State paper protests President’s pressure

[TamilNet, Friday, 12 July 2002, 11:59 GMT]
Embroiled in a financial scandal regarding imports of foreign cars, President Chandrika Kumaratunga ordered a government-owned newspaper to publish her official statement as its lead story on Thursday, the publication’s editor protested Friday. The state-owned Daily News followed Kumaratunga’s instructions but insisted it had been subjected to unwarranted pressure though the President’s spokesman said ‘a request’ had merely been made.

Kumaratunga's spokesman, Janadasa Peiris, told The Associated Press that he sent to the paper “a very polite letter that requested the Daily News to give due prominence to her statement.”

But the newly appointed editor of the Daily News, Arjuna Ranawana, said, “It was our understanding that it was surely an order.”

The Associated Press said it obtained a copy of Peiris' letter, which says, “The president has advised me to inform you to publish the media release in relation to the president acquiring vehicles as your main news story in the front page of your English and Sinhala newspapers.”

Editors of Sri Lankan state media - which are routinely deployed in by the ruling party in political battles with rivals - change when governments change. Ranawana began duties on July 1.

Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance (PA) party was swept from power by the United National Front (UNF) last December. Having vilified the UNF in the run up to the polls, the Daily News switched criticism overnight following the party’s victory.

The rivalry between Kumaratunga and the government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe heightened this week amid newspaper reports the UNF was planning to impeach the President. Kumaratunga can remain in office until 2005 despite the PA’s defeat as she was elected separately in 1999 to a six-year term.

 

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