Sunday Leader Editor defends article

[TamilNet, Thursday, 20 January 2000, 20:18 GMT]
Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge has told the High court that an alleged defamatory article published in his English weekly journal didn't convey the impression that the president was a corrupt person.

Wickrematunge is the first accused in the President Chandrika Kumaratunge criminal defamation suit.

In fact, at that time he thought that the President was squeaky clean, meaning that she was beyond reproach or corruption, he said.

Mt.Wickremasinghe explained that had he thought that the article conveyed such an imputation to the reader he would not have published it.

Accused Editor lasantha Wickrematunge gave his deposition from the witness box at the trial before Colombo High Court Judge Andrew Somawanse yesterday.

His testimony was led by Senior Counsel S.L.Gunasekera instructed by Samaratne Associates.

A transcript of the testimony followed thus:

Mr.Gunasekera: You are and you have been the Editor of Sunday Leader?

Editor: Yes

Counsel: In additon o being the Editor, you are also an attorney-at-law?

Editor: Yes

Counsel: When did you commence your journalistic career?

Editor: In July 1981

Counsel: Where did you work at the start of your Journalistie career?

Editor: I was a sub-editor, in the English weekly published by M.D.Gunasena. In 1982, I joined The Island newspaper. In 1989 or there about I became the political columnist of the Sunday Times. Thereafter I started the Sunday Leader.

Q: Did you engaged in politics at any time?

Editor: Yes, after the presidential election of 1988 and during the general election of February, 1989. I was invited by Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Anura Bandaranaike to contest the Colombo North seat on the SLFP ticket. I contested and lost.

Thereafter I became the Private Secretary of Sirimavo Bandarnaike the then Leader of the Opposition. I continued in that capacity till mid 1991.

Counsel: You know the virtual complainant in this case?

Editor: Yes

Counsel: Did you know her closely?

Editor: Not so closely. I have seen her when I used to visit her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga in my capacity as a political reporter of The island.

Counsel: Was that all your association with her?

Editor: I had spoken to her on two occasions in my life

Counsel: As the editor do you accept responsibility for the publication of the article referred to in the indictment?

Editor: yes

Counsel: The title of the article is A Promissing Government?

Editor: Yes

Counsel: Did you write the article?

Editor: No

Counsel: Did you see the relevant article before publication?

Editor: Yes

Counsel: You authorised the publication of that article?

Editor: yes

Counsel: As an Editor you have the right to publish an article, to prevent the publication of an article or to publish an article after deletion of any portion?

Editor: Yes

Counsel: As an Editor, do you read all the articles that appear in the newspaper?

Editor: I read all the articles that appear in the main section of the newspaper. In additon, I read sensitive articles published in the other sections including Letters to the Editor

Counsel: In what circumstances as an Editor would you reject an article?

Editor: I do so if an article is defamatory. Some times if I find it defamatory , I edit it or keep it out altogether

Counsel: If you consider that an article is defamatory you would either not publish it or edit out the defamatory portion of the article?

Editor: yes

Counsel: Having read the article in question did you believe that any portion of the article was defamatory?

Editor: No

Counsel: The second accused is your brother. He was also the publisher of the newspaperat the material time?

Editor: Yes

Counsel: What are the functions of a publisher?

Editor: His role was management. In respect of the publication of articles, he has no role whatsoever to play

Counsel: Are articles published in the Sunday Leader shown to the second accused before publication?

Editor: No

Counsel: When does the publisher first see the newspaper?

Editor: When the newspaper comes to the market

Counsel: You have read the charges in the indictment and pleaded not guilty?

Editor: Yes

Counsel: according to the indictment, the essence of the charges against you is that you had made an imputation that the virtual complainant is a corrupt person?

Editor: Yes

Counsel: Is there any such imputation?

Editor: No

Counsel: Had you thought that there was such an imputation, would you have published it?

Editor: No

Counsel: Did you at any time think that the virtual complainant was a corrupt person?

Editor: No Counsel: What was your opinion about her at that time?

Editor: I thought that she was squeaky clean

Counsel: Would you explain what is meant by squeakly clean?

Editor: It means being beyond reproach or corruption

Counsel: You are saying that now. Had you said so earlier?

Editor: yes I had said so in the newspaper of August 13, 1995. It was stated in my Editorial under the caption The President‚s First year

Counsel: In that Editorial you had referred to the virtual complainant as the least corrupt President?

Editor: yes

Counsel: In such circumstances when you believed that the president was totally honest in her personal life, would you have published any matter that could convey the imputation that she was corrupt?

Editor: No not at all


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