In a hard hitting article yesterday, Sunday Leader editor Fredrica Jansz contradicted JVP parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s statement that she had approached Sarath Fonseka and wept and pleaded with him not to make an issue of the headline story she published on December 13 2009, about Fonseka’s allegation that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered then Brigadier Shavendra Silva to kill surrendering LTTE leaders.
In what was probably the most condescending statement ever made by a politician about a newspaper editor, Dissanayake even referred to the ‘power of a woman’s tears’ and had the entire journalistic fraternity squirming in discomfort and shame.
In her version of the story published yesterday, Jansz has made some shocking revelations about the conspiracies and the intrigue surrounding this whole sordid episode, the scandalous details of which can be summarised as follows:
1. The management of the Sunday Leader took a policy decision to support the candidacy of General Sarath Fonseka.
2. It was in pursuance of this decision that she sought an interview with Fonseka.
3. On the day the fateful interview was done, Lal Wickrematunga, the Chairman of the Leader Publications was present in addition to another journalist and a photographer.
4. Towards the end of the interview, Fonseka said that he had heard that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered 58 Division Commander Brigadier (now Maj. Gen.) Shavendra Silva to shoot surrendering LTTE cadres.
5. Fonseka related the story about Nadesan’s and Pulidevan’s surrender in relation to the above.
6. Since that was an extraordinary revelation, she decided to run it as a headline story apart from the main interview.
7. Before running the story, she contacted Shavendra Silva and the Army spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara and both of them refused to comment.
8. She spoke to Basil Rajapaksa, who denied that Norway had contacted him about a surrender.
9. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa did not respond to her messages.
10. Before the story went to print on Saturday, she once again contacted Fonseka, who had assured her that he was willing to go on record with his allegation and that he would stand by it.
11. Since various individuals in the government were now aware of the story, extra security personnel were hired for the newspaper premises fearing an attack by government goons to suppress the story.
12. By publishing the story, Jansz says that they (the newspaper) thought it would damage the credibility of government officials (obviously by portraying them as murderers who ordered massacre of surrendees) and, therefore, they expected attempts by the government to suppress the story.
13. Jansz admits that their biggest mistake was that they assumed the government would try to suppress the story.
14. After the story broke, (Jansz says) the government used it to portray Fonseka as a traitor instead of denying the story and threatening journalists; they underestimated the cunning of the government propaganda machine.
15. Jansz says that initially, Fonseka did not deny the story, but later under pressure from his advisors like Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Mangala Samaraweera, he tried to retract part of it.
16. On December 14, The Sunday Leader Chairman Lal Wickremetunga met the leaders of the UNP, the JVP and Mangala Samaraweera. They insisted that a retraction was necessary because the story had damaged Fonseka’s patriotic credentials.
17. However, Jansz flatly refused to publish a fraudulent retraction.
18. On the afternoon of December 14th Jansz, met Fonseka again and he reiterated that he could not deny what he had said. However, Samaraweera and Vijitha Herath insisted on a retraction.
19. As a compromise, it was decided that a ‘clarification’ would be published in The Sunday Leader.
20. Jansz says that the ‘clarification’ published emphasised a technical point and was not in effect a retraction.
21. Under immense pressure, says Jansz, Fonseka convened a press conference to explain The Sunday Leader story and unable to deny what he had said, he had ‘waffled’ and made what was neither a clarification nor a retraction.
22. Jansz says that this attempt to retract and deny was a disaster and that nobody believed his ‘half-hearted’ and ‘garbled’ denials and that Fonseka came across as ‘weak and indecisive’.
23. Even though Fonseka’s JVP spokesman announced publicly at a press conference that they were going to sue the Sunday Leader, Jansz says that the UNP has assured them that no letter of demand would be forthcoming.
24. Jansz gives credit to Fonseka for never showing any enthusiasm in the denials and always admitting that he had, in fact, said what he had said, and that it was pressure from his advisors that pushed him to make his ‘half retractions’.
A senior journalist we contacted for comment on Jansz’s explanation in The Sunday Leader expressed relief that she had, in fact, not gone on bended knees to weep and beg for forgiveness as Anura Kumara Dissanayake had alleged, as that would have been a come down for the entire fraternity.