132nd Birth Anniversary of D.R. Wijewardene falls today The Press in the fight for freedom

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The founder of Associated Newspapers of Ceylon wrote this article in 1948, the year Ceylon gained independence. It appeared in the Ceylon ‘Dally News’ of February, 10, 1948.

The days are very far away now when George Wall and the Fergusons in their newspapers strove to safeguard public interest

The National Association was anterior to the League and they held a joint national conference which gave birth to the National Congress

The ‘Observer’ after the departure of John Ferguson declined and lost contact with public opinion

Not until “The Ceylonese” entered the newspaper field did Ceylon have a really national organ with a vigorous nationalistic policy

D. R. Wijewardene

In the heyday of constitutional achievement, it is right and fitting that the leaders in the struggle for self government should be remembered and acclaimed. The whole country acknowledges the inestimable services rendered to the national cause by patriots from the days of George Wall and Charles Ambrose Lorenz to the vintage years of Ponnambalam Arunachalam, James Peiris, E.J. Samerawickrame, F.R. Senanayake, D.B. Jayatilaka, J.W. de Silva and E.W. Perera and at the present day, D.S. Senanayake who has won the admiration of the people for the unflagging labours that have resulted in the granting of Dominion Status. The names of these men and the loyal associates who stood shoulder to shoulder with them will never be forgotten in any chronicle in the history of our times.


The national struggle for independence had been won, and the date on which this country ceased to be a colony and emerged as a free member of the comity of world nations had just gone into history – February 4, 1948. The ‘Dally News’ of the time reported the proceedings and celebrations and published many articles on various aspects of the past struggle, and the challenge of the future. Mr. Wijewardene’s contribution places in perspective the role of the newspapers in the national struggle, and the particular contribution made by the ‘Daily News’ and the Lake House Group of Newspapers.   


Force


But there is another powerful force without which the work of these men would have been handicapped to an almost baffling extent. The Press does not, with a proper sense of self-discipline, blow its trumpet from the rooftops. Yet I think this is an occasion when the country should give due recognition to the part played by the national newspapers in the difficult and sometimes dangerous campaign for political reform.   


The days are very far away now when George Wall and the Fergusons in their newspapers strove to safeguard the public interest to the best of their abilities and resources. There was, however no organised public opinion in their time and the issues on which they threw down the gauntlet to the primitive all – powerful Crown Colony Government then in existence were necessarily narrow. On these issues they acquitted themselves with dignity and some success.   


But in those days the national consciousness was dormant and there was nothing in the spirit of the times to stir it to life and activity. That was to come later when largely as a result of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam’s work the fire of the national soul was quickened. When he delivered himself of that epoch-making address on “Our Political Needs” at the Masonic Hall that leader of imperishable memory set in motion influences that were to change the history of his beloved country. The immediate outcome of that meeting was the formation of the Reform League. The National Association was anterior to the League and they held a joint national conference which gave birth to the National Congress.   
It was then that the national movement which has brought Ceylon to the threshold of independence received its first stimulus; public opinion began to speak for the first time with a firm tone and the early national newspapers like the ‘Dinamina’ and ‘The Ceylonese’ were established.   
The other newspapers already in publication at the time were the old ‘Ceylon Observer’ the ‘Morning Leader’ the ‘Times of Ceylon’ and the ‘Independent.’ The ‘Observer’ after the departure of John Ferguson declined and lost contact with public opinion till like “The Times of Ceylon” it became the paper of the European merchants and the European planters. The “Morning Leader,” notwithstanding the able editor who presided over it, tended to parochialise its politics. Mr. Armand de Souza preferred easy personal celebrity to the neglect of the big issues and he had many masters with private axes of their own to grind. These limitations were too pressing for him to overcome.   


Not until “The Ceylonese” entered the newspaper field did Ceylon have a really national organ with a vigorous nationalistic policy. It was well edited under the direction of Sir P. Ramanathan and Mr. Hector Jayawardene, that brilliant advocate, and at a later stage Mr. Francis De Zoysa a man of sound and steadfast principles. Its forthright and fearless exposition of the country’s political deficiencies rallied and stimulated public opinion. Unfortunately its business side was badly mismanaged and some where towards the end of 1917 “The Ceylonese” failed.   
When I purchased the plant and the goodwill of “The Ceylonese” in December of that year, I hardly realised, the magnitude of the task I was undertaking of organising not merely a national newspaper, but a campaign for the political emancipation of the country that was to continue unabated till victory was won and the really nation building work could be commenced. “To organise,” as a great man said “is to set men free.” In the first issue of the ‘Daily News’ on January 3, 1918, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam wrote in a Special Message.   


“The Daily News is fortunate in the time of its birth. New forces are at work among us, a new era is dawning for the country. She needs the devoted service of all her children and will, I am confident, find none more zealous than the new paper.”   


Prophetic words indeed. In the thirty years since they were written Ceylon has progressed in almost every direction – socially, politically, in the growth of a new realization by the people of their own deficiencies, their powers, their birthright and the glory of their national heritage. This progress has been rendered possible largely on account of the increasing ability of its men and women to discern and estimate with sound judgment both persons and policies in the public life of the country.  


