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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2648

Sri Lankan media: Editor Sonali threatens to sue Asian Tribune exposing corruption in Leader papers

In a blatant move to prevent the Asian Tribune from exposing the backdoor political deals cut by the Editor of the Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga, to get Ms. Sonali Samarasinghe, a journalist working for him, appointed as Minister to the Sri Lankan High Commission in Australia, she has issued a threat to sue the Asia Tribune.

The Asian Tribune ran the first installment exposing the background to the culture of corruption prevailing in the Sri Lankan media. In the second installment Asian Tribune promised to run next Sunday on “How Ms. Sonali Samarasinghe got a diplomatic post by sitting on the lap of her Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga”. The intention was to establish how political deals are made by newspapers bosses to get favours from their political cronies – a corruption which the Leader would decry and expose if committed by any other member of the public.

In an e-mail sent to Asian Tribune, Ms. Samarasinghe, the Editor of the Morning Leader, says that instructions have been issued to her lawyers in three countries to sue the Asian Tribune. Quote: “The Sunday Leader has already instructed its lawyers in Sri Lanka, Australia and Sweden to take necessary legal steps in this regard, notice of which you will receive in the next few days.” Asian Tribune welcomes this legal blackmail as it would provide another opportunity to expose corruption in Sri Lankan media.

Despite this threat to the right of journalists to probe corruption in any quarter – and the Leader screams about it regularly -- the Asian Tribune will run the exposure as promised on Sunday to it readers who will be final judges.

It all began last Sunday when Ms. Samaraisinghe ran a story on an e-mail purported to have come from the Asian Tribune. This story was published without the comments of the Editor of the Asian Tribune that were sent to Ms. Samarasinghe. Her story accused the Editor of being involved in an attempt to get Karuna, the ex-Tiger commander who was committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, pushed out from the political scene in the east.

Ms. Samarasinghe’s excuse for not carrying the comments of the Asian Tribune is that she ran the story on the first e-mail sent to her by Editor Asian Tribune saying “No comment”. But within a matter of hours the Editor, Asian Tribune, agreed to answer all her queries provided Ms. Samarasinghe answered queries regarding her tenure as Minister appointed to the Australian High Commission on the poor Sri Lankan tax payers’ money. She states that this was done to blackmail her. She is entitled to interpret it that way but the fact is that her queries about the Asian Tribune came at the time when it was preparing an investigation of its own, following the editorial written by The Island highlighting corruption in the Sri Lankan media.

Besides, media had earlier exposed some of the unethical and unscrupulous practices of the Editor of Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga. Clearly, there was nothing new in the attempt of Asian Tribune to focus on the blue-eyed girl of The Sunday Leader’s boss, one of the employees who works under him (no pun intended). Asian Tribune was merely attempting to get an assurance from her that she would answer our queries the way Asian Tribune would answer her queries.

But she states in her e-mail that Asian Tribune was “seeking to blackmail me in order to prevent the publication of The Sunday Leader investigation of your role in the Karuna issue.”

If the intention was to blackmail Sunday Leader and to prevent the publication why should the Editor, Asian Tribune offer to answer her queries? A blackmailer’s tactic would be to threaten physical, legal and other action to prevent the publication. Instead the Asian Tribune offered to give all answers provided she agreed to reciprocate in the same manner. The Asian Tribune did not threaten her with legal, or any other, action if she published whatever material, true or false, she had with her.

However, if, as she says, her lawyers have been given instructions to sue Asian Tribune in three countries – not one, mark you -- to stop the publication of investigations into corruption in the Leader group then it stands to reason that she has something to hide. She has, therefore, resorted to the only means available to stop the publication: legal blackmail. Her threat to sue “in three countries” also contains the following sentence: “I however find that you have already published in today's online edition, a defamatory reference to me without awaiting a response from me.”

For how long is Asian Tribune expected to wait for a response to an email sent to her? Asian Tribune took three hours to respond to her. She took three days! So who’s to blame?
Besides, she has come up with an excuse that is rather odd for a newspaper that claims on its masthead: “Nothing escapes” and “First with the news and free with the views”. After boasting that “Nothing escapes” and they are “first with the news” she writes to Asian Tribune saying that she did not open her e-mail for three whole days. Fancy a newspaper editor not opening the e-mail for three days! It is a good story for her to tell marines.

