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USD 7.6 mn funding: PM wants MR to answer NYT in Parliament

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, yesterday, dared former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to make a statement on The New York Times report in Parliament.

The PM said that he would not permit the Opposition to challenge media personnel as his government had ushered in media freedom and would protect it. “We are against threatening journalists. Going beyond intimidating and killing Sri Lankan journalists, now The New York Times editor and others have been threatened and the paper has gone public with that.”

The NYT has alleged that the Rajapaksa presidential campaign was funded by the Chinese to the tune of USD 7.6 mn.

The Prime Minister said so while responding to a query raised by MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena, who accused the government of leaking false information to The New York Times for a report against the former President and the then government.

The PM denied any government involvement in it. “We don’t know. We didn’t publish it,” he said.

MP Gunawardena accused the government of tapping the phone calls received by media stations. He charged that media personnel and listeners of Neth FM had been intimidated.

The Prime Minister said Kollupitiya Police had commenced an investigation into a news story carried on Neth FM programme Balumgala upon a complaint received from Deputy Minister Palitha Thewarapperuma. He said the Police had recorded statements from two journalists who conducted the programme and sought court permission to record statements from three others.

“Police will submit a full report. The government has had no hand in this incident. The media channels air this type of programmes because they have enough media freedom,” the PM said.

He also said that he would look into how Police received the telephone numbers of listeners, while observing that if Police is in possession of the relevant tape of the programme, it could easily find the numbers of listeners.