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113th Birth Anniversary:

DR, the true patriot

Today is the 113th birth anniversary of D.R. Wijewardena the founder Chairman of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, the first Sri Lankan newspaper group that fought to regain independence lost to the country from 1815.

D.R.Wijewardena fondly known among the people of times as D.R. hailed from an eminent Sri Lankan family well known for their national and religious fervour.

He was born on February 23,1886 and after completing his school education he left to England for higher education where he entered the Cambridge University to pursue law studies.


D.R. Wijewardena

After completion of his higher education he returned to Sri Lanka in 1912 but the lure of the silks at Hultsdorf did not last long with him. An enterprising young lawyer he decided not to practice law but to start a newspaper and began with the Sinhala daily newspaper Dinamina in 1914 followed by the Ceylon Daily News in 1918. He established the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd., in 1926 and went on to start the leading Sinhala weekend newspaper Silumina in 1930 followed by Tamil newspapers Thinakaran and Varamanjari in 1932.

D.Rís grit and business acumen soon made the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon the leading newspaper group as up to then the Times of Ceylon that was started to cater to the interest of British planters and other foreigners did not reflect the national thinking or ethos of an era where all patriotic Sri Lankans were agitating or working towards achieving independence. D.R. was one of the leading figures of the freedom struggle but after independence he was fiercely loyal to the UNP.

The times in which he lived and worked were quite different and perhaps having been brought up in the lap of luxury and receiving his education in a leading school in Colombo and Cambridge he did not foresee the changes that would be brought by the common manís era that would emerge later after independence.

He was well known for his advocacy of a free press and also for national unity in that he sought to bring all ethnic groups together in a united Sri Lanka.

Yet with the common manís era that came to being in the revolution of 1956 the newspaper group also known as the Lake House group was criticized by the extremely radical and left groups as synonymous with the rule of the elitist political forces and some of the critics went as far as to call it an anti-national newspaper group. There was no substance of truth in the second criticism as D.R. was a true patriot but the product of a different era and a different socio-political thinking.

However the ANCL produced some of the best writers and journalists of yesteryear including such giants as Martin Wickramasinghe, G.B. Senanayake, T.G.W.de Silva the satirist and H.A.J. Hulugalle or Mervin de Silva.

D.R.Wijewardena died in June 1950 or two years after the realisation of his cherished dreams, one of independence and two of becoming the press baron of Sri Lanka.

The greatest tribute one could pay to him is to remember that he was a democrat who believed and worked to achieve amity among all the ethnic groups of the country and a patriot who wanted to build an independent nation.

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