Editor charts new political course
Ex-Marxist leader aims to change perceptions
The Ravaya weekly, a Sinhala language newspaper, has been widely regarded for its editorial independence and radical political views during decades of unrest and war. Some critics, however, say that it has abandoned its roots and adopted a more moderate position with respect to the current administration of President Mahinda Rajapakse. On the occasion of its 25th year of publication, Ravaya’s editor, Victor Ivan, defended the newspaper’s social and political evolution. He said Ravaya has grown over more than two decades from a small-time operation to a mainstream vehicle for news and lively, sometimes even contentious, opinion and analysis. “Obviously, it is an uphill task, as the newspaper sought to correct all wrongs in society, not just politically but socially and in every sphere and sector of the industry,” the editor and ex-Jesuit seminarian. As to charges that he tows the political line in the country, Ivan counters that Ravaya aims to address the key issues facing the nation. “Ravaya … has taken upon itself to correct malpractices in society and thereby brought about key changes within the establishments at the time.” In particular, he noted the paper’s editorial fight against Sri Lanka’s judiciary. The newspaper set a precedent by criticizing the behavior of judges and the courts, Ivan said, particularly following what it called the flawed prosecution of a retired senior police officer and an actor both charged with the rape of underage girls. One of the judges involved in the cases subsequently left the country, Ivan said. Ivan has been a long-standing social activist as well as a highly regarded journalist. He was among the leaders of the 1971 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Marxist insurrection and a member of the Free Media Movement. He has since left his political radicalism behind and taken a new path towards social change, using the paper to change people’s perceptions. As the paper’s deputy editor notes, changing perceptions in the news industry poses its own challenges in Sri Lanka. “Over the years, the newspaper has faced challenges of working in a newspaper industry which is clearly dominated by those fighting to maintain a [political] balance in reporting,” said KW Janaranjana. “On the other hand, the Ravaya became the newspaper with an opinion that also allowed people to air their views, including those that were the subject of criticism of politics and society.” But not all readers approve of the newspaper’s new approach. Anton Bothegu, a self-styled religious activist, said he and many other readers have lost interest in what they describe as a watered-down approach to current events. “At the beginning, [Ravaya was] totally critical and stood for the rights of people, but it has deviated on certain issues.” However, Ivan and his deputy say they remain committed to the mission and relevance of the publication, and its tradition of solid journalism and ideological diversity.