Leader: Lasantha’s Legacy
By Amal Jayasinghe - Bureau Chief Sri Lanka / Maldives Agence France – Presse (AFP)
As the Sunday Leader marks its 18th year in print, I trust many would reflect on the threats, shut downs, and intimidation which peaked with the assassination of founding editor Lasantha Wickrematunga.
The Leader would be seen by many as Lasantha’s legacy.
I knew Lasantha as a journalist, lawyer and politician, but considered him a top class newsman. It is his knack for news that impressed me most.
Even his detractors would agree that his journalism got under the skin of a lot of people.
Many may have wanted him eliminated and some certainly succeeded.
Lasantha made investigative journalism the driving force of his newspaper.
It was much later and in August 2011 that Transparency International Sri Lanka takes on the task of preparing a resource book and a hand book for investigative journalism.
It is a tribute to Lasantha that a driving force for that initiative was one his disciples, Dilrukshi Handunnetti, who had won many journalism awards for the Sunday Leader. “Many investigative journalists from Sri Lanka have suffered to tell the truth through investigative journalism,” wrote Ralph Frammolino in the Resource book on Investigative Journalism. “Some have paid with their lives.”
A Sunday Leader editorial had seen it coming.
Lasantha said, in an editorial published before his death, that reporters and private media institutions were being targeted partly because of the ineffectiveness of the country’s main opposition.
“More and more, even as the opposition has fallen mute, independent media institutions have taken on the job of the opposition, serving as a mirror of public opinion,” he said.
“That is why more journalists have been attacked in recent years than have opposition politicians,” he said.
The journalism honours the Leader bagged at annual Excellence in Journalism awards is a testament to its late editor.
He was sometimes at odds with the Editor’s Guild which organised the annual awards, but that did not stop it from picking a large number of prestigious awards.
Lasantha would be a hard act to follow, but it is the legacy that the Leader journalists will always be measured against.