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The veterans were from Lake House

ACHIEVEMENT: Four out of the five veterans who were awarded Gold Medals at Journalism Awards 2006 were from Lake House.

These are journalists who may have won such accolades for the first time at an event which exclusively recognises service to journalism and amidst a gathering of their own kind. No such event recognised journalistic skills under any category at the time they were doing the rounds half a century ago.

But, did that kill the fire in the journalists to grab a scoop? Or, did it affect their style of writing that whetted the appetite and the curiosity of the readers? And with the journalistic-flair they handled the story, didn’t they hold readers their captives?

Today’s bright sparks are indeed fortunate! While they are being extremely innovative and are giving new dimensions to journalism, their skills are recognised year after year under varied categories.

And their precious moment of receiving the awards at the colourful Awards Night is telecast on almost every TV channel and is well publicised in the newspapers.

But, I am talking of journalists who practised journalism half a century ago with no such glittering incentives in sight and at a time when tape recorders, mobile phones, laptops, e-mail, internet, fax machines, copy machines, electronic video photographic facilities and “what-not” were no where on the scene.

At a time when telephone lines were chanelled via telephone exchanges, direct telephone connections were a luxury and “trunk calls” to outstations were possible only if connecting telecommunication lines were available. Then too, it took hours to get a call through to the provinces.

The veterans nevertheless functioned with note pad and pen in hand. Back at Lake House they thumped away their story on the faded keyboards of the few manual typewriters available, very often rushing through their creative-skills in order to beat the deadline.

Seeing the story in black and white in the newspapers which meant that it had been passed by the News Editor or the Features Editor and finally the Editor was the prize and joy these veterans received. There were briefly a few in-house weekly prizes given at Lake House but that did not continue.

One might argue that there was only a handful of newspapers at the time to compete with and that it was then almost a one-horse race! But, this was an era when high standards in journalism were set in motion by the founder D.R. Wijewardene and journalists with no fanfare had brought professionalism to journalism which made it a career worth pursuing.

Readers in turn had faith in Lake House newspapers which made journalists responsible and committed to give them a story worth reading. The fact that Lake House newspapers remained the highest circulated newspapers in the island for well over half a century, is proof of the faith readers placed in the Lake House newspapers.

Today, there is a wide choice of newspapers with new journalistic-trends offered. The large number of journalists who attended the Awards 2006 represented the new generation and it was from amongst them that the winners emerged.

As a journalist who grew up nurtured in its rich traditions, I wouldn’t like Lake House - the “Mahagedera of Journalism” to be left behind. I hope the present Lake House journalists would not make restrictions an excuse as good journalists could work even under the most trying conditions.

Therefore, I hope there will be journalists from Lake House vying in the future and going up the stage and receive Journalists’ Awards!

Getting back to the veterans, Mallika Wanigasundera who had joined Lake House in 1956 and had served on the Daily News, the Sunday and the Evening Observer, ended her career in 1981 as Features Editor of the Daily News.

At Lake House even half a century ago, at a time when bra-burning was an issue in the international scene, gender-bias did not exist and Mallika wrote the same in-depth feature articles and news articles her male counterparts wrote on politics, economics, development or reviews of films and dramas.

She was perhaps the only woman journalist who took turns to write the Daily News editorial for well over ten years besides being involved in the sub editing and the production of the paper.

Vijitha Fernando who gave a serious twist to her gender-based articles in the Daily News also wrote general features, news reports and functioned in the sub editing and production as well. She also won numerous awards for her creative writing.

Both these journalists as well as Sumana Saparamadu, a past Veteran Gold Medallist who excells as a writer to both Sinhala and English newspapers and one-time Editor of Tharunee continue to write to this day.

Roshan Peiris who joined Sunday Times after retiring from Lake House newspapers where she was feature writer and sub editor and Hema Gunawardene, feature writer on the Dinamina were also recipients of the Gold Medal.

The former Editor of the Dinamina - G.S. Perera, a recipient of the Veteran’s Gold Medal 2006, had a long career at Lake House and later served as Director as well as consultant to Lake House group.

