by Rajpal Abeynayake
A Sunday newspaper last week alleged that the said newspaper’s female editor had called the defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to clarify a story about a matter allegedly involving him — and that the defence secretary had abused her in unparliamentarily language, and also threatened her.
Certain media rights groups have meanwhile taken up the matter, and some others including opposition politicians have called for the resignation of the defence secretary on the issue.
In brief, the run-up to this issue is that the editor of the said Sunday newspaper had called the defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa the week before, and asked him whether he had asked a certain pilot to bring down a pet dog for his wife, from Zurich.
The defence secretary has replied in the affirmative, and said that there was nothing wrong with that, and that he had paid for the cargo. However, the lady then asked the defence secretary why a pilot who had could not fly an A340 aircraft, but could only fly an A330, was assigned for the (intended) flight. She also apparently informed Mr. Rajapaksa that this pilot, who was also the boyfriend of the president’s (and the defence secretary’s) niece who also worked for SriLankan Airlines, had been stopped from flying this aircraft.
She said this was because the Pilot’s Guild had protested such a change in operations (i.e.: changing of aircraft) which will cause some 56 passengers to be offloaded, resulting in a loss of revenue for SriLankan Airlines.
She maintains that the defence secretary turned abusive at this juncture and threatened her.
The newspaper reported that the lady editor also called the defence secretary Rajapaksa a second time and informed him of the fact that she will not be carrying the article on the incident in her newspaper due to the fact that she had been assured by certain parties — inter alia — that there will be no commercial loss to the airline. The report went on to say that the defence secretary further abused the editor on this occasion.
Speaking to this columnist on the issue and its ramifications, the defence secretary said the following in an interview:
What is in short your version of the incident that had been reported in a Sunday newspaper, regarding your wish to bring down a dog from Zurich, and your asking a SriLankan Airlines pilot to do so?
When she (the editor) called, she knew that what she was asking about (…the alleged replacement of a commercial flight) was not happening. It had not happened, and it was not going to happen. The Pilot’s Guild according to her had already protested, and therefore as she said, this entire thing was not going to happen. The Pilot’s Guild did not protest in fact.
But anyhow if as she says they protested and it was not going to happen (what she was asking me about…) then I do not see any reason for her to call me. Yet she called me. This is harassment. The main thing is that what she was asking me about did not happen and was not going to happen, and she knew that when she called me.
Furthermore there is an order by a court that her newspaper should not harass me; that order was given in a previous case. The court said they should not contact me.
So this is in contempt of court. I will take this matter up in court.
She contends that she was doing her job as a journalist by asking questions regarding a story she wanted to run as a matter of public interest?
No, this is what I am saying. She knew exactly what had happened, and she said the Pilots’ Guild had protested and this was not going to happen (the altered flight). So then what? What is the need to ask me? This was just to harass me — and is this journalism? How unfair is this?
Did you know that when you contacted a known party to fly the plane, that an alternate aircraft would have to be commissioned as that person was not competent to fly the regular plane?
First and foremost, there is nothing wrong in asking a person I know to fly the aircraft. I can ask that such a thing be done, if it does not hamper any operations.
So that is out of the way. Of course I did not know whether this is an A320 or 330 or340 whatever it is, and he cannot fly it?
How do I know these things?
Am I supposed to know these things?
I only asked something that was not wrong, but then, if there was some reason that person could not do what I asked for, and if a plane had to be changed, that’s something I did not know. The important thing is that such a thing did not happen. So we will say the Pilots’ Guild protested (though I know they did not) and the flight was not changed. Then that is the end of the matter. Neither me nor anybody had done any wrong and nothing untoward happened. Yet she knows all this and still calls me.
But she says you threatened her?
You see, we will for reasons of argument assume she had some valid reason to call me the first time. But then she calls me a second time, again, in one morning.
What is the reason for this call?
She says that she is not carrying the story as planned not because of some valid reason (…I could not catch exactly what she gave as a reason…), and not because she is frightened of me.
She calls me to say that she is NOT carrying the article for some other reason, and not because she is frightened of me. I mean it’s too much for her to say this, no?
Is this journalism?
I think this is purely for reasons of blackmail. It is blackmail in fact – it is like saying in future we can do this and this to you, because we have this and this (dirt) on you.
Is this journalism or is this blackmail?
Mind you she calls me only to say this. Any person can abuse their office. A doctor, or anyone, or even me, can abuse the power of their office. I have not done so. I have not stopped the so-called protests on this incident. But here she is clearly abusing the power of her journalistic office.
So you think it is blackmail – and journalistic excess — yet she says you threatened her and used foul language?
