Mr. Manik De Silva
The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka
October 28, 2010.
I am writing to inform you that I don’t wish to continue as a member of the Editors Guild anymore. When you asked me to join and extended an invitation to me I readily accepted. In the belief that being a part of and member of the body would only ensure that I, as Editor of The Sunday Leader together with all other Editors would be at the forefront of the movement against laws and executive action which attempt to curb press freedoms and gag the press. That we would campaign against passing of black laws like the Press Council Bill against journalists, Broadcast Regulatory Authority, etc.
That apart, I also believed that while newspapers would be free to hold their own views and opinions while also respecting and protecting the rights of individuals and the publics right to know, none of us would in the process stoop to misinterpreting or deliberately lending a different and slanted perspective to evidence being led in a court of law merely to suit petty personal agendas.
And that is exactly what the Wijeya Group of Newspaper namely The Sunday Times and its sister paper the Daily Mirror have been doing repeatedly since I began giving evidence and am being subjected to cross-examination in the ‘White Flag’ case.
This, they have done, despite their own court reporter (The Daily Mirror) having admitted and apologized to me in court for having carried factually incorrect reports not once but twice when he wrote his copy based on evidence I had given in court.
Despite my having first spoken with Champika Liyanaarachi (whose first reaction was to say she would indeed carry a front page apology) and Lal Wickrematunge having brought it to the notice of Ranjit Wijewardena – no correction was carried nor an apology. A clear violation of Section 3. CORRECTIONS and APOLOGIES the document you constantly tout to us all from the “Code of Professional Practice (Code of Ethics) of The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka Adopted by the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka.” Wherein article, 3.1. states quote: “Where it is recognized by the editor that a report was incorrect in a material respect, it should be corrected promptly and with due prominence and with an apology where appropriate, except where the correction or apology is against the wishes of the aggrieved party.”
Obviously in this case for reasons I cannot understand Ms. Liyanaarachchi despite her own reporter admitting he had indeed misquoted what had been said in court when I gave evidence thought it fit to simply ignore what had been not one but two factually incorrect reports.
For reasons best known to themselves she thereafter together with her colleague Sinha Ratnatunge, Editor of The Sunday Times continued to publish reports that were both misleading and detrimental to my professional reputation and credibility.
The Sunday Leader in the last 17 years of its existence (15 of those years under the stewardship of Lasantha Wickrematunge) has always had a strained and bitter relationship with the Editors Guild. Mainly because in 1999, when the presses of The Sunday Leader were sealed, as a result of former President Chandrika Kumaratunge abusing her power as the executive, the Guild did not see it fit to issue a statement of condemnation. Lasantha, as a result, quit his membership of the Guild while Lal Wickrematunge left the Newspaper Publishers Society.
That position remained until I took over as Editor in March last year. I was then afforded an explanation (a lame one at that) that the reason the Guild had not issued a statement back in 1999 was because that task had been left to Victor Ivan – Editor of the Ravaya to do but that Victor lost his mother simultaneously and so the statement never got out. If indeed, that suffices as an explanation it only serves to enhance how pathetically inept the Editors Guild has and always will be.
Nevertheless, I was determined to put the past behind us and move forward and so made a genuine and sincere effort to mend fences. A firm believer that united we stand – divided we fall. But I have since learnt as did Lasantha that unity, principles and ethics are words merely bandied about by those very Editors who preach good governance and high moral practices every week in their editorials. In practice they mean nothing.
At The Sunday Leader we have been attacked no less than nine times, our presses burnt down twice, finally culminating with our founder Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge being assassinated in January 2009.
As you are aware, the threats and intimidation did not stop. During the year 2009 not only did my staff and I continue to receive death threats but lawyers representing us in courts were branded “traitors” and terrorists by members of this regime.
All of this has only served to strengthen our fortitude and willpower to continue at The Sunday Leader. That this newspaper continues to print weekly is nothing short of extraordinary. We do so with no help, encouragement or support from any of our erstwhile colleagues in the media.
We remain strong, unbowed and afraid when most men – particularly some of those in the current Editors Guild would have been running as fast as their legs would carry them to different climes. And haven’t we had evidence of that!
So, in a nutshell, Manik, I no longer wish to be member of a body that is not only irresponsible and pathetically ineffective but also hypocritical to its very core. And that was amply demonstrated when you as President of this body and all of its members did not have the courage to stand tall and admit a panel of judges chosen by you had failed to read criteria laid down in black and white when choosing nominees for the Journalism Awards For Excellence 2009.
A fact, you did not have the courtesy to acknowledge or respond to when I wrote you three months ago.
Indeed, the very idea of my continuing as a member of this Guild is repugnant particularly so when the so called defenders of free media are selling their right to freedom for a mess of pottage, to a government that has consistently intimidated the media into submission or silence and does little to uphold democratic values, nay even simply human values.
The Sunday Leader
Lal Wickrematunge – Chairman – Leader Publications Pvt Ltd
Ranjit Wijewardena – Chairman – Wijeya Group of Newspapers
Sundara Nihathamani de Mel – Editor – Irida Lakbima
V. Thanabalasingham – Editor – Thinakkural
Sinha Ratnatunge – Editor – The Sunday Times
Siri Ranasinghe – Editor – Lankadeepa
Bandula Padmakumara – Chairman – Lake House
Mohanlal Piyadasa – Editor – Iruresa
Victor Ivan – Editor – Ravaya
Gamini Sumanasekera – Editor – Irida Divaina
Ariyananda Dombagahawatte – Editor – Irida Lankadeepa
V. Thevarajah – Editor – Sunday Virakesari
Nisthar Cassim – Editor – Daily Financial Times
Prabath Sahabandu – Editor – The Island
Jatila Wellaboda – Editor – Lakbima
R. Prabhagan – Editor – Virakesari
Rajpaal Abeynayake – Editor – LakbimaNews
Gamini Abeywardena – Editor – The Nation/Bottom Line
Champika Liyanaarachchi – Editor – The Daily Mirror