People are constantly discussing the interview given by President Ranil
Wickremesinghe to the Deutsche Welle (DW) satellite television and
how he presented himself to the world.
The immediate reaction of a UNPer who worked closely with Ranil
Wickremesinghe during the Yahapalanaya regime was “disaster”.
The President showed his true form to the world, no less.
Some are of the opinion the President was under stress after the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) delayed but did not deny the
second tranche of the USD 2.9 billion bailout package since Sri Lanka
has failed to fulfil commitments as pledged. Some analysts see the
President’s aggressive mood as resilience in the face of marauding
Western media.
The President took swipes at the West, especially the Western media,
which he says has an agenda against Sri Lanka.
The President lost his composure, statesmanship, and diplomacy. All
that apparently blew through the window in the face of the
interviewer, who kept his cool throughout the interview.
The President accused the interviewer of attempting to corner him.
Instead, he could have used his vast political acumen and diplomatic
skills without being aggressive and defensive all of which will not augur
well for his political stature.

The writer remembers how then Minister of National Security Lalith
Athulathmudali faced a tough interviewer from the British Broadcasting
Corporation during the height of the LTTE separatist war in the North
and East. Following the interview, Minister Athulathmudali came in for
praise from all corners for his vast knowledge of world affairs and
debating skills.
During the DW interview, President Wickremesinghe rejected the
Channel Four findings. While he has all the right to do so, some Sri
Lankan journalists feel Wickremesinghe and Gotabaya Rajapaksa react
the same when accusations are heaped on them. But in this instance,
what Wickremesinghe should realise is that the accusation was heaped
on the government and not on him personally. His government in 2002
and now are not being held accountable for blatant violations or most
of the human rights violations reported in Sri Lanka other than the
Easter Sunday attack. He was the prime minister of the Sirisena
government and failed miserably to prevent the Easter Sunday attack
despite prior knowledge of it.
Some think his aggressive behaviour is a prelude to seeking an
extension to his government by using constitutional provisions to hold a
referendum to abolish the executive presidency and extend his term
until a new constitution is drafted, which is described as an autocratic
move. He wanted to show the electorate the true Wickremesinghe self
who will not give into external pressure.
Yet some others think he wanted to portray his love for the motherland
and display his patriotism by giving wide publicity to the interview in
the vernacular media to cater to nationalist sentiments. The President
said there will be no international inquiry as far as the Easter Sunday
attack is concerned. But as soon as he assumed duties as acting

president, most will recall his pledge to call on Scotland Yard to carry
out an investigation.
The interview was praised by the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) and
its general secretary, who said that the president is now toeing the
SLPP line when it comes to international politics, and that it was a
praiseworthy move.
The Catholic Bishop’s Conference, replying to the President's sentiment
that the government would talk to the Catholic Bishop's Conference
without the Cardinal, said that there was no difference between the
view held by the Cardinal and that of the Catholic Bishop's Conference.
Be that as it may, what the President should do now is examine his own
behaviour and get an introverted self-assessment of performance. No
doubt he would feel ashamed that he did not meet the standards of
world leaders who handle such situations more prudently and with
dynamism. The President’s bold announcement that he knows how to
handle media and how he was involved in media activities was mind-
boggling. However, credit goes to him for abolishing the criminal
defamation provisions from the statute book in 2003, which is
commendable. Criminal defamation has plagued many journalists for
decades. Even at the time it was abolished from the statute books of
the Sri Lankan legal framework, it was known as an archaic law the
world over.
Nevertheless, the President’s drive to restrict social media platforms
will meet with stiff resistance. Already, a collective of young journalists,
the Samagi Jana Balawegaya and Professor G.L. Pereis, have gone
before the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the
related legislation, the Online Safety Bill, and seeking redress. The
petitioners are of the view that it violates all provisions relating to
freedom of expression for the general public.

Meanwhile, the President, addressing the felicitation ceremony to
honour veteran journalist Edmund Ranasinghe last week said that
media outlets, including social media, should engage in a discussion
whether to enter into international agreements or adhere to the
respective country’s legal framework.
He was of the view that the advent of social media has led to a situation
where some entities publish content according to their own whims,
circumventing established regulations, and thus emphasised that media
in any country must operate within the framework of its own laws.
“The future of media art will undoubtedly unfold in the coming two or
three years, and expertise in this domain may emerge not just from
New York but also from Sri Lanka”, President Wickremesinghe said.
This is the first attempt by any government thus far to stifle social
media platforms. The President is acting contrary to his own sentiments
expressed when he was the opposition leader during the period when
the Rajapaksas were at the helm. He invited the youth in the country in
particular to come forward to protect the most popular social media
platform, Facebook, from an unfortunate extermination at the hands of
the Rajapaksas. With the help of Argalaya, which was largely based on
the social media campaign carried out by the people who couldn’t
tolerate the existence of the Rajapaksa regime with its autocratic
tendencies, Wickremesinghe, through crafty measures, managed to
climb the ladder from a non-entity to the presidency.
freedom. By prescribing a more stringent legal framework for the
people, which would ultimately lead to the creation of a despotic
regime, the clear message from the President is that he couldn’t care
less about the wishes of the people who yearn to live in a free
democratic society built on the principles of fair disposition and
unfettered freedom.

We are aware of the events that took place during the despotic
Rajapaksa regime, where there were instances of interference with the
judiciary and the rule of law had been drastically neglected so much
that government hooligans attacked even judges. A report which the
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) published on Sri Lanka
amplified these matters. In one such instance, the ICJ said ‘on
September 18, 2012, the Chief Justice directed Manjula Tillekaratne,
the Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) , issued a public
statement citing interference, threats, and intimidation. This was the
first time the JSC had issued such a statement. On September 28, 2012,
the JSC Secretary expressed concern for ‘the security of all families,
beginning with the person holding the highest position in the judicial
system.’ These statements set the stage for the physical assault on JSC
Secretary Manjula Tillekaratne.
We hope that Wickremesinghe‘s penchant for restricting the media will
not lead to such circumstances. He after all, boasts of a family involved
in the media business from his grandfather down.