The Chief Prelate of the Malwatte Chapter rejected media reports which mischievously suggested that he opposed any Constitutional reforms, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday(19th).
The Most Venerable Thibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Mahanayake Thera told the Prime Minister that privately-owned newspapers and TV networks misled the public into believing that he objected to a new statute being formulated.
The Prime Minister was addressing the media after accepting a report on ‘Constitution for Peoples’ Governance - A youth led programme to promote public support for a new constitution, public opinions and recommendations’ by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism and three other organizations, at the parliamentary complex yesterday.
After seeing the headline news items in the Lankadeepa, Divaina and the Daily Mirror, the Prime Minister said he contacted the Chief Priest who assured him that he had not made any comments opposing the reform process.
“The venerable monk said he did not make such remarks nor was he in the country at the time,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe told reporters in parliament.
He challenged editors of the private newspapers which front-paged the misleading report yesterday to explain their reasons and also publish his (Prime Minister’s) comments in full in their publications.
“You have carried falsehoods about the Malwatte Chief Prelate at a time when he was not even in the country,” the Prime Minister said pointing to reporters from the newspapers he identified as having carried the mischievous reports.
“Can you give an assurance that you will give the same prominence to my comments on this issue,” the Prime minister asked the reporters, but none offered a response.
He said they could telephone their editors to get their reasons, but again no one accepted the challenge.
The Prime Minister noted that views of the Most venerable Malwatte Chief Prelate on Constitutional reforms were well known.
The Chief Prelate told Dinesh Gunawardena, a stalwart of the Joint Opposition earlier this month, that he believed in the honesty and the integrity of both Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena.
“When the two leaders ruling the country have given such an assurance there is no point in questioning its validity,” the Malwatte Chief Prelate told Gunawardena.
The monk told firebrand MP Gunawardena that a new Constitution was yet to be drafted and it was only at the discussion stage and urged the opposition to constructively participate in the process to ensure peace and stability in the country.
The Prime Minister said he was not opposed to newspapers giving space to dissenting voices, but it was unfair by the public to distort facts and mislead readers.
He said the Daily Mirror, Lankadeepa and the Divaina newspapers had yesterday front-paged the report with photos of the Malwatte Chief Prelate giving the impression that the remarks they carried were from him.
However, the Prime Minister said the basis for the newspaper report appeared to be a press conference given by the Diyawadana Nilame (chief lay custodian of the Temple of the Tooth).
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who started his career as a journalist before Lake House newspapers were nationalised in 1973, also offered a journalism lesson to the offending newspapers.
“If the press conference you reported was given by the Diyawadana Nilame, should you not use his photograph rather than the picture of the Malwatte Chief Priest who is out of the country,” he asked.
A relaxed Prime Minister asked reporters from the Daily Mirror, Lankadeepa, Divaina and television networks Hiru and Derana to check with their editors and explain why they decided to give a twist to the Diyawadana Nilame’s press conference to give a false impression that it was the view of the Malwatte Chief Prelate.
The lay custodian had referred to a decision of a Kaaraka Sangha Sabha (Working Committee of monks of both Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters) which had preceded the latest announcement of the Malwatte Chief Prelate earlier this month supporting efforts of the President and the Prime Minister in bringing about political reforms.