World Affairs











We Have Risen From The Ashes

‘Were it left to me to decide whether, we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter’

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States of America and a founding father of the American Constitution.

We are not aware whether the founding fathers of the Mahinda Chinthanaya or the self declared intellectual pundits of the plethora of state media units that have mushroomed have heard or are aware of these universally accepted Jeffersonian values of governance but it is quite apparent no such respect or care is extended to safeguard the independence of newspapers and other media organisations of this country. If not, how could a gang of armed goons in the early hours of last Wednesday morning, walk into the premises of a national newspaper group situated in a high security zone and set ablaze its press after driving out defenceless employees?

Of course after such an incident every one in this country is for a free press as is evident from the post incident statements. Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, made the trite observation: ‘Everyone is in favour of free speech, not a day passes without it being extolled…….. But if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.’ The undeniable fact is that many government leaders while paying pooja to a free press and free expression have been outraged at exposures and comments of The Leader newspapers.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, as it usually follows when such an outrage is committed, has shown concern about the attack on The Leader press and ordered a full scale inquiry. But how many such "full scale inquiries" have resulted in the criminals concerned being apprehended? It is no secret that today most of the politically oriented crimes, even murders go undetected. For the President making such statements after the fact is simply damage control especially in the backdrop of the arson attack coming within a high security zone which as Defence Minister comes directly under his purview. 

Leader Publications is situated some hundreds of yards away from the Ratmalana Airforce Base where military planes are parked and is in a high security zone. After dark, and even at times during the day, those entering the zone have their vehicles stopped and examined. Thus, how could this gang of armed ruffians enter this zone in two vehicles at pre dawn, vault over the gates and then proceed to commit arson by throwing petrol bombs on the machines and setting them ablaze? The first line of inquiry should be made from those responsible for maintaining ‘high security.’

The next line of inquiry should be why The Leader press should be attacked. In mediaeval times those opposed to certain opinions and facts, particularly those ideas that were entertained by the rulers and their henchmen, had their books burnt, if they were in conflict. The logic behind this book burning was that books were few — quite often there was only one copy — and by burning them it was thought that the ideas expressed in them could be destroyed for ever.

In these days, the press is the greatest disseminator of facts and ideas. A newspaper is a record of contemporary history with analyses and the press turns them out daily by the thousands. Thus, the thinking of the barbarians who wanted to destroy The Leader press was to suppress the facts published in these newspapers which most other newspapers or even the electronic media did not dare publish.

But the buffoons who ordered the goons to burn the press obviously knew no history. Even some of those who were burnt at stake centuries ago for their views, are today hailed as some of the greatest of thinkers of their time and their thoughts have made human civilisation progress. Thus whether books be burnt, presses destroyed, TV and radios smashed up, human thoughts and ideas in the minds of people cannot and will not be destroyed. They will flourish more.

The Leader does not claim to be an infallible sacred text. It is a newspaper but unlike many in existence in Sri Lanka, one which strives hard to find facts which affect the lives of the people and the country and is not afraid to publish and comment on them, irrespective of the persons involved. We respect views that we are not in agreement with and go along with the thinking of Voltaire, the French philosopher: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.’

We have not gone after small fry but the big whales, the highest and the biggest. We have named them and exposed them — the political rogues in saintly clothes with trays of flowers in hand and ill-gotten gains in their bank accounts, the death merchants who preach patriotism, spend state funds for dud armaments and collect millions of dollars abroad, unqualified profligate wastrels who reach high office by licking sandals and being toadies to the powers that be and spend thousands of dollars for luxury suites in star class hotels while the poor at home don’t have money to buy bread, brazen thugs who disgrace the nation by picking up fights in night clubs and encouraging their progeny to do so, pious hypocrites who are supposed to have given up all worldly pleasures and dupe gullible women of their sainthood while being unable to move without their tax free luxury limousines, and state officials who have diddled billions of rupees of state funds have been some of our subjects. Only such nefarious characters and their like would like to see The Leader stop publication.

The strange thing about Sri Lankan democracy is that no action follows such exposures nor are they denied but what follows are vituperative personal attacks to shift focus on the real issues. The nation is in a stupor and the thick skinned criminals of all varieties are having a field day at public expense.

And when the going gets tough, it is these very people who live off the public purse that will be the first to flee the country and take refuge in the West where they have established their first home. 

We have named names without fear and compunction and are open to libel charges if we are wrong or told untruths. Some have sent letters of demand running to billions of rupees but not followed up with court action. The fact that we have not been fined or ordered to pay these vast sums of money is proof of our credibility despite the pressures the judiciary itself has come under time and again.

The raid on the press at dawn on Wednesday is not a new experience to Leader Publications, though comparatively new in the publishing business. Our press had been attacked before. This press has been sealed once under emergency regulations. The Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge has been assaulted and his house peppered with machine gun fire. Yet, we have not given up the basic duty of a newspaper or been cowed down: Reporting facts and commenting freely. In today’s political climate where power, money and influence have become the thrividaratna — the three gems — once independent newspapers and editors like politicians have become pawns. Thus it is all the more important that this newspaper re-dedicates itself to the tasks it had committed itself to — dedication to the truth and fearlessness in exposing the scoundrels posing off as saints and angels

This is by no means an easy task in the present climate with the ghouls closing in on the free press. It was only very recently that press censorship was about to be imposed when it was called off — when we know not. Reporters are being threatened and harassed. The experience which one young reporter of this very newspaper went through recently that was given wide publicity is a case in point. We refrain from going into details because the matter is sub judice. Now comes the warnings of the arsonists.

Today, journalists are being murdered or disappearing but the killers not found. One of the best known journalists, Sivaram was bundled into a vehicle opposite the Bambalapitiya Police Station by unknown persons and his body was found the next day. There are many journalists in the north and east who have been killed but the killers have gone free. It is ironic that some high security zones appear to be more risky than normal areas with gross crimes committed and calamities taking place such as the attack on our press and the recent attack at Anuradhapura!

The attack on our press came scarcely 24 hours after the ‘Great Patriotic Victory’— the passing of the budget. Great and patriotic it was, it was claimed because the budget provided 17 per cent of the expenditure for defence. The man on the street would like to also know how this ‘Great Victory’ would contribute to his security, even in a high security zone.

Like all freedoms, freedom of the press will not come on a platter. Journalists will have to fight hard for this freedom like we have done. We have risen from the ashes to publish this edition, four days after the despicable attack. We shall never surrender our rights to downright thuggery. The public knows whom we refer to. We will prevail and march on, unbowed and unafraid. 



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