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.