The people can judge for themselves to what extent this new outlook has been moulded by the principles expounded unwaveringly by the “Daily news,” by the “Dinamina” and “Silumina” and by (since it became an allied publication) the Ceylon “Observer.”   


From the very beginning of its career the “Daily News” fought for self-government for the people of Ceylon not as a gift or boon, but as an inalienable right. It was not going to be satisfied with piecemeal concessions. It condemned the parsimoniousness of the Manning Reforms and criticised the shortcomings of the 1924 Constitution as an insult to the growing political intelligence of the people.   


When the Donoughmore Scheme became an established fact the “Daily News” once again led the agitation for the removal of its inherent defects – notable among these the Committee System which rendered nugatory even the few liberal features of that Constitution as an instrument of Responsible Government. With persistent endeavour and tireless insistence the “Daily News” pressed the demand for a system of government of the Parliamentary model with Cabinet responsibility.   


Issue


While keeping a sharp eye on the administration in the island and denouncing wrong and injustice without fear or favour the “Daily News” never lost sight of the cardinal issue – the right of the people of Ceylon to govern their own affairs.   


It was inevitable that in pursuing such a policy the paper should make enemies. When the “Daily News” castigated the bureaucratic government of twenty years ago it retaliated with pinpricks like the withdrawal of advertising. 


That mattered little to a paper run for consideration of principle and not for pecuniary profit, though no paper can long be run at a loss. Yet the pettiness and spite of the government’s action provoked questions in the House of Commons and they had to come to the “Daily News” again for advertising space. When the Daily News in 1922 published, to the consternation of those who concocted it, the infamous secret minorities’ Memorial to Downing Street it was not loved by the conspirators it exposed.   


But the “Daily News” never cadged for official patronage or capered for the plaudits of partisan cliques. It was not there to further the political ambitions of its proprietors they had none. Its mission, its lodestar was the political emancipation of the people of Ceylon so that they could meet and move among the peoples of the Commonwealth, among the nations of the world at large, as free and equal men. Can anyone grudge the pride the “Daily News” takes today in its record of service to the country, service that has contributed so much to the Independence Ceylon has now attained?   

Lake House building

Comment

 

D. R. Wijewardene

 

Newspapers are curious institutions. They mirror their times and also influence them. They inform and they record, they do not scorn entertainment and diversion. 


They reflect public opinion and they also lead readership. He who can read, skims through the newspaper he gets into his hand or reads with interest and concentration. 


Those who work on newspapers have to be aware of this link between publication and reader, and if the awareness falls short the newspaper perishes. In Sri Lanka the newspaper reader is basically serious minded and seeks to know of national affairs, of social situations and economics of health and education. 


Readers in our country are exacting and demanding, and almost always react vigorously to what their newspapers tell them every morning and evening and on Sundays. And first of all newspapers have to start publication, set standards of writing and production and maintain them. 
All our readers would have thought on these matters from time to time, and the practical result of their thinking is that they buy or not buy. 
We cannot be accused of unseemly pride in the achievements of Lake House publications; we are very proud in the best sense of that word and every year when the death anniversary of the great founder of the institution comes around we remember him D.R. Wijewardene who passed away on 13 June, 1950.   


We dedicate our comment today to this outstanding son of Sri Lanka. We recall that when men destined to lead the freedom struggle were young students, some took the political path, others made their decisions to contribute through religion and a sense of history. D.R. Wijewardene had many choices and his contemporaries agreed that whatever path he took he would make his mark in our island story. 
He elected to become a newspaper publisher at a time when patriots who knew or sensed the role journalism could play in the struggle for freedom had tried and failed. 


Publications had folded up, publishers had gone to the wall and it looked as if other paths, other methods had to serve. 
D.R. Wijewardene was unique in that he made his visions reality with a genius still unmatched and the success that attended his striving as increasingly to be marvelled at as the years go by. 


His decisions were taken when he was a young man and he worked steadfastly to make his vision of a free country with its people ruling themselves a reality. He was blessed in that he saw his country free after centuries of foreign rule.   


We mourn as we remember this great man for he drove himself beyond the strength of a human being and died before his time. This is the price he paid the supreme sacrifice any man can make for his native land. 


Patriots by definition are ready to die for their country and if any man did so gloriously in this century in our country, it was D.R. Wijewardene.   
Not on the battlefield alone are heroic lives lived and heroic deeds done. There is a heroism which is rare which is built into day to day life every day, day in and day out. This was the Wijewardene way of serving ideals. 


He lived for the institution in journalism he created. He knew every aspect of its operation. He faced crises with the courage of brave men with gifts of intellect and abilities denied to lesser men and won through. 


We are reminded of the epitaph written for Sir Christopher Wren who designed and built Britain’s Cathedral of St. Paul: If you seek his monument look round. Not only Lake House itself which owes its national architectural style to D.R. Wijewardene, but the publications which come out of it, are his monument. 


The torch he lit has been handed down and nurtured, strengthened and lights national affairs. 


Journalism did not see his like before him, nor after and for that, we must all be proud and grateful.   

 

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