'Sivaram's killers will be brought to justice'
The speech of Information and Media Minister Mangala
Samaraweera on the demise of the late journalist Sivaram
Dharmaratnam, made on the occasion of Adjournment Debate on May 06,
Honourable Mr. Speaker, We strongly believe that the people's right
of access to information, free from any hindrance, must be secured by
any Government. The basic foundation of building up good governance is
the media freedom.
That is the sustainable democratic fundamentality of our Government.
History testifies that the People's Alliance or the present Freedom
Alliance Government is sincerely dedicated to that cause. Our Government
which inherits such a prestigious history has an inalienable moral right
to react whenever there is a threat or an influence against the media
Under this political backdrop, we unreservedly condemn the
assassination of Sivaram Dharmaratnam, a senior member of the "TamilNet"
editorial staff. Sivaram was abducted away by a gang of thugs on April
28 and was brutally killed.
As soon as this information reached the President, the Police
initiated a far-flung investigation on the orders of the President.
Investigations are proceeding at the moment. We will not hide any
evidence that the investigations will reveal. We are active to bring the
culprits to books and deal with them according to the law, irrespective
of their positions. I make this announcement on the floor of this august
assembly with profound sense of responsibility as the Media Minister.
Sivaram Dharmaratnam was not only the editorial staffer of the "TamilNet"
web site but he was also a veteran war analyst and a political critic
who wrote to the "Sunday Times" and the "Daily Mirror" newspapers under
the pseudonym "Tharaki". He contributed controversial political columns
in favour of the LTTE organization in large numbers.
Do not forget that Sivaram also criticised certain LTTE activities in
his articles some time back. Facts pertaining to the cause of
assassination of Sivaram have not been ascertained fully yet. If he was
killed because of his journalistic involvement, that has to be condemned
by everybody with utmost aversion.
Honourable Mr. Speaker, The Freedom Alliance Government, which
upholds the people's inalienable right of access to information will not
condone acts of this nature at any cost. Such acts will not be sponsored
or encouraged by any means.
We have, in the past, dealt with individuals who have pressurised
journalists ignoring their positions. When there were threats to Iqbal
Athas because of his engagement as a journalist, we took steps to
investigate and punish the offenders. We did so because of our
appreciation of media freedom as a sustainable political principle.
At this moment of dialogue on the assassination of a media personnel,
I think it appropriate to recall in brief the way the Media and Media
personnel were pressurised during the previous regimes. Both the United
National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party held the reins of
Government from time to time in this country. No Government brought
pressure to bear upon the media in this country prior to 1977, as a
matter of principle. The UNP regimes since coming in to power in 1977
considered influencing the media as a matter of state policy.
As soon as the UNP gained power in 1977, state owned media
institutions, Lake House and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation were
brought under the control of the Sirikotha. The staunch UNP member
Ranapala Bodhinagoda was appointed as the Chairman of the Lake House.
Ranjan Wijeratne, who subsequently became a strong Minister was
appointed as a Working Director.
They started their control over the Lake House by harassing the SLFP
and other leftist employees in various ways. Senior journalists such as
Silumina Chief Editor Wimalasiri Perera, Dinamina Chief Editor
Peramunethileka, Daily News Chief Editor S. Pathiravithana, Silumina
Deputy Editor Nimal Horana, Dinamina Deputy Editor Poojitha Wijetunga,
Dinamina News Editor Dayananda Kumaradasa, Dinamina Sub-editor
Wimalaweera Perera, Daily News News Editor Nihal Ratnayaka and Dinamina
Staff Reporters Upali Rupasinghe, Yapa Karunaratne and Kulatunga
Somaratne were dismissed by way of political victimization.
SLBC leading media person, Sinhala services Director H. M. Gunasekera,
Amarabandu Rupasinghe, Premakeerthi de Alwis, and Newton Gunaratne were
interdicted. The "Times"Company which published the leading newspaper "Lankadeepa"
continuously over decades was taken over by the Government and was
When Lankadeepa reappeared in circulation under the Vijaya newspaper
group, President Premadasa pressurised it at length and at a certain
stage, being annoyed by a news item appeared in the Lankadeepa, went to
the extent of threatening its owner Ranjith Wijewardena in public saying
"Ranjith, be aware of what is going to happen to you".
He held out threats of murder in Parliament against Upali Group
newspaper owner Upali Wijayawardena who defied UNP commands. By and
large the private media were totally denied the media right of
criticising the Government. Competent authorities were appointed to
control the media that worked independently without holding a brief by
The newspapers "Attha", "Janadina", and "Sirilaka" were sealed over
and over again. They were subjected to many harassments and the
transport of their newspapers by bus was prohibited. Government
advertisements were denied to them.
Private institutions which gave advertisements to these papers were
influenced. Such influence was exerted not only to political papers but
also to independent newspapers. The raid of "Attha" press and taking its
editor to the 4th floor became a daily routine.
As far as the Lake House papers were concerned, not only the lead
news, but also the headlines, pictures, captions and even page settings
were the decisions taken by the Presidential Secretariat. Taking the
pages of the Lake House papers to the President or their approval by the
Information Officer was the general order of the day during that period.
