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Upali Newspapers – creating a new newspaper tradition

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by Bulitha Pradeep Kumara

I have heard many well known seniors in the Lankan newspaper industry saying that The Divayina is not just a newspaper but a newspaper tradition. The birth of that tradition goes back four decades to Oct 04, 1981 at 223, Bloemendhal Road, Colombo-13 where Upali Newspapers Ltd. (UNL) is located.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of The Divayina newspaper founded by Upali Wijewardene, widely regarded as one of the finest entrepreneurs this country has ever produced.

It is no secret that Lake House is considered the Mahagedara of this country’s newspaper industry. Less well known is that Divayina is the University that gave shape to a new newspaper tradition.

The story of creating that tradition goes back a few decades. The government that came to power in 1977 paved the way for indelible socio-economic, political and cultural changes in this country. The JR Jayewardene Government opened the economy paving the way for uncontrolled entry of both good and evil.

Among those changes were creating the keys to open the doors of developing the national media industry. Opening the economy created both a social need and a demand for a vibrantly new, critical and revolutionary media culture.

Wijewardene, a nephew of Lake House founder DR Wijewardene who played a critical role in the independence struggle, began with Chitra Mithra – a comic magazine that gained national circulation. That experiment enabled him to poach the country’s best journalistic talent to form the core group pioneering UNL.

He picked Edmund Ranasinghe to lead the operation and gave him a free hand to select the people he needed. The best journalists in the country at that time were invited to work for the newpaper at salaries of three to four times what they were earning. The pioneers included Dayasena Gunasinghe, Nandasena Sooriyarachchi, Dayaratne Ranasinghe, Upali Tennakoon, Vijita Yapa, Sunil Madhawa Premathilake, Gamini Sumanasekera, Merrill Perera, Dharmaratne Wijesundara, Norman Palihawadane, W.R. Wijesoma and Janaka Ratnayake.

Meanwhile Wijewardene was also experimenting with latest Litho technology for printing. He experimented with the then latest available methods of bromide printing at the new newspaper group. He soon created The Divayina and The Island.

Right from the beginning, Divaiyna gave a lot of space to politics; and that space soon became a platform that created the Jathika Chinthanaya ideology nurtured by writers such as Ven Maduluwawe Sobhitha, Dr Gunadasa Amarasekera, Prof Nalin de Silva, Ven Bengamuwe Nalaka, Ven Prof Bellanwila Wimalaratana, JRP Sooriyappermuma, Gamini Iriyagolla, Dr Gamini Jayasuriya and SL Gunasekera.

Many political forces benefited from the Divaina’s political content. They included the JVP, once at the forefront of the drive for change. It was this public opinion that helped bring in Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1993, Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2004 and Gotabaya Rajapaksa to power quite recently.

Many Journalists including Karunadasa Sooriyarachchi, Chandrasiri Dodangoda, Jayantha Chandrasiri, Kitsiri Nimalshantha, Anura Solomons, Gaiyirika Persusinghe, Narada Nissanka, Daya Lankapura, Chandrasiri Katudeniya, Esala Jayasena, Wimal Weerasekera, Sundara Nihathamani de Mel, Ashoka Gunathilake, Anura Siriwardena, Jatila Wellabada, Shan Wijetunge, Pathma Weragodarachchi, Sisira Paranatantri, Lakshman Piyasena Deepthi Adkiari, Tissa Weerasekera, Sirimal Fonseka and Wasantha Kumara Kethhena come to mind.

The paper also had the services of cameramen including Bandu S Kodikara, Prasanna Hennayake, Chandragupta Weerawardane, Saranapala Pamunuwa, Upali Premaratne, Siripala Halwala, Jude Denzil Pathiaraja, Nimal Dayaratne and Gamini Mendis.

The Divayina is known for the promotion of its own unique and progressive brand of patriotism. It always took an uncompromising stance favouring the national cause that helped save many national interests and assets. It was an ideological guardian in battles for national interests and assets always standing against anti-national forces. It is the only paper that unflinchingly stood for militarily destroying terrorism.

This would not have been possible but for Upali Wijewardene. His wife, Mrs Lakmani R Welgama, took up the challenge after his death with incumbent Managing Director Nimal Welgama standing by her.

The production team from layout and designing to dispatch too have rendered a yeoman service to uphold the aforementioned tradition.

When I said that The Divayina is the university of the Lankan newspaper industry I had in my mind names of editors-in-chief of many large Sinhala national newspapers that later came into being.

They were all Divayina products. These names included Karunadasa Sooriyarachchi, Dharman Wickramaratne, Sisira Paranatantri, Mahinda Abeysundara, Gamini Jayalath, Nayanaka Ranwella, Chaminda Wariyagoda, Kitsiri Nimal Shanth and Sundara Nihathamani de Mel.



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Features

Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe

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The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,

 

The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.

Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.

Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”

For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.

The twins with the
late Sunil Perera

On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.

Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri

According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.

The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.

There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.

The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan

After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.

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