Before spinning yarns she should realize that the second response of the Editor, Asian Tribune was sent to her within three hours on Friday night after receiving her e-mail and she responds on Monday saying that she had opened the particular e-mail just now (1.41 p.m. Monday). If she thinks that anyone is going to swallow this attempt to pull wool over the eyes of whoever reads it she must think again. Is she running the newspaper for Rip Van Winkles or is she running a newspaper that responds to up-to-the-minute events, as she claims in the masthead? In any case, if she didn’t open the e-mails that were relevant to her story it’s not the problem of Asian Tribune. It’s her problem. If she can’t manage her own affairs then her loving boss must woo her more aggressively to do the job she is supposed to do in office, leaving aside whatever she does outside office.

However, we agree with her that the queries she planned to raise and the queries that the Asian Tribune were going to raise are “not linked”.

It happened to coincide with investigations into corruption in the Sri Lankan media. The Asian Tribune will continue its investigation and report on the same principles that media generally investigate whatever concerns them. The Leader group has no special privileges written in law or in ethics to investigate others in its shady games of political vindictiveness and, at the same time, prevent others from investigating the skeletons in their cupboards.

Asian Tribune will not go into other details mentioned in her legal threat as the matter is due to come up before courts “in three countries”.

Asian Tribune.

P.S: Will The Leader which claims to be ”free with views” publish this response?

Here is the full text of her legal threat:

"Dear Mr. Rajasingham,

I received your conditional agreement to answer my questions well after we had gone into print. In fact I opened your email only a little while back as you would have noticed from the automatic response you received.

At the time we went into print I only had with me you email response
wherein you had refused to answer The questions The Sunday Leader had to ask of you. That was duly published.

Your subsequent email in which you agreed to answer the questions that The Sunday Leader wanted to pose to you was conditional and Tanta mounted to a threat. What questions you have to ask me with regard to my tenure at the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra has nothing to do with the story The Sunday Leader was investigating regarding your involvement with the Karuna group and the discussion you had with President Mahinda Rajapakse and Minister Douglas Devananda in Geneva, a report of which you had submitted to Presidential Advisor Mr. Sunimal Fernando.

Your very reference that you had so called material about my tenure in Canberra and you were withholding publication, itself goes against the very assertions you have made in your email about accountability, transparency and tax payers' money.

It is very clear that what you have sought to do by linking the questions The Sunday Leader wanted to ask you on your role in the Karuna issue with questions relating to my tenure in Canberra which you claim you have been withholding publishing all this time, was an amateurish attempt at blackmail.

It is especially so considering the fact that my tenure in Canberra ended over 3 years ago on August 31, 2004.

Let me tell you right away that I have nothing to hide with regard my tenure at The Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra but I will not succumb to threats, intimidation and blackmail.

It is obvious from your subsequent emails that you were seeking to
blackmail me in order to prevent the publication of The Sunday Leader investigation of your role in the Karuna issue.

Let me tell you neither The Sunday Leader nor I will be intimidated by such threats.

The Sunday Leader is still prepared to publish your responses with
regard to the Karuna issue which have surfaced on your very own
documentation. If you are prepared to answer our questions.

I also stand ready to answer any questions you may have with regard to my tenure in Canberra. But let me tell you categorically that the two issues are not linked.

I however find that you have already published in today's online edition, a defamatory reference to me without awaiting a response from me.

The Sunday Leader has already instructed its lawyers in Sri Lanka,
Australia and Sweden to take necessary legal steps in this regard,
notice of which you will receive in the next few days.

However, I still stand ready to answer your questions despite your
attempt at blackmail in the spirit of transparency. You can email me any questions you wish to ask before Wednesday and I will reply them without prejudice to the legal steps that have already been initiated withregard to today's publication.

Thank you

Yours sincerely

Sonali Samarasinghe"

- Asian Tribune -

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