There was a habit of the President's Information Officer visiting the
News Unit of the SLBC at 3.30 a.m. everyday during that time. Ignoring
all other important information, the News Broadcast had to begin with
some news to bolster the President's image. Each media institution had a
Special Presidential Unit.
The UNP, soon after coming into power in 1977 completely prohibited
publication of Cabinet secrets in violation of the people's right to be
aware of information. The first action was filed in court under the
State Secrets Act by former Minister Ronie de Mel against journalist
Prasad Gunawardena of the "Island" newspaper. For the first time in
history, newspaper editors were summoned to Parliament and tried under
Parliamentary Privileges Act and were punished.
On one occasion the "Observer" editor was summoned to Parliament for
inadvertently inter-changing captions of two pictures.
The Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act was passed in Parliament
within three days on January 30, 1978 as an act of urgent national
On February 02,the two medieman Philip Cooray and Herald Peiris were
summoned to Parliament functioning as a Court of Law and they were
punished. On that occasion Prime Minister J. R. Jayewardene in his
address threatened that "In future offenders will not escape this place
with a punishment of this leniency".
Honourable Mr. Speaker, The then Justice Minister Nissanka Wijeratne
misused the law in an attempt to control the media. An attempt was made
in 1984 to amend the Press Council Act to prohibit writing articles in
newspapers under pseudonyms.
The UNP influenced not only the media institutions. They harassed
mediamen endlessly. Richard de Soyza, the mediaman of international
repute was abducted in the night of February 18, 1990, and was brutally
killed and his body was thrown into the sea.
All media personalities and civil organizations clamoured in chorus
demanding a fair inquiry into this murder. UNP regime only lingered on a
mild form of investigation while ignoring our cry as the Opposition in
Parliament for a parliamentary debate on this murder. Following Richard
de Soyza's assassination, his contemporary colleagues Amal Jayasinghe,
Arjuna Ranawana, Varuna Karunatilleke and Aruna Kulatunga fled away from
the country to save their lives.
The "Divaina" newspaper photographer Wimal S. Surendra who took a
photograph of a powerful UNP female activist in 1983 was mysteriously
murdered on the road right opposite the house of former Minister John
That was a death that remains a mystery to date. H. E. Dayananda who
serialized "Wame Kathawa" in the Wednesday supplement of "Divaina"
newspaper was murdered.
The script writer of "Kavuda Me, Monawada Karanne" drama, Dehiwala
MMC of the UNP itself disappeared mysteriously. Kithsiri Samaranayaka,
the Lankadeepa journalist who at times criticised the Government
severely, was stabbed to death at the bus halt opposite the mosque of
eye hospital junction.
The Dickwella area correspondent Gunasena Kasturiarachchi was
murdered mysteriously.Apart from this, the Government never bothered to
hold a formal inquiry in respect of the murders of veteran journalists
of high esteem like Premakeerthi de Alwis, Thevis Guruge and Kulasiri
The Bomiriya residence of the "Divaina" newspaper was attacked with
bombs. Journalistic activities of veteran journalist Dayasena Gunasinghe
were subjected to injunctions for the sin of writing an editorial in the
"Divaina"criticising President J. R. Jayawardene's public announcement
that "each person must look after his own security".
"Attha" cartoonist Yoonus' mouth was cut by employing thugs. The
doors of the SLBC were closed to artistes of the highest national fame
like Premasiri Khemadasa, Pandit W. D. Amaradeva, Nanda Malani, Vijaya
Kumaranatunga, Sugathapala de Silva, Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra
and R. R. Samarakone because they demanded the withdrawal of a proposal
to abolish former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike's civil rights.
Piyadasa Malalgoda who wrote and published the poem "Devadattha of
the modern era" was taken to the dubious 4th floor on 12 occasions for
interrogation and he was prosecuted.
That was an era, the private electronic media had no chance to
announce news. Unlike today, political dialogues were not known over the
electronic media those days. Announcement of news was a Government
The resignation of Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayaka from
their portfolios over the impeachment issue was prohibited to be
published. This prohibition on the SLBC and the Rupavahini applied even
to the news of impeachment against Russian President Yeltsin. The
expulsion of the President of Argentina following an impeachment was
banned to be announced over the radio and the television.
The UNP which did not tolerate workers' agitations over their 17 year
rule completely banned publication of news relating to workers' strikes
through the State media. The State radio and television left no room for
publication of news pertaining to the opposition and completely banned
showing opposition members on the television.
Under such circumstances a mass cry developed among the public to
re-establish the lost media freedom. The People's Alliance took over the
reins of Government under this back drop. The People's Alliance
Government under the leadership of President Kumaratunga acknowledged
the people's right of access to information as a matter of Government
Soon after the People's Alliance formed the Government, steps were
taken to implement a media procedure ensuring the independence of the
media. A Parliamentary Select Committee was established to formulate a
State Media Policy.
A surrounding was brought about for the media institutions and media
personnel to act freely. The Act empowering Parliament to summon
journalists before Parliament for the purpose of trial and punishment
was removed from the legal system.
