Colombo, Media and Communications

Sundays without English newspapers?

Not too long ago, my Sunday mornings used to be so enriched by the Sunday newspapers. They informed me, intrigued me, tickled me with laughter and occasionally even exasperated me. I spent the better part of my Sundays going through their diverse and stimulating news, features and opinions.

How I miss those Sundays – and the Sunday reading that I can no longer find in our Sunday newspapers! For sure, we still have half a dozen Sunday newspapers coming out in English, but much has changed. I can predict the content in most newspapers even before I open them on any given Sunday.

So I now buy only two Sunday newspapers (you can soon guess which), and get through them in a couple of hours. The rest of my Sunday is spent watching TV or browsing the web – thank goodness there still are some ways I can spend my leisure time productively.

Last Sunday, 3 May 2009, was observed as World Press Freedom Day. As a mark of respect for our courageous journalists and editors who risk life and limb in safeguarding the public interest, I went out and bought all Sri Lankan Sunday newspapers in English. These are my impressions:

  • The Sunday Leader still offers the most incisive, explosive Sunday reading. Despite the founder editor being murdered, their press being burnt and journalists threatened on many occasions, they remain the most pesky and persistent bunch in Sri Lankan journalism. I don’t always agree with what they say or how they say it, but boy, am I glad they’re out there doing what journalists should be doing!
  • The Sunday Times used to have the best Sunday reading with the widest coverage of issues and a broad range of perspectives. It still carries an occasional gem, but is now so muted and guarded in news reporting and so frivolous in features. Once a multi-cultural newspaper, it is today openly tribal for the ethnic majority – lion only, without the green and orange stripes!
  • If nothing else, The Sunday Island has clearly defined its demographic: the older people. Edited by the oldest editor still in practice, most of its columnists and contributors are themselves greying. Talk about the grey leading the grey! They indulge in plenty of nostalgia and reminiscences, craving for the ‘good old days’ before the yakkos came along and spoilt everything…
  • The Sunday Observer is essentially an advertising supplement wrapped in what looks like news and features, but most people buy it only for its classifieds, obituaries, vacancies and government notices. If its publishers decide next week to just put out the ads without the rest, no one would notice or complain – and their sales won’t be affected!
  • The Nation started with a refreshing difference and operated for a short while with some guts and backbone. But it has now become so docile that it has no discernible niche in the media market. Like our Sri Lankan nation, it is permanently lost, and wandering aimlessly…can somebody give them a white cane please?
  • Oh, I almost forgot. There’s also a little tabloid masquerading as a broadsheet called Lakbima News. It’s new, and behaves like a spoilt brat of rich, indulgent parents. It doesn’t have to earn its keep so does pretty much what it pleases, which includes plagiarising blogs and lampooning the owners’ rivals.

I found the six Sunday newspapers evoke different sentiments in me:

The Sunday Leader makes me angry because they show things as they are and makes me realise what a monumental mess we have in our resplendent isle.

The Sunday Times makes me sad and depressed, because it is in permanent denial mode and has become such a cheerleader for Sinhala ultra-nationalism.

I laugh at (not with) the Sunday Island’s feeble attempts to gloss over major concerns of the day and take us back to simpler, happier days.

I usually bypass the Sunday Observer unless I’m trying to buy or sell something, which is a couple of times a year on average.

I’m confused and bemused by The Nation, and sometimes wonder if it has quietly been taken over by the state-controlled Lake House.

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry with the juvenile journalism (juve-nalism?) of the Lakbima News.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    How very true. I too used to buy all four Sunday papers (quite costly given my income as a journalist on an independent) and can spend the whole day thoroughly enjoying myself.
    Matilda in Sunday Leader tickled me no end. Iqbal Athas gave us inside stories on defence no other journalist could get a hand on. Late Taraki, a fountain of inside info on the warfront. Late Lasantha, what can I say. He is a mine of information on inside politics, corruption scandal and his sharp digs at the establishment.
    Alas Lucien Rajakarunanayke who is a good story-teller has sold his soul to a mess of pottage and now beats the drums of any party in power.
    Manik De Silva, the long-standing editor of our times is still the best business writer this country can have and although he is restrained by the establishment he is still one of the best journalists the island has produced.
    Although I cannot get my hands on the Lankan newspapers easily I can read them on the net. But I hardly do since as you say there’s nothing to read. Pearl Thevanayagam

  • Jack Point

    Be like me, and turn to the Hi!! magazine for solace.

    But seriously, I’m enjoying reading teh Sunday Island, its the best paper around.

