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Some questions from the ‘Daily Mirror’ regarding Wikileaks brought back memories of my first attempt to talk to journalists. This was in 1980, and some elements in government had realized that the rigid controls the Jayewardene government exercised were not working. I was asked then to address youngsters at the SLBC, and I began by challenging the current interpretation, trumpeted about at the time by the government press, of the old adage that facts were sacred and comment was free.

I started by saying that facts referred to events explored by the journalists, not what a government spokesman said was a fact. Before I could go further I was interrupted by a stentorian voice rising from a wheelchair in the corner. This was Nimal Karunatilleke’s. The once radical hope of the SLFP, who had heralded the 1956 victory by defeating Bernard Aluwihare in Matale, was now a dogmatic supporter of Jayewardene’s UNP. He declared that ideas from Oxford were not appropriate in Sri Lanka, where the media belonged to the government.

I tried to continue, to point out that comment being free did not mean one could say whatever one wanted. Opinions had to be argued with evidence and rationally. But by then all authority had fallen away, and I don’t suppose the youngsters were listening.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

January 2011
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