Did Sampanthan Tell Newspaper about Fonseka Agreeing to Re-merge North and East?
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The credibility of the controversial story on the ‘conditional support’ extended by the TNA to common presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka quoting R. Sampanthan published in the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper is now at stake with the sudden resignation of the journalist who wrote the story.
The story supposedly quoting TNA Leader, R. Sampanthan was written by senior Lankadeepa journalist Dayaseeli Liyanage for the Sunday edition of the newspaper on January 10. The story quoted Sampanthan as saying that the TNA decided to extend its support to the General following his ‘acceptance of several conditions laid down by them,’ which included the re-merger of the North and East Provinces.
Following the controversy that surrounded the story, Liyanage last Tuesday (12) handed in her letter of resignation to the Personnel Manager, Wijeya Newspapers and walked out of office with her personal belongings without even speaking to Sunday Lankadeepa Editor, Ariyananda Dombagahawatte.
Dombagahawatte said that he was unaware of the reasons that compelled Liyanage to resign from office. “Even I have no idea. She had handed in her letter and walked out without giving any reasons,” he said. Liyanage after walking out of the office switched off her phone and distanced herself from the whole sordid saga.
General Fonseka’s camp was quick to allege that it was a conspiracy between the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper and the government. It was initially alleged that the newspaper’s editor was requested by the government to carry a story on a voice cut given by TNA Parliamentarian Thurairatnasingham to a state media channel. Thurairatnasingham’s statement telecast on TV was about ‘conditions agreed to’ by the General.
The Sunday Lankadeepa had then reportedly decided to carry a story quoting TNA Leader Sampanthan. Soon after the TNA announced its decision to support General Fonseka, Liyanage was asked to interview Sampanthan for a story for the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper. Liyanage had written the story and handed it to the Editor. However, she was later asked to write a separate front-page story to be carried in the final edition of the newspaper.
Soon after the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper hit the market, JVP parliamentary group leader and General Fonseka’s co-media spokesperson, Anura Kumara Dissanayake had called Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, SLFP (M) Wing Leader Mangala Samaraweera and General Fonseka to inquire about the story carried in the Sunday Lankadeepa quoting Sampanthan.
Dissanayake had asked Wickremesinghe and Samaraweera if the General had secretly agreed to conditions put forward by the TNA. The Opposition Leader had insisted that the General had neither agreed to any conditions put forward by the TNA nor signed any agreement with the party.
Wickremesinghe had then called Sampanthan, who at the time was in Trincomalee and inquired about the story quoting him in the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper. Sampanthan had denied giving any interview to the newspaper or making any claim about the re-merger of the north and east.
Wickremesinghe had then called Samaraweera and Dissanayake and informed them that Sampanthan had denied giving an interview to the newspaper.
A call was then made to Wijeya Newspapers Chairman, Ranjith Wijewardene by Wickremesinghe. He had informed Wijewardene that Sampanthan had denied giving an interview to the Sunday Lankadeepa and inquired as to how the story was published in the newspaper quoting the TNA Leader.
Meanwhile, JHU member and Western Provincial Minister Udaya Gammanpila raised the issue about the re-merger of the North and East Provinces as stated by Sampanthan at the Satana political talk show telecast on Sirasa TV on Saturday.
On Monday (11), Liyanage was asked by the newspaper management as to how she interviewed Sampanthan and wrote the story. She had first said that the story was compiled on the comments made by Sampanthan at the TNA press conference held in the parliamentary complex where the decision to support General Fonseka was officially announced.
However, upon being questioned the journalists who were assigned to attend the news conference from the Lankadeepa and Daily Mirror newspapers had said Liyanage had not been present at the press conference.
Liyanage had then said that she interviewed Sampanthan over the telephone. The Wijeya Newspapers management had then inquired into details about the phone call and requested a letter detailing the telephone number she had used to call Sampanthan from office and related details.
She had handed the letter on Monday (11). However, she had later requested for the letter saying she would type it and hand it over.
In a surprise move, on Tuesday (12) morning, Liyanage had walked into office, cleared all her personal belongings and walked out after handing in her resignation letter to the Personnel Manager. Sunday Lankadeepa Editor Dombagahawatte after claiming he had no idea as to what prompted Liyanage to resign from office said there was no controversy over the story.
“Sampanthan has so far not denied the story or sent us a clarification. If there is a mistake in the story it is normal practice to send in a clarification and we carry it,” he said.
As for Wickremesinghe’s discussion with Chairman Wijewardene, Dombagahawatte said — “Why should Wickremesinghe speak on behalf of a story carried about Sampanthan? If there is anything wrong in the story, it is Sampanthan who should speak.”
When asked if there was any recorded evidence to prove the interview had indeed taken place between Liyanage and Sampanthan, Dombagahawatte said there was no tape as the interview was conducted over the telephone. “What I have with me is the hand written copy of the story,” he said.
He added that the story had become a controversy due to the actions of the opposition political parties. He said that it is the opposition that “blew it out of proportion” by talking about it. “When they speak about it, the government also drags the issue,” he noted.
However, Sampanthan when contacted by The Sunday Leader earlier last week said he was wrongly quoted in a story, especially since he had not given any such interview to the newspaper in question. “I did not give any newspaper interviews after the press conference, but I have been wrongly quoted,” he said.
Sampanthan left for India on a short visit on Wednesday (13). It is reliably learnt that he had before leaving the country contacted Wickremesinghe and said he would hold a press conference on the controversial story and the alleged ‘agreement’ reached with General Fonseka upon his return to the country on the 16th.
Wickremesinghe meanwhile when asked about the alleged agreement told The Sunday Leader that an inquiry into the story in the Sunday Lankadeepa had found that Sampanthan had not given any interview to the newspaper. “Sampanthan himself told me that he had not made any such comment to the newspaper,” he said.
He alleged that the story was a plant in the Sunday Lankadeepa and that the newspaper had no explanation to give for it. Wickremesinghe further noted that the story was not about the integrity of the General but of the newspaper.
“The Editor is a member of the Free Media Movement which is against the Press Council. He has defied the Free Media Movement by being in the Press Council after being appointed by the President,” he said.
Responding to allegations of being part of a government conspiracy to plant the story in the Sunday Lankadeepa, Dombagahawatte denied any government involvement when publishing the story. He also denied any involvement in the President’s propaganda campaign as alleged in certain sections of the media. He said that as a member of the Press Council he would ensure that laws detrimental to free media would not be implemented.
Wickremesinghe upon hearing Liyanage’s resignation had once again contacted the head of the newspaper company and stated that the fault of carrying such a newspaper was not with the journalist but the person in-charge of the content of the newspaper. - courtesy: the sunday leader -