US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo showed partiality to Sri Lanka’s state TV and a pro-government channel and spent less time with his local counterpart, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
What was billed as a joint press conference after bilateral talks between the two foreign ministers turned out to be well-choreographed.
Only two vetted questions allowed – one from a local TV and the other from a journalist travelling with Pompeo.
“Not great for freedom of expression and journalists that Pompeo spent more time giving one interview than answering a plurality of (hopefully) more challenging questions at his press conference where only two questions were allowed,” BBC’s former Sri Lanka correspondent Frances Harrison said on Twitter.
Questions raised by both Rupavahini and Derana TV were similar in tone and content except that one interviewer kept addressing Pompeo as “sekatri”.
The answers were also the same with Pompeo faithfully sticking to his script.
The thrust of Pompeo’s Asian tour is to counter China’s increasing influence in the region. China is heaping debt on countries like Sri Lanka; it is not sustainable and it is better to work with democracies, was his message to Colombo.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his minister son Namal were notable absentees at meetings with Pompeo. The prime minister was expected at the Presidential Secretariat on Wednesday, but he was not present.
If Foreign minister Gunawardena felt a bit left out of the limelight, there was a minor consolation for him.
The Foreign Editor of the India Today magazine and TV channel, Geeta Mohan, gave international publicity to him in a tweet.
The only fly was that Mohan used a photo of Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid and said it was Gunawardena addressing a “Press Availability” event.