of the President. “How are you Lal? Let’s come to the point straight away. What is the selling price of the Leader Publications?” Lal couldn’t understand what was happening. “Let’s close the deal for Rs 400 million” the President said. He also asked Lal to give a quick decision.
Lasantha who was away returned to Sri Lanka when Lal explained to him what had happened. Lasantha was furious and with that the proposal went unheeded.
Has this story come out in the media? The answer is “No.” Why was the story not published? The answer is the “self-censorship”, which is the result of fear psychosis brought about by abductions, killings and other forms of pressure. What was the fate of Lasantha who opposed selling his newspaper? His press was set on fire. In the end, he was murdered. It’s clear that the President wanted to silence Lasantha by offering to buy the newspaper at a price far above its real value. President Rajapakse called Lasantha a 'terrorist journalist' during an interview with Reporters Without Borders last October. He said the same thing to us last September, when we were at a meeting with him. President of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists' Association, Sanath Balasuriya, and its Secretary, Poddala Jayantha, accompanied me as the Convenor of the Free Media Movement to this meeting with President Rajapakse. Mahinda Rajapakse called Lasantha "Kotiyek" (a Tiger) during that meeting. http://newmatilda.com/2009/03/13/journalism-deadly-business-sri-lanka
Lasantha’s office and the Press were located near the Air Force Camp in the high-security zone. He had been shot dead in the vicinity of a security point. Six months have elapsed after Lasantha’s murder but the Police have not been able to forward a report of investigations to the Courts as yet. I have no evidence to state that Lasantha was liquidated by the government. However, it is quite clear that the President wanted to silence Lasantha's Sunday Leader.
It can be seen that under President Rajapaksha’s regime there’s a latest trend in introducing the change of ownership of newspaper publishing houses. The Rivira Media Company owned the Nation, Bottom Line and Rivira. Prasanna Wickramasuriya bought 51% of its shares. Prasanna is the Chief of the Civil Aviation Air Port Services Authority and a relative of the Mahinda Rajapaksha. The balance 49% of the shares was bought by Nilanka Rajapaksha. With the buying of these shares the ownership of the newspaper was completely changed. Reputed journalists have resigned.
http://freemediasrilanka.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/dbs-quits-%E2%80%9Cnation%E2%80%9D-in-dismay/ Keath Noyar, Deputy Editor serving the Nation was abducted and mercilessly beaten. Upali Tennakoon, Chief Editor of the Rivira was also beaten. Lalith Alahakone, Chief Editor of the Nation was promised employment in the Foreign Services by the President, and sent to Pakistan as a Consul where he was left in the lurch. Two Chief editors and a deputy editor under the earlier administration of the Rivira Media Company no longer work as journalists in Sri Lanka.
The Daily Lakbima, Sunday Lakbima and Lakbima are owned by Thilanga Sumathipala. He was an electorate organizer of the main Opposition Party. By inviting Sumathipala to his Party and by making him an electorate organizer in his Party the President has been successful in taming these newspapers.
Siyatha newspaper is owned by Chrishantha Kariyapperuma whose wife, the popular actress Sangeetha Weerarathne, is in the President's inner circle of associates http://transcurrents.com/tc/2008/12/post_202.html and Chrishantha's brother, Priyantha Kariyapperuma is the Head of Telecommunications Regulatory Commission. Before the Siyatha newspaper was established I was offered the position of Chief Editor through his front men, with a monthly salary of Rs 100,000 plus other benefits the amount being three times more than the salary I was earning at the time. After I refused four of our press freedom activists accepted the higher posts in that newspaper but over issues of editorial independence they had to resign within three months after it was established. I understand it as a strategy of the President to absorb government critics into his camp.
Sunday Island, Island, Irida Divaina and Divaina are owned by Nimal Welgama. He is the brother of Kumara Welgama, a senior minister of the President's cabinet.
The country's largest newspaper company, which publishes the Observer, Daily News, Silumina, Dinamina and Thinakaran, is owned by the state and under control of the President.
The second largest newspaper company, the Times Group is owned by Ranjith Wijewardane an uncle of the Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickaramasinhe. The President started to visit Ranjith Wjewardane's house regularly and has also been manipulating the newspapers through the editors and the senior journalists in the Times Group.
Tamil newspapers are under pressure and since last week Uthayan and Sudaroli newspapers have been receiving warning orders by an unknown group not to publish these newspapers. The editor of these newspapers was abducted in March and later the police admitted he was arrested.
Other small newspapers are also under pressure and the President is trying to control them by giving them government advertisements or by writing-off their debts and taxes and giving them financial support through state banks.
Sri Lanka is veering towards totalitarianism. The Constitution of Sri Lanka is dictatorial and comprises, among others, the dictatorial characteristics of French and American Constitutions. But these characteristics are insufficient for a totalitarian state. For the purpose of sufficiency the media have to be silenced and the people led up the garden path. It is seen that, for this purpose, the President of Sri Lanka is taking a leaf out of the Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s book. One can say almost all the newspapers, magazines and TVs of Italy are owned by the Premier. Even the Opposition's newspapers are printed in his printing presses. Silvio Berlusconi, who is only 72 years old and has asked for divorce from his wife, is using his media to manipulate officials against her. When the person at the helm of a country owns the media there’s a monopoly in it. This type of monopoly, in the latest journalistic jargon, is called the “Berlusconi Effect.” Under President Mahinda Rajapaksha, the media industry will be soon facing the same fate as that in Italy.
Please note that the President of Sri Lanka is himself an experienced spin doctor. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunge used to call him “reporter” because he is the one who leaked cabinet secrets and political gossips to the media and thus became the so-called “friend of the media”. After defeating the LTTE, the President said that he would introduce a new solution for the national question and that other countries need not advise him, particularly the western countries, other than helping Sri Lanka. Further, he said there are only two groups of people in Sri Lanka, those who are patriotic and those who are unpatriotic. Sure! He will introduce a new solution to the national question, which is to make the country totalitarian. Sure, it's not going to be the same totalitarian models in his camps, such as China, the Soviet Union, Burma, Iran, Cuba or Libya. It will be Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksha model.
BY Uvindu Kurukulasuriya