Ceylon Today Editor Lalith Alahakoon was recently fired and a few journalists left in protest. His letter has been published and his colleagues have also responded in writing. Now, last Sunday, Ceylon Today took up a good double-spread for an editorial telling their side of the story. It’s an interesting and rather sad mess.
Ceylon Today’s basic story seems to be that Alahakoon and his ‘clique’ were running things in their favor:
If there was any need to uphold editorial independence, then the editorial had to be indeed made independent, not a toy in the hands of a small clique. Ideally, there should not have been a ‘take over’ by one camp suppressing others and building a power block for themselves to the exclusion of all other staff members. There also should have been no blatant favouritism, beat reporters being suppressed and the best of stories snatched by those greedy for bylines. That did not augur well for editorial independence and certainly merited an internal inquiry. (Blowing the whistle in self interest)
If you’re skimming the response, skim down to the bullet points on abuses of power, etc. To be honest, they sound like a normal newsroom – informal chains of power, people being called bitch, news editors skipping recasts for choir practice. It’s not good, but if these were firing offenses, few papers would have heads. Not that all things are or should be run this way, but I think the story of the management protecting oppressed journalists isn’t a very compelling story.
Honestly, Alahakoon’s story of Alles being offended by not being greeted at his birthday and not being happy about certain coverage sounds more true. However, I am not sure about what Reporters Sans Frontiers says,
“The dismissal of Lalith Allahakkoon by Ceylon Today is worrying,” the press freedom organization said.
“If it is merely an internal restructuring issue, as experienced by many media organizations, there would be no reason to intervene, but we fear that it is rather a restriction on news and information and politically-motivated censorship,” CEYLON TODAY EDITOR IN CHIEF FORCED TO QUIT, REASONS STILL UNCLEAR
Editorial, business, personal and politics blend to an obscene extent in Sri Lankan newsrooms, at least in my experience. It is almost impossible to entangle them and people get pissed off over the smallest, most personal things. That said, the charges CT lays out don’t seem serious enough to justify sacking Lalith Alahakoon, certainly not without more mediation. He was the effective founder of the Daily Mirror as we know it and the Nation and however he worked, it worked. I still think his sacking and the editorial bleed within Ceylon Today was highly dubious, but that’s just IMHO.