By Amrit Muttukumaru –
If the US accedes to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s application to revoke his American citizenship and he is eligible to be a presidential candidate and his brother former president Mahinda Rajapaksa throws his FULL WEIGHT behind him, the most likely outcome will be that Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be the next President of Sri Lanka. Despite the misguided prognostications of some ‘experts’, the presidency continues to wield substantial executive power notwithstanding the highly controversial 19th Amendment with questionable legality. This is particularly so in the context of a strong and charismatic individual holding office.
The focus of this article as the title suggests is the impact of GR’s likely presidency on the media scene in Sri Lanka and not on whether he will be a PROXY of the US or his presidency will be beneficial to the country. On the question of being or not a US proxy, I invite the attention of readers to my article “Presidential Stakes: Is Gota US Proxy & Sirisena China Proxy?” published on 22 May 2019 in the ‘Colombo Telegraph’. This article was of no interest to any of the mainstream English print media – ‘Daily Mirror’, ‘Daily FT’ ‘The Island’ and ‘Ceylon Today’.
The Colombo Telegraph article of 5 August 2019 “The Gota-Ranil Pact: Revealed” if factual throws further light on this issue. It is a no-brainer that Ranil Wickremesinghe widely perceived to be a US Proxy who cannot deliver what the US wants will be a perfect fit as opposition leader under a GR presidency.
Fear of WNL
It is widely perceived that Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL) has a stranglehold on the print media of this country – ‘Irida Lankadeepa’, ‘Lankadeepa’ (Daily), ‘Sunday Times’, ‘Daily Mirror’ and now ‘Tamil Mirror’. It is believed that sections of the political establishment and even sections of the media are averse to getting on the wrong side of WNL and its owner Ranjit Wijewardene who was inaugural Chairman of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) under which falls the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL). Strong evidence of WNL arrogance, conflict of interest and wrongdoing will also not engage the attention of this article.
Examples of even the media being averse to antagonizing WNL include:
1) The appointment of Ranjit Wijewardene’s son Ruwan Wijewardene – State Minister of Defence also as Minister of Mass Media did not draw even a whimper of a protest from either the state or other sections of the private media although Ruwan will have access to information from competing media entities which include state controlled ‘Lake House’.
2) While President Sirisena as Minister of Defence and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe were rightly castigated in parliament and by the media for their incredulous denial of being aware of intelligence reports leading to the Easter Sunday carnage, Ruwan Wijewardene – State Minister of Defence was treated with kid gloves for the very same denial.
3) Although a case was filed in the Court of Appeal to annul PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s parliamentary membership citing Article 91(1)(e) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka on the basis that Wickremesinghe is the “ninth largest shareholder” of Lake House Printers & Publishers PLC, the parties concerned have glaringly overlooked the fact that Ruwan Wijewardene is not only a major shareholder but also was ‘Executive Director’ of the very same Lake House Printers & Publishers PLC at the time of the 17 August 2015 General Election.
A Gotabaya presidency whatever its other implications good or bad will most likely dilute the stranglehold WNL has on the print media of this country. It is widely perceived that the owners of Liberty Publishers (Private) Limited, publishers of Aruna (Sinhala Daily) / The Sunday Morning (English) and Ceylon Newspapers (Private) Limited, publishers of Mawbima (Sinhala Daily) / ‘Ceylon Today’ (English Daily) are close associates of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and will flourish under a GR presidency. Although state patronage in any form has to be frowned upon, this is the ground reality in this ‘land like no other’. To the extent that it will break the domination of WNL and bring about some degree of competition it is salutary.
The same by and large applies to the Television media vis-à-vis Ada Derana, Sirasa, Hiru and other players.
This writer wishes to flag that businessmen owning media institutions is fraught with danger to the country. As we witness even today, media houses steer clear of alleged wrongdoing by competing businessmen owning media houses.
The reluctance to make public the citizenship renunciation certificate which Gotabaya Rajapaksa has asserted is in his possession tells its own story. Is the US taking him to the BRINK to extract what it is seeking?
In the event GR is a presidential candidate and in the likelihood of his winning the presidency, it will be the first time at least in Sri Lanka for a person renouncing his citizenship and subsequently regaining it being elected as the head of state and government. Whether such an eventuality portends well for the country is another matter.