He crossed over later as editorial consultant to the Lankadeepa. T. Sabaratnam better known as “Saba” was a versatile journalist who wrote on politics, science and foreign news to the Daily News and the Thinakaran. He was a winner of many journalistic awards.

Some veteran Lake House journalists such as Dalton De Silva, Benedict Dodampegama, Edwin Ariyadasa, W.R. Wijesoma and Leslie Dahanayaka were fortunate to receive the Gold Medals though many missed out. But the following records may illustrate the number of editors and eminent persons Lake House has made in the past fifty years.

Denzil Peiris, former Editor, Sunday Observer and all-round wizard went on to edit the prestigious “South” magazine. Tarzie Vittachi, former Editor of the Observer, joined the UNFPA and later rose to the position of Under Secretary General of the UN.

Ernest Corea, one-time Editor of the Daily News/Sunday Observer as Ambassador to the USA, was identified as one of the best Ambassadors Sri Lanka had. His journalistic background was given as the reason for it.

Mervyn De Silva who was Editor-in-Chief of Lake House English newspapers and Director/Editorial, was later appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Times Group of newspapers. H.L.D.Mahindapala who was Deputy Editor of the Sunday Observer during Denzil Peiris’ era and later migrated to Australia, returned to Sri Lanka to edit the Sunday Observer. He continues to be one of the most provocative writers here and abroad on the ethnic issue.

Clarence Fernando who was one of the toughest news editors at Lake House retired as Editor of the Daily News. Harold Peiris who began as a journalist on the Daily News, had a long career as Editor of the Sunday Observer.

Several journalists who crossed over to Lake House from the former Times Group, reached the top. Leading amongst them was Fred Silva, columnist of Evening and Sunday Observer and the Daily News who rose to the position of Editor of the Daily News.

B.H. S. Jayawardene and Geoff Wijesinghe were the other former Times-Group journalists who ended their careers as Editors of the Daily News. Perhaps Sri Lanka’s best cartoonist - W.R. Wijesoma crossed over from the former Times Group and joined the Evening/Sunday Observer. He ended his career on The Island.

Manik De Silva, formerly Editor of the Daily News is to date the Editor of the Sunday Island. Gamini Weerakoon, formerly News Editor of the Daily News, was Editor of The Island for 19 years.

Gaston De Rosyro, formerly of the Sunday Observer and later journalist of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong was on his return appointed Editor of the Weekend Express followed by Philip Cooray, a former Editor of the Daily Observer.

Ajith Samaranayake from the Sunday Observer crossed over to the Upali Newspaper Group and was briefly the Editor of The Sunday Island.

He later returned to Lake House and held the post of Editor, Sunday Observer and Editor, Friday. Neville De Silva, former journalist of the Daily News and the Sunday Observer served as Diplomatic Editor of the Hongkong Standard.

He at present, contributes political commentaries to the Sunday Times. Thalif Deen formerly of Evening/Sunday Observer is a correspondent covering the UNO for several newspapers.

Sinhala newspapers were no exception as Lake House made Editors out of Sinhala newspapers as well. Edmund Ranasinghe who was Editor of Dinamina and Silumina at Lake House, crossed over to the Upali Newspaper Group and founded and edited the Divaina and the Sunday Divaina.

Tilak Kuruvita Bandara who was Editor of Silumina/Sarasaviya and appointed Editor of Silumina for the second time, is now the Editor of the controversial Mawbima. Siri Ranasinghe, the present Editor of Lankadeepa, was a journalist on the Dinamina. Upali Tennakoon who served on the Dinamina editorial, was Editor of the Divaina and now the Editor of Rivira.

Both Merryl Perera and Gamini Sumanasekera the present Editors of the Daily Divaina and Sunday Divaina respectively, were journalists of Janatha and Silumina.

Mohanlal Piyadasa, the Editor of Irudina at present, was a journalist of Dinamina. Edwin Ariyadasa who was mainly a journalist of the Sinhala publications at Lake House, is today in the forefront of the mediascene in both the print media and the electornic media.

The records show that former Lake House journalists have filled almost all top journalistic posts in the country. Let us hope that Lake House journalists of today will continue these rich traditions and outstanding performances.

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