Publication of News was freed from State influence. Private Sector
media institutions were allowed to publish news. Opposition members too
were accommodated in political dialogues in State media institutions.
The Government gave approval to open a number of private television
channels to compete with State media.
There were some media institutions and personnel who misused the
freedom afforded by us. Often they produced news insulting the
President. Yet, in contrast with the previous regime, no threats of
murder was held out against such people. Even under unfortunate
circumstances at times, the Government applied the law impartially. The
people behind such incidents are no more a secret today.
The media freedom and the freedom of the individual media personnel
are intertwined. We are aware that no journalist can act independently
in the absence of a sustainable economic strength of his own.
In view of this situation, the People's Alliance Government
implemented a number of welfare projects to uplift the standard of
living and dignity of journalists. An insurance scheme was introduced
for them. A housing scheme was inaugurated for them. A training
programme was initiated. Their salaries were increased. Journalists who
were politically victimised were relieved.
4 committees were appointed to ascertain and report on welfare
amenities to journalists. Provision of computer, e-mail and various
modern facilities were ensured through the Department of Government
Honourable Mr. Speaker, The UNP who toppled the Freedom Alliance and
regained power in 2001 resumed their usual media policy which they
pursued throughout their 17 year rule since 1977.
They dissolved the Information Department. A separate media unit was
established under the Prime Minister's Office. All the State media
institutions were brought under the control of UNP henchmen within that
The decisive posts of private media institutions were filled by
appointing their henchmen. It was these henchmen who were necessarily
participated in the foreign tours and discussions abroad attended by the
The international sojourns by these groups at the expense of public
funds became the order of the day. The selected crowd of journalists
obedient to Government received highest perks. An invisible mechanism of
horror was in motion against independent journalists. The victims of
this mechanism included not only the local journalists but also the
foreign journalists. The deportation of the internationally renowned
journalist Paul Harris is the best example in this regard.
While Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister, the doors of State
media institutions were completely closed to the opposition. The
journalists who were deemed not loyal to the Government were deprived of
their employment. Some were transferred.
Some were intimidated. Opponents were tortured mentally and
physically. Live political debates participated by politicians of the
opposition were completely barred from telecast.
Even in case of dialogues among the ruling party members, if a
listener were to express opinion, it had to be approved in advance
before the programme is telecast. The State media was used perennially
to slander and unease organisations and individuals not supportive of
It was on such a background that the Freedom Alliance Government came
into power. In our election manifesto we assured the people that the
mentality of imposing Government official opinion on the people will be
eliminated and that the media will be made open institutions to debate
open views freely.
We have fulfilled that pledge even by now. We were pledged to expose
the Government to open criticism, irrespective of the status or position
of the individual concerned, if the criticisms were in the common
interest of the people. Today, a journalist is at liberty to criticise
any member of the Freedom Alliance Government without any hindrance.
We assured the people to protect their right of access to information
without any barriers under whatever the circumstances. That promise has
been fulfilled to the very letter by now.
It is imperative to establish within our society an environment where
a journalist could practice his profession free from occupational
hazards whatever the political ideologies he held. The Freedom Alliance
Government guarantee the people that it will take every step towards
this end fearlessly.
Honourable Mr. Speaker, The torments coming on the way of a
journalist cannot be checked by Government action alone. Everybody who
respects democracy should cooperate in this regard.
There must exist a consensus among all for that purpose. A number of
North East journalists came to be brutally murdered even while a
ceasefire was in force. "Dinamurusu" newspaper Editor Ramesh Nadarajah
belonging to the EPDP was murdered. Aiyadurei Nadesan, the "Weerakesari"
reporter was killed on May 31, 2004.
Kandasamy Aiyar Balanadarajah (Sinnabala), another journalist was
murdered on August 16, 2004. On July 26, 2004, "Dinamurusu" newspaper
free lance reporter S. Kamaladasan was shot at on his legs. On March
06,2005, "Dinamurusu" reporter Sathasivam Kamalanathan was shot at
causing him fatal injuries. This murder was clearly a result of the
power struggle among armed groups in the North East. We have to severely
condemn these killings, whoever the perpetrators were.
So far, we are not in a position to conclude definitely that the
assassination of Sivaram is a result of the conflict among armed groups
in the North East. Nevertheless, certain political parties,
indiscriminately point the accusing finger at their opponents in respect
of this murder, make announcements in order to gain petty political
Certain political parties attempt to take advantage of this situation
in order to build up animosity between the LTTE organisation and the
Government in order to demolish the growing good-will between the two
We vehemently condemn such attempts of self-motivated political
propaganda made in the name of media freedom. Announcements of this
nature may preclude the possibility of eliciting the reality behind the
assassination of Sivaram.
Honourable Mr. Speaker, All of us, ignoring our party affiliations
should join hands to build up a political environment that will leave no
room for this kind of brutal murders in the future. We believe that we
will be able to ascertain the motive of this murder and discover the
people responsible for this crime before long. We will leave no
loopholes to suppress evidence pertaining to this crime. I give that
assurance to this House in my capacity as the Media Minister.
In conclusion I reiterate that we unreservedly condemn this brutal
murder. We extend our deep sympathies and sorrow to Sivaram's wife and