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Sunday, 6 February 2011

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Anniversary of Sunday Observer :

Sentinel of letters that reflects the heartbeat of the nation

As the Sunday Observer celebrates its 83rd anniversary, it is a seminal juncture to look back on the years it served the nation under diverse regimes. It has chartered a course through turbulent times always keeping the national interest at the heart of its editorial policy.

In its contemporary history, the Sunday Observer had to pass through dark passages in which some of its cherished goals were nearly sacrificed over parochial gains by parties with vested interests.

However, it emerged through darkness into the sun-lit land conforming itself to the high standard it maintained in the English medium journalism in Sri Lanka.

Anniversaries are there not only to celebrate but also to reflect on the past. One of the journalist giants of our time, the late Ajith Samaranayake always reflected on friends and the past whenever he wrote his famous 'Sunday Essays' which was a very popular feature of the Sunday Observer.

E.J Darley
(in charge at the start)
Goerge Winter Dr.Christopher
Elliott
A.M. Ferguson John FAERGUSON 1865
 
R.H. Ferguson Charles Tower C. Drieberg
(1923-1924)
P.B Marshall J.D Quirk

In one of his Sunday Essays Ajith wrote on June 23, 2002:

"There were old friends and new. If a nostalgic note is permitted a steadily ageing scribe it warmed my heart to meet old Lake House colleagues such as Neville de Silva come from London to cover himself with glory as well as give away the prize award of the evening named after his brother Mervyn, surely the doyen of us all whose third death anniversary we commemorate this month. There was also old 'Observer' staff T. M. K. Samat Ö who has taken sports writing to the heights of poetry."

We thought this was a good lead to reflect on this brief essay celebrating the 83rd anniversary of the Sunday Observer, the great chronicle which has produced a group of popular and giants of journalists. Before probing into the past, it is noteworthy to reflect on Ajith and his time and particularly his writings for Observer.

Dr. Sarath Amunugama delivering the inaugural Ajith Samaranayake memorial lecture reflected on his career from a cub reporter to parliamentary correspondent, columnist, Editor of a Daily, Editor of a Sunday newspaper, and finally the editorial Consultant to Lake House recalled: "He was an English writer who made an indelible impression on the Sinhala art and culture of his time as a critic of literature, theatre, cinema and of contemporary society."

Of the Observer journalist I have heard and known that Ajith was unique.

Page on of The Observer

He was bi-lingual and popular among the elite Colombo and proletariat left wing Sinhala unionist or Tamil journalists alike. Ajith never put a tag to a person's ethnicity or class.

He was capable of analysing a portrait of an anti-hero in Gunadasa Amarasekara's 'Premaye Sathya Kathava' or share his emotions about the abduction and killing of the journalist and political columnist D. Sivaram in his essay. He wrote without fear or favour.

Those who write without fear in the Sunday Observer tradition were great Tarzie Vittachie, the famous Editor-in-Chief of Sunday Observer, a distinguished Anandian who walked to the high ground of journalism and later served as the Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF in charge of Media and Information after his stint at Fleet Street and elsewhere.

Although we were not old enough to read his high profile column 'Fly by night' we found that it was as popular and controversial as his book Emergency '58 - The story of the Ceylon Race Riots which contributed largely to him receiving the prestigious 1959 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts.

Kalakeerthi Edwin Ariyadasa is another Journalist giant who is still active at the ripe age of 88 which he celebrated on 3 December 2010. His regular column Sunday Monologue is a much loved piece of writing by readers.

Sunday Observer has produced illustrious journalists. Though the list would be a long one to spell out, among the distinguish journalists the Sunday Observer produced include the Sri Lankan Editors from H. A. J. Hulugalle to Ajith Samaranayake [H. A. J. Hulugalle (1930-1931), H. D. Jansz (1931-1952), Tarzi Vittachchi (1953-1961), Denzil Peiris (1961-1970), Ernest Corea (1970-1973), Lionel Fernando (1973-1977), Harold Peiris (1977-1988), Leslie Dahanayake (1988-1990), H. L. D. Mahindapala (1990-1994).

In addition those who were directly associated with the Sunday Observer include Ajith Samaranayake, Lakshman Gunasekara, Rajpal Abeynayake, Dinesh Weerawansa and Pramod de Silva who adhered to the highest standards of journalism and editorial integrity.

Present Editor-in-Chief Dinesh Weerawansa is a career journalist. At the time Dinesh Weerawansa assumed editorship of Sunday Observer, the newspaper had lost its spirit and focus.

Montage, the cultural paradigm of Sunday Observer in 2006 was commenced under the stewardship of present Editor -in-Chief and with the patronage of Associate Editor R.S Karunaratne, a pioneer in cultural journalism in Sri Lanka. Indeewara Thilakarathne and Ranga Chandrarathne are the co-editors of Montage, the only literary supplement in Sri Lanka dedicated to high culture. Montage was conceptualised by Indeewara Thilakarathne and Ranga Chandrarathne at a time when cultural journalism suffered a lot against the wave of unbridled consumerism. Montage commenced with four pages which later increased up to eight pages.