  • Jack Point

    With respect, I would disagree with Mrs Thevanaygam. The best business writing is to be found on the web in http://www.lbo.lk

  • Polyanna

    I agree with most of what is written. Not just on Sundays but on everyday, these newspapers are sad. They have no public spirited journalism and are too docile to take on the establishment. They prefer not to see what even the blind can see.
    Yes The Sunday Leader still prefers to call a spade a spade, but that too lacks its original fire and flavour.
    The Sunday Times is more like a magazine in boradsheet form. As for the rest of them, they appear to operating in a workd of thier own, completely shutting out different opinions and offer to space for dissent- too happy to be the hurrah boys of a government that is not even slow in reshaping itself into a dictatorship.
    As the watch dogs watch their own backs, the citizenry will have no choice to switch on their entertianment channels.

  • Nayana

    Journalists are not super humans and given the present scenario in the country they cannot be blamed for being guarded in what they write. It easy those who write hidden behind pseudonyms to write what they want but those journalists who write under their real names do need to take care. And no The Sunday Times is not a cheer leader fo Sinhala ultra nationalists .If taking a stance against terrorism and a particuar terrosist group makes a newspaper sinhala ultra nationalists, it is obvious the writer is someone who only wants his point of view to appear in the Sunday newspapers and not willing to listen to a differnet opinion. There are plenty of news items in The sunday Times taking up the causes of minorities.

  • Haaya

    How absolutely true! I couldn’t agree more with the writer. I used to spend hours and hours reading the many engaging and enriching columns of the Sunday newspapers, but nowadays I find that I’m done with all the English language newspapers in about 60 minutes or less. We have more newspapers but hardly any interesting reading material – a paradox of our times!

  • veedhur

    Nayana, it used to be a good paper – but in the last one year it seems to have been another victim of the regime. It is tame and more often slavish! Because of the fear psychosis the self sensorship is very evident. There is no longer room for perspectives like that of Tissa. It is sad.

  • veedhur

    And by the way writing ‘hidden behind psyeudonyms’ is a reflection of the society and not of the writer, in my opinion.

  • CheeLanka

    Nayana: When you say “The Sunday Times is not a cheer leader fo Sinhala ultra nationalists”, you and the rest of us can’t be reading the same Sunday Times, published weekly by Wijeya Newspapers. The evidence is there if you look carefully. For sure, it’s not blatantly Sinhala Buddhist in the same way its sister newspaper Irida Lankadeepa is. But at least with the Sinhala paper, there is no pretension.

    The Sunday Times’ subtle racist bias is discernible if you look carefully enough. It’s not just the political column and political reporting, where its owners have historically aligned themselves with the UNP. The race bias, and cheer-leading of the MR regime, is seen all over from features to business reporting. For example, how they no longer question (as they once did) excesses of Chief Justice Sarath Silva, a self-proclaimed Sinhala-Buddhist champion. We also need to look at stories they choose not to print or investigate, because it implicates the regime or its JHU supporters.

    One example among many: a leading Sinhala-Buddhist hegemonist wrote a vituperative commentary on the need to ‘restart independence’ which is a diatribe against Europeans, as well as religious minorities in Sri Lanka. See: http://sundaytimes.lk/080203/News/news0013.html

    The same writer, Susantha Goonatilake, enjoys unlimited and unrestrained access to the Sunday Times, where he keeps spewing more venom every few weeks. Responses and rejoinders are not carried, or diluted when printed. A recent example is: ‘After the victory: Full-scale development in the north but no racist appeasement’, which is found at: http://sundaytimes.lk/090118/News/sundaytimesnews_24.html

    If these are not openly racist and hate-mongering, I don’t know what is.

  • “If its publishers decide next week to just put out the ads without the rest, no one would notice or complain – and their sales won’t be affected! ”
    That’s absolutely untrue, we carry plenty of competitions (check Sunday Observer magazine – Cinema, Music, Books). Besides, how can we help it if the government wants us as their mouthpiece (starting from Sirimavo B)? Do you blame us? Every country has one! However, Sunday Observer did set the example for modern journalism and paved the way for the high standard of journalism in the country. Please straighten your facts before you speak, most of the journalists in independent media today cut their teeth in their career at Lake House before venturing anywhere so it was the Sunday Observer that was a starting point for many! Nowadays, if you’re in independent journalism, you’re killed! So I bet you’d like that. Stop ranting nonsense, you’re just jealous that people actually buy it for content (that goes on par with the ads) as they need to know the govt’s stance on something where other newspapers sensationalise way over the top!~ Please research before making baseless allegations!