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Old 13-11-12, 08:54 AM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default Journalist and Editor Geoff Wijesinghe.

Never a dull moment


His is a hard won battle and today, he has many glorious tales to relate. The contented but exhausted traveller who probed ‘Nooks and Corners’ to add new meaning to journalism sits within the comfort zone of his home, contemplating the long journey as he passes yet another milestone of completing 51 years in the field.

“I am deeply satisfied about my accomplishments. I have learnt how to communicate, get along and command after taking command. This way you are able to adapt yourself to any given situation,” says former newspaper journalist and editor Geoff Wijesinghe.

After initial training as an advertising executive he began his career in the press as a stringer at the ‘Ceylon Daily Mirror’ in 1961. His dedication and hard work was noted and he was soon assigned to cover Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake’s rounds. Senanayake was also the Defence and Foreign Minister during the era and Wijesinghe had even accompanied him for the annual Hindu Ceylon talks held in India.

“The Eelam separatists were holding demonstrations. They were acting violently. I managed to talk to Mrs Gandhi and ask her opinion about the matter. She replied that she has chosen to ignore such petty matters,” he recalled.

Apart from these tasks Wijesinghe also handled the crime, shipping and aviation sectors while reporting international cricket matches and penning a weekly school and club cricket review. He certainly had his hands full and his byline became synonymous with readers.

Recalling memories of how Reggie Perera was fond of quoting Bandaranaike and how Bandaranaike had cracked a joke to Sundaralingam in the packed old Parliament, Wijesinghe notes that politicians are very approachable rather than aloof.

“Though some people were scared of her Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike was a very motherly person. She took part in the Oxford Cambridge annual match at the CCC Grounds while I was attached to the ‘Daily Mirror’. She was the Prime Minister then was approaching the pavilion when she came across me. I asked her when she was going to bat and she replied that she was too old for that,” he reminisced with a smile.
Record breaking partnership

The old boy of S. Thomas College Mt. Lavinia has proved his prowess as a journalist as well as a cricketer. He and Ian Peiris shared a record breaking partnership of 187 runs for any Thomian wicket during the era and went on to play first class cricket for the Sinhalese Sports Club.

Queried on why he did not become a sportsman instead of a journalist Wijesinghe said that it was mostly due to the fact that he could not attend practices. He had begun his stint with the pen as a stringer for the ‘Daily Mirror’ and had to cover matches.

“I covered Sri Lanka’s first official text with Pakistan. Michael Tissera captained the team. The opening bowler was Darrell Leversz. He was a good inswing bowler but could not manage the outswing. Tissera taught him how to perform the outswing on the spot and he managed to clinch six wickets during the match,” he noted with enthusiasm.

Starting his own newspaper ‘The People’ in 1970, turned a new leaf in Wijesinghe’s life. Shortly afterwards, he joined the ‘Ceylon Daily News’. He become Daily News Editor in Chief in 1998.

Asked how he obtained his scoops, Wijesinghe noted that the key to the fact laid in maintaining good relations with his contacts. Maintaining the trust and goodwill of your sources is his mantra to getting breaking news.
Confidential reports

“I was working for the ‘Daily Mirror’ when the editor called me and informed me that the Burmese ambassador had shot his wife. All the details were under wraps. He asked me to find out about the murder. He had a tip off that Mrs Sao Boonwat’s funeral was being held at the cemetery. I went there with my cameraman, H Kemapala. Despite the guards chasing us we managed to click some pictures of the event. Later I called my contact, OIC of Crimes, Kanagaratnam, and inquired about the situation. He advised me to contact Mrs Boonwat’s seamstress, Mrs Williams, who lived in Maharagama. I learnt that her husband had shot her with a revolver after a row. It turned out that she was having an affair with a pianist named Rex de Silva. The Ambassador was suffering from tuberculosis and had been jealous of the relationship. I also learnt that Mrs Boonwat had been involved with Mrs William’s son. Once the story was out the ambassador was called for questioning back to Burma and convicted there,” he explained.

