other power, and thus we expect the state media to continue to be used as an outlet for the president’s campaign. As for private media, the EC has nor authority over it. The Rajapaksas or their allies own many of private media outlets and are crowding out opposition, which also lacks the Rajapaksa’ financial resources.”

Below we publish the relevant part of the cable;

VZCZCXRO2809
OO RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHLM #1177/01 3561250
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 221250Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1046
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 2219
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 9241
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 7491
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 5340
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 3646
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 5265
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PRIORITY 0126
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM PRIORITY 0800
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 4387
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 9801
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 7092
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 0121
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 3958
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 001177

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKAN ELECTIONS COMMISSIONER: FAQS FOR AND
ABOUT

COLOMBO 00001177  001.2 OF 004

Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)

1. (C) SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION: The following provides Post
assessment of key issues related to the Sri Lankan Elections
Commissioner and the upcoming presidential election scheduled
for January 26.  The message is organized in
frequently-asked-question (FAQ) format and draws on
Ambassador's December 18 meeting with the Commissioner and
Post research.  END SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION.
WHAT CAN THE EC DO TO ENFORCE EVEN-HANDEDNESS IN THE MEDIA?
--------------------------------------------- --------------

5. (C) Not very much.  The EC has allotted 45 minutes of
air-time for each candidate on state television (candidates
can use the 45 minutes all at once or in 15-minute
increments).  The EC also has the authority to appoint a
"competent authority" to take over management of state
electronic media.  The EC explained that if he were to
receive a complaint, he would issue a warning to the
offending party.  (He did not mention whether he had yet

COLOMBO 00001177  002.2 OF 004

received a formal complaint, though the opposition already
has been making loud public complaints.)  If the warning were
not heeded, he would then appoint a competent authority, who
would take over the day-to-day management of the state radio
or television outlet.  The legislation did not provide,
however, for a competent authority to oversee state
newspapers.  (NOTE: The government's Daily News has become at
this point little more than a Rajapaksa daily campaign
brochure.  We believe that it is now fulfilling the same
function as the old Soviet Pravda: aimed not so much at
persuading a general audience, the paper primarily serves as
a guide to the latest official campaign positions for party
and state functionaries.  END NOTE.)

Back to Home page