Colombo, Nov. 6 (Reuters): After nearly two years of criticising President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Sri Lanka’s state-run media shifted allegiance sharply today after she sacked the island’s media minister and assumed control herself.
Headlines in English- and Sinhala-language newspapers praised Kumaratunga and avoided mentioning that she had thrown the country into political turmoil by firing three ministers, suspending parliament and declaring a state of emergency.
“Sri Lanka’s President supreme in defence,” said The Dinamina, the state-run Sinhala-language newspaper.
Its English-language counterpart, the Daily News, ran a similar large headline today, with just a small story at the bottom of the page on the state of emergency.
The President’s office issued a statement today saying boards of directors of state media bodies were under the purview of the President — in effect that they were controlled by Kumaratunga.
“The President has ensured the media full freedom of expression. The first obligation of these media institutions will be to inform the country of facts and events without prejudice or partisanship,” it said.
Kumaratunga has been critical of Wickremesinghe's handling of efforts to end the island's 20-year ethnic war.
Until Thursday, however, that criticism had been treated with disdain by newspapers belonging to the state-run Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd, commonly known as Lake House.
Soldiers were posted outside the Lake House office in central Colombo on Tuesday night and a story on the front page of the Daily News said the company had a new chairman.
”It's amazing how some desk editors changed colour,” said one reporter at Lake House who declined to be identified.
The reporter said an official from the President's Office had appeared at the newspaper on Wednesday night to direct coverage.
”He got all the headlines changed, and the papers led with stories of the president,” the reporter said.
Abrupt shifts are common in the state-run media, and last happened in December 2001 when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's party won parliamentary elections.
Reporters said the same shift to a pro-president slant had also been ordered at state-run television and radio stations.
Editorials, which had been sharply critical of the president for opposing Wickremesinghe's efforts to win peace with the Tigers, were much more laudatory on Thursday.
”President's actions will bolster the country's security,” said an editorial in The Dinamina, although the Daily News did appeal in an editorial for the rivals to cooperate.
Wickremesinghe returns home on Friday from an official trip to the United States where he pledged to use his parliamentary majority to keep the peace process with the rebels on track. (Additional reporting by Chamath Ariyadasa)