Nothing I said was with any direct reference to her. I did not say so and so, Ms. so and so — I am doing this to you, or going to do this to you, or whatever…
What can you say about the ramifications or rather details, of this whole thing — you know, the fact that a president’s (and your…) niece has also been mentioned in her newspaper article…
Yes, one of my nieces… she is employed at SriLankan Airlines. So she has a relationship with this pilot concerned. So is this wrong?
The (her) newspaper draws a cartoon of her and the pilot. What has she got to do with this?
Is this journalism?
My niece is saying to me, ‘See maami (uncle) because of your matters, I am dragged unnecessarily into this!’.
My niece is correct – because she has nothing to do with this, and they draw a cartoon of her too! What kind of journalism is this?
This is extreme harassment, and even if I said some things under the circumstances, in the context and heat of the moment, I said nothing directly to the editor who called me.
Whatever I said, I didn’t say ‘I am going to do this and this to you’ or anything like that!
So you can see they are exaggerating and the reader, without knowing any of this background, gets an entirely different picture.
Nevertheless, she states that you had threatened her, and when she asked whether you were threatening, that you had said, ‘yes’.
Yes, I threatened. I threatened to sue the newspaper, that’s all. To sue is a fundamental right. It is a right that nobody can take away. So when I said ‘yes I am threatening’, I was telling her that I will sue. To sue is anybody’s right, and what I did was I threatened to sue her. There was no other threat. But this is now being interpreted cunningly by them as a general threat to kill or intimidate. That is definitely not the case – I only threatened to sue, which is my right, and anybody’s right for that matter.
It is her contention that there was in fact a separate threat to kill, or at least something to that effect.
No, in fact I clarified that in the conversation with her over the phone – the very same conversation. All I said was that people are so angry with persons like her who have worked against the war effort and the country, that if she attends a function, 90% of the people would be against her, and that I would be able to point this out to her at such a function. I said such people who are angry may want to kill her — I never said that I was going to kill her; there was no threat by me except the lawful threat to sue.
Well, certain journalists’ organizations and others such as the foreign publication, The Economist, are saying that you threatened her and you abused her in foul language.
Who are these people?
These are the same people who were against the war effort and the fact that I spearheaded the war that destroyed the LTTE. Take a look at these people – Mangala Samaraweera, The Economist, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu; these are the very same people who hated me and worked and wrote against me for the successful war we waged on the LTTE.
Now that they could not get at me in any other way, they are trying to get at me through this – it is obvious. It is obvious that this is not a media freedom issue or anything like that. Looking at the people who are attacking me on this – it’s obvious that since they could not get at me for defeating the LTTE, they are now trying to see whether they can do it through this.
But did you use foul language on the lady?
I did not do so. I used words such as ‘bloody’ or whatever, not to refer to her but to refer to the incident. I never used foul language on her – but I used certain words in the context that she provoked me unreasonably, in referring to the incident, as I have pointed out above. I mean these are words that are used very commonly in America (USA) for instance, in normal usage. In fact a very high ranking officer of the American government (name withheld by this writer) met me and said about the TV programme Hard Talk and the person who does Hard Talk on BBC: ‘You know we are in the same boat… being questioned by that a_shole.’
This person was referring to Stephen Sakur who does the BBC programme Hard Talk. So this is very common usage, in USA for instance, and they use these words in normal talk — but these people are trying to make a big issue out of it to get at me, because they hate me about the war. In any case I used certain words with reference to the incident; I did not use foul language to abuse her.
And this is the same person (the editor) who abuses her staff in foul language. It is common knowledge that she abuses her staff in the foulest of language — and she is trying to say that I abused her in foul language when I did not!
Certain media organizations and columnists and Mangala Samaraweera are saying that you should be removed as defence secretary as a consequence of this incident.
Who are these people? These are people who have done nothing for the country. I have done much service to the country by getting rid of the LTTE, and they hate me for this. Who are these people who did nothing for the country to ask to have me removed – actually, these are people who destroyed the country. They are trying to make use of this incident to get rid of me and weaken the defence establishment.
As I said, these are the very same people (Mangala, The Economist, Paikiasothy, etc.) who were against me when I successfully fought the LTTE — so what can you say about them now?
They are trying to make use of one incident to bring you down — is that in effect your contention?
I have done tremendous service to the country by destroying the LTTE and I think the vast majority of people acknowledge that, and are with me due to that. But these others attacking me on this issue — these are the same people who are trying to take us to war crimes tribunals and all that — because they hate us for destroying the LTTE. But we do not care!
And this incident; I said what I said (to her) with a reason – for a reason. I did not say those things without reason. So who are these people who have done nothing for the country, to ask to remove me?
(Rajpal Abeynayake is Editor of “Lakbima News”. The above eetract is from his weekly The Rajapal Abeynayake Column in the newspaper)