The finer and technically perfect output of diverse contents of Sunday Observer is the result of the collective effort by diverse departments specialised in diverse segments of the newspaper.

H. A. J. Hulugalle
1930-1931
 H. D. Jansz
1931-1952
Tarzi Vittachchi 1953-1961 Denzil Peiris 1961-1970 Ernest Corea 1970-1973 Philip Cooray Lionel Fernando 1973-1977 Harold Peiris
1977-1988
Leslie Dahanayake 1988-1990 H. L. D. Mahindapala 1990-1994

The News Desk headed by Ananth Palakidnar functions with the cooperation of a group of sub-editors and a regiment of reporters with Senior Associate Editor Pramod de Silva, Deputy Editor S. Anandakumar and Chief Sub-editor Indunil Thenuwara. Dudley Jansz, Senior Chief Sub-Editor, who had the privilege of English education from his infancy, is an asset to Sunday Observer. He is a conduit between the past and the present of the high standard of journalism fostered by Sunday Observer.

The Sunday Observer editorial takes this opportunity to appreciate the life-long service rendered by senior journalist Buddy Gunaratne who retired recently as a senior Sub-editor of Sunday Observer, to the English journalism in general and maintaining the high standards of journalistic tradition fostered by Sunday Observer in particular. Buddy belonged to a generation of journalists who stuck to the highest standard of professional journalism in Sri Lanka.

The business and financial news is gathered by the newspaper's Business Desk headed by maverick Surekha Galagoda, Deputy Editor -Business and a team of business writers.

Sports Desk which covers the field of Sports functions under the guidance of AC de Silva, Associate Editor (Sports) and a team of sporty journalists.

The features' Section of Sunday Observer functions under the stewardship of R.S Karunaratne, Associate Editor (Features), Ruwan Godage (Features Editor) and feature writers Indeewara Thilakarathne and Ranga Chandrarathne , Co-Editors of Montage, cultural Paradigm of the Sunday Observer. Maryanne Perera handles the Junior Observer and the Observer Magazine covers the 'popular culture'.

Journalist and broadcaster Mahes Perera's contribution is invaluable given the fact that newspaper is immensely profited from her experience both in the field of journalism and mass media such as SLBC in general and in the field of music in particular. Puncihewa, the cartoonist cum artist is a veteran in the field of applied arts in Sri Lanka. His true to life caricatures and sharp-wit cartoons adds values to articles and features making a lasting visual impact in the minds of readers. His service is indispensable and over the years Punchihewa earned a name for himself and marked his imprint on Sri Lankan journalism as a caricaturist and cartoonist.

The VDT (Typsetting) department is handled by Supervisors Udaya Kumara and Sandra Thalgahagoda.

Ajith Samaranayake
1994
Lakshman
Gunasekara
Jayatilleke de Silva
1999
Rajpal Abeynayake
2006
Dinesh Weerawansa
since 2006

The layout department's contribution is an essential ingredient of the overall production process which adds as excellent appearance and texture to the paper. It functions smoothly thanks to the able stewardship of the Department's head Rajitha Udawatte (Design Editor) with its talented team of graphic artists including Mahil Wijesinghe, Chinthaka Balasuriya, Naveendra Merinnage, Dhammika Mendis, Roshinie Ranaweera and Asitha Bamunuarachchi.

The smooth functioning of the editorial office is also due to much support from Editorís Secretary Sujani Perera and P.A. Sharon Palihawadana, Clerk Ravindra Jayaweera and Office Assistants Sampath Manamperi, Stanley Jayaweera, Chandima Munasinghe and Amila Chandrasiri.

Despite the current tradition of high quality editorial and features now appearing in the Sunday Observer, the paper started as Sunday Observer and Commercial Advertiser on February 4 , 1834.

Prior to the Sri Lankan Editors-in-Chief, the British served as Editors of the Observer. Among them were E. J. Darley who was in charge when the paper was launched, George Winter, Dr. Christopher Elliott, A. M. Ferguson (1859), John Ferguson (1867), R. H. Ferguson, Charles Tower, C. Drieberg (1923-1924), P. B. Marshall and J. D. Quirk.

When it was taken over by a generation of homespun editors who were on par with their English predecessors, they carried on the legacy, inspiring generations of readers and people of all from all walks of life. We remember as students of Richmond and Ananda Colleges, waking up on Sunday morning to read our favourite columns and features of the newspaper in the 80s and 90s. We used to read thought provoking feature articles and reviews by Ajith Samaranayake, Reggie Siriwardena, Karel Roberts Ratnaweera and R.S Karunaratne.

One of the significant aspects of the English press in Sri Lanka was that it was read by the academia, artists, political elite, the members of the judiciary, business tycoons and the English educated civil servants and teachers. Sunday Observer is the centre of attraction. The other important specialised areas that attracted readers across the social strata are areas such as Sports and Finance and Political commentaries. Although a host of rival publications emerged into the newspaper arena over the years, Sunday Observer retains it undisputed position as the most widely read English weekly in Sri Lanka.

The readership would be more than the circulation of printed papers given the large number of visits to the Sunday Observer web edition which has become an essential read among expatriate Sri Lankan community.

 

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