unannounced visit to Braybrooke Place
For President Mahinda Rajapaksa last Saturday was quite
relaxing. He spent the evening attending to various matters and
with the dawn of the dusk he thought of visiting Ven. Galabada
Gnanissara thero (Podi Hamudururwo) of the Ganagaramaya Temple
at Hunupitiya Colombo 2.
Ven.Gnanissara Thero has been known to him for some time now.
The priests distancing from UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is
an added advantage to the President. The President also knew the
Prelates connections with Wijeya Newspapers and his influence
over the newspaper institution,
Chairman of Wijeya Newspapers Ranjit Wijewardene, being the
President of the Dayaka Sabaha of the Gangaramaya Temple, the
Presidnt’s thinking was right that the prelate wielded a fairly
considerable influence over the institution.
Though President Rajapaksa maintained a life long affinity with
the Wijewardene’s at Braybrook Place, he thought it best to
visit Wijewardene’s with the prelate to put his point across to
this media magnate.
It is well known that the Chairman of Wijeya Newspapers is the
maternal uncle of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe quite recently decide to sever links with the
Ganagaramaya Dayaka Sabbha after his role as the UNP leader was
taken to task by the Gnagaramaya Chief incumbent Ven. Galaboda
Gnanissara Thero through the columns of the “Lankadeepa” the
flagship of Wijeya Newspapers.
After having a fruitful discussion with the Gangaramaya prelate
the President decided to visit Wijewardene’s ancestral home at
Baybrooke Place, close to the Gangaramaya Temple, along with the
When the President reached the Wijewardene residence the
Wijewardene’s were about retire to their respective bed rooms,
but on hearing the President’s arrival received him with open
In the ensuing discussion the President pointed out the adverse
role played by almost all the privately owned newspapers
published in the country. The President argued that the media
should be fair by him in his endeavour to rule the country
according to the accepted norms. The President virtually sought
the help of Wijeya Newspapers to achieve his goal.
In response to the President’s claim the Chairman of Wijeya
Newspapers had reminded him that he has the state media at his
disposal to further his cause. But the President had apparently
insisted that the contribution of the private media is equally
important to achieve his ambitious plan.
The President’s visit to the Wijewardene’s would have been
prompted after the Lankadeepa carried some remarks purported to
have been made by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in Kegalle
which referred to the President’s mental prowess.
Wickremesinghe’s utterances were reported in the vernacular
media “Lankadeepa” in verbatim for which the President’s lawyers
are now planning to file a civil defamation suit claiming Rupees
two billion. A letter of demand has been sent to Siri Ranasinghe
Editor-in-Chief Lankadeepa. However, it is learnt that the
President was not so keen to take the newspaper to court but
will only confine his action to a letter of demand. The letter
of demand will hang like the sword of Damocles over Wijeya
Newspapers for the next two years or so, since the duration of a
civil suit covers a period of two years.
Wijeya Newspapers, which promptly informed UNP leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe of the predicament they were in after having
reported his speech, was given an assurance by the UNP leader
that he would be available at any point of time to give evidence
if it is necessary.
The necessity to reintroduce Criminal Defamation laws which were
scrapped by the UNP government led by the Ranil Wickremesinghe
surfaced as a direct result of this episode and it became a
subject of extensive discussion at the cabinet.
When the cabinet met during the weekly meeting of the ministers
President Mahinda Rajapaksa directed Justice Minister Dilan
Perera to read out a number of amendments he proposed for the
This was done by the President even without distributing the
cabinet paper among the ministers.
The President told the cabinet that it was urgent to expand the
scope of the meaning of abductions and to deal with the
There was no objection from any minister on the issue since they
thought that it was the need of the hour.
On top of that the President made an attempt to reintroduce
criminal defamation under the Penal Code.
Presenting his case, the President said that unfounded
allegations were being made by the media against ministers,
state officials and various other people who are doing important
assignments. He charged that the media was carrying out smear
campaigns against them.
“When we try to clarify matters with them, they claim they are
being threatened. And with that he shot a hard look in the
direction of Minister Rauf Hakeem, as if Hakeem was trying to
defend some journalists.
With this Minister Hakeem made it a point to argue against it.
He said, “We cannot agree. We all agreed to scrap it. The
provision criminal defamation was abused by the politicians in
the past. We should not take retrogressive steps because we have
already scrapped that archaic law. We cannot subscribe to this,”
said Hakeem, and urged that the President should reconsider his
Hakeem added that he agrees with the amendment on abductions,
which envisages the broadening of its scope.
“This is the need of the hour,” he asserted.
“As regards criminal defamation, we did away with it after a
public outcry. The best solution appears to be self regulation
by the media itself. We should have a productive meeting with
the media and try to sort out matters,” he said.
At this stage Investment Promotion Minister Sarath Amunugama
chipped in to say the timing is not right to bring in such
legislation, which would virtually muffle the media.
Minister Dinesh Gunwardena expressed the concerns of the
international community and said that we would face further
trouble with the international community.
The President then said that he had confronted a MP who had a
hand in abusing not only the politicians, but even their
Hakeem once again said even in India, this archaic law has been
dropped long ago.
“Normally the politicians are slandered. This happens everyday.
This is the order of the day as far as the media is concerned,”
Hakeem added. “I don’t mind that but they should not drag in the
families,” the President said.
Then Hakeem referred to the case of Prince William and the
British tabloid media.
“Look at Prince W and his fiancée. Their episode had been
highlighted by the British tabloid media. What would the British
government do? Buckingham Palace never insisted on criminal
defamation. They issued a statement or two and ended the matter
there. In Britain what they do is build up a public opinion
against tabloid exposes. If you reintroduce criminal defamation,
it will obviously be abused,” Hakeem emphasised.
But Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva was very passionate about
reintroducing the criminal defamation laws.
He asked Minister Fernandopulle whether he made submissions
about the Daily Mirror.
Minister Milinda Moragoda, who crossed over from the UNP,
watched the drama in silence.
Minister Tissa Vitarana cautioned the government about doing
things in a hurry.
Most of the ministers were mum about the government’s suggestion
to bring in criminal defamation as a provision of the penal code
but some think it has been used as a lever to exert pressure on
the media to refrain from criticising the government.