“I had good contacts in the Army too and they used to give me their confidential reports. Denzil Kobbekaduwa used to call me every day before he passed away. He was very lonely and had no one to relate his problems to. Gerry Silva was the Army Commander during that time and they lead the Vadamarachchi Operation together. It would have been a complete success and Jaffna would have been liberated then had it not been for Indian intervention. Kobbekaduwa used to call me at around 10 pm every night with updates from Elephant Pass,” he said.

His exclusive stories have nearly gotten him in hot water many a times. He had even been interviewed by the Voice of Tigers Radio and asked why he was conducting a propaganda against the Tigers. He had also written against the JVP and had been number four on their hit list. However, the varying routes that he had taken to office did not make him an easy target for assassination.
Significant milestone

“I knew that my life was in danger when a baldheaded thuggish looking fellow gave me a measuring look while I was out walking our dog. Another chap seated at the front of the DKW even pointed at me. I used my contacts to find out if I was in any danger and once it was confirmed that I was a target, Kobbekaduwa advised me on how to cover my tracks,” noted the veteran media personnel who had braved many a storm to reach the top notch position he holds in the field today.

Another significant milestone in his career was joining the National News Agency ‘Lanka Puwath’ as its editor in 1985.

“Some journalists were taken to Jaffna when they were conducting the first round of peace talks between the government and the LTTE. We had to spend the whole day cooped in a hall and I was the only journalist who was given a guard. I began chatting with him and we even talked about cricket. He was an undergraduate from Moratuwa. I asked him what it felt like stepping into the battlefield for the first time. He said that he had felt very nervous for the first five minutes but after that it was like a game. I was the last to get on the aircraft as we were heading back home. He came running to me and told me that he would always remember me because of the amiable conversation we had,” he noted.

He named Mervyn De Silva as one of the greatest contemporaries of his time.
Press releases

“He was a brilliant journalist and human being. He never went for riches and had a deep passion for writing. He wrote humorous yet meaningful articles. He was also very helpful to the youth. We struck a friendship which we carried on for years and met consistently for lunch and drinks. A few weeks before he passed away he called me and asked for the phone numbers of some of our former colleagues to arrange a lunch for them at his place. He asked for a little but gave a lot for the country and journalism. He was a deep intellectual with his feet firmly planted on the ground,” he added with emotion. With the breakthrough of electronic and social media the press is finding it a challenge to emerge to the forefront. Wijesinghe says that the print media has become a bit stagnant in comparison.

“The standard of journalism has declined. There is no news gathering. One of the worst things that had occurred is distributing press releases to journalists.

“I have experiences in witnessing how the reporters almost fall over each other trying to get their hands on the press releases. They add their name to the press release and do not even bother to go through the information. In our time a byline was hard earned. If you see your name once a year on print that is a great achievement,” he stressed adding that unless the reporter gets a really break through story they were not allowed to use their name with the news items.

His first story was about the increase of the price of a cup of tea at the Fort railway station. He had to write it three times before seeing it in print.

Another issue with modern day writing is that the poor nature of sentence construction. There is a lack of investigative journalism too.

“Investigating a story is like eating a Briyani. There is a deep sense of achievement. Today that feature is lacking though the ground work is set for such stories. The trend might be returning due to some eye opening articles being returning on some recent incidents like the Kahawatte murder case,” he opined.
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Old 13-11-12, 08:56 AM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default Cont.Journalist and Editor Geoff Wijesinghe.

Reflecting on 51 years of journalism an aura of contentment shines on his face.

He says, “It is like enjoying a dosa in a small restaurant one minute and going for another meal at a five star hotel during the next opportunity. You can even curb your hunger once you have a good story in your hands. That is why there is a saying that everyone cannot be a journalist. You need nose for news.”
Upcoming journalists

He remembers one of the significant events which occurred after retirement in the form of being invited to have breakfast with President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was Prime Minister during that time. Together the two had an amiable conversation over string hoppers and pol sambol.

Wijesinghe does not have much faith on journalism courses. For him in-house training it what makes an individual excel in the profession. “The salary of a journalist is also very poor. I started off with about five or ten rupees per story. A particularly good story was worth around 16 rupees. My Sports Editor at the ‘Daily Mirror’ knew the worth of quality work,” he said.

His advice to upcoming journalists is to love the profession.

“Journalism is not for clock-watchers. Live your story and your job. I used to work late hours. You must also be fearless when pursuing your information,” he said.

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