D R Wijewardene - A true patriot
Today is the 114th birth anniversary of the Founder Chairman of
The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd, D R Wijewardene who was not
merely a newspaper magnate but also a patriot who used the newspapers to
instill the importance of regaining independence in the minds and to
agitate for it strongly
Profile of a press baron
|* Name: Don Richard
* Date of birth: February 23,1886
* Schools attended: Sedavatta school, S.
* University: University of Cambridge
* Graduated as a Lawyer
* Set up Lake House Group
* Died on June 13,1950
D R Wijewardene the Founder of Lake House
The history of the early 20th Century marked a renaissance among the
Sri Lankans in several fields. The resurgent nationalist forces were
agitating for independence while the unjust and often draconian laws
were in force under the British colonial regime. Laws such as the Waste
Lands Ordinance had robbed the lands of the Kandyan peasantry in the
previous century while the martial law of 1915 had imprisoned national
leaders. In the struggles against those oppressive laws and colonial
regimes D R Wijewardene played a key role also as a national leader.
He was born, the son of Muhandiram Don Philip Wijewardene and Helena
Wijewardene of Sedawatte, an eminent family of Colombo who were
well-known for their service to religion and philanthropy. After
completing his school education he left for England to pursue his law
studies. On his return having passed out as a lawyer, legal practice did
not attract him but he decided to come to the newspaper business.
At that time the Sinhala newspaper Dinamina was printed at a press in
Pettah and D R bought it in 1914. After he bought Dinamina he not only
improved its standard and increased its circulation but used it as the
main tool to awaken the rural intelligentsia and keep the agitation for
freedom vibrant. Among his friends were the first chairman of the
National Congress Ponnambalam Ramanathan, his successor James Peiris and
D S Senanayake. Along with these leaders D R used the newspapers for a
continued agitation for independence as well as to criticize the
colonial regime and its officials.
His next venture was to start the Ceylon Daily News in 1918 that was
to become the main standard English newspaper of the country. The
celebrated editor H A J Hulugalle contributed to maintain the high
standards of journalism of this paper. With the start of the English
daily his next move was to buy the Ceylon Observer then owned by a
foreigner. With these three newspapers Lake House owned by D R became
the most influential newspaper group of the country.
But he knew the value of a high standard weekend Sinhala newspaper
and started the Silumina in 1930 and next the Tamil newspaper Thinakaran
in 1932. The other newspapers of the time like those in English started
for the European planters run by various companies and individuals were
insignificant compared to the Lake House newspapers.
New school of writers
During this time the Silumina had editors like Martin Wickramasinghe
who was to become the doyen of the contemporary novelists and writers
and to be followed by such eminent editors like Meemana Prematilaka.
Of course Lake House and Silumina created a school of new Sinhala
writers like the famous satirist T G W de Silva or eminent novelist G B
Senanayake. Thus the contribution D R made was not only in agitating for
independence from the British but also in creating and nurturing a whole
set of Sinhala and English writers and novelists.
However the left political movement and parties were highly critical
of D R and Lake House. They named him the symbol of local capitalists
and landowner class that opposed to socialist political policies and
There was some truth in these observations as D R as a friend of the
Senanayakes and the elites who were supportive of the UNP. The class he
represented sought to keep political power in their own hands and the
opposing political views and parties were anathema to the then ruling
group of UNP politicians led by D S Senanayake.
Yet given his background and the times in which D R Wijewardene lived
one cannot be too critical of the policies he followed and furthered.
But as a newspaper magnate his efficiency and dedication made the Lake
House group stand far ahead of the other newspaper publishers.
The standards he insisted on all these newspapers and their
successful achievement is a mark of the greatness of this pioneering
newspaperman. Following in his family tradition D R remained a devout
Buddhist and helped several temples including the Kelani Raja Maha
Viharaya as its main dayaka.
When the new university campus of Peradeniya was built he built its
Sanghavasa for the Buddhist monks who enter the University. At all times
he advocated unity among all groups of Sri Lankans and stood for