The Sunday Leader

Two decades of staying unbowed and unafraid…

Everyone warned me against ‘taking on’ the Sunday Leader! Their fears no doubt stemmed from the past the Sunday Leader had ‘enjoyed’. Harassed by every successive government, telling stories ‘the Sunday Leader way’ was not the kind of journalism considered ‘accepted’. It was not what you were taught in Journalism school to practice.

Yet, to me personally the dilemma lay in how one could fill the shoes of a giant in the industry like Lasantha. He had created a unique style of journalism that had hit a worthy mark in the industry.

And he had paid the ultimate price in practicing a journalism that was truly, unbowed and unafraid…

He had ensured that the rules were different here and what moved the journalists unlike any other. There were misconceptions yes. But it takes guts to do this kind of journalism. And more importantly they feared it. That I respect.

I believe the reality of the task of heading the Leader team really hit me the night I got a call from the Head of my Investigations Desk that he had been shot. The hours spent watching him struggle to survive, emboldened me to the task at hand.

From Members of both the political divide finding fault, or law suits that meant we had our assets frozen, whereby till a couple of months back we didn’t know when and if our operations would stop, to advertisers refusing business when we were too critical, it was a day in day out struggle to survive.

The Sunday Leader’s history is truly one of the tears and blood of Sri Lankan journalism.

The paper has made more enemies than friends. Many who admired the journalism of the Leader did not allude to the fact in public. But they always respected our strength to do it. Yet, the reality of pressures against modern press are such that, there would always be stories that we wouldn’t be able to tell, the numbers that we couldn’t print; but that is true of every media institution in the world. It is naïve to believe otherwise. It is every journalist’s journey to find the means to do that, whatever the difficulties along the way. I believe we have found that path.

More importantly, at the end of a three decade old war, to be with a newspaper that had the faith of all communities as one, and the room therein to open an intelligent discussion on reconciliation and nation building, resonated. It was time to end long traditions of catering to petty party politics and move the reader towards a discourse where the mistakes of the past would not be repeated.

It was a time to truly speak to the young of the future and the old of letting go of the past. I don’t believe sensationalist journalism has a role to play there. The role and responsibility of journalists in countries like ours where ethnic and religious misconceptions and sensibilities are high; need necessarily to move out of the comfort zones. Telling stories with responsibility I believe, takes more guts than otherwise. It takes more courage to write with conviction and no agenda in hand.

More difficult is the idea of giving a voice to those whose stories ‘will not sell’. But these are the challenges that we in a post war scenario must meet. These are also the challenges we no longer speak about- but must. That is what the Sunday Leader is truly about. There are no agendas, no political interest that are met through these pages. This paper is really about giving voice to the voiceless, about empowering the downtrodden.

Few know the challenges of putting out a paper that many love to hate! Many are those who will never understand why we do what we do. I know we will make few friends doing what we do. But the readers who continue to support us and appreciate the trials and tribulations of being the Sunday Leader will always provide the strength to carry this on. We shall continue to tell the stories, share the tears and provide strength when freedoms are at risk. More importantly we shall remain truly unbowed and unafraid.

Shakuntala Perera


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