Sri Lankan paper apologises to minister after he threatened its editor

A Sri Lankan newspaper has apologised to a minister for reporting that he had threatened its editor with death – even though she recorded him doing so.

Let’s disentangle that bizarre turn of events. In July this year, the defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa threatened the editor of the Sunday Leader, Frederica Jansz, during a phone interview.

At one point, Rajapaksa shouted at her: "You pig that eats shit! You shit shit dirty fucking journalist… People will kill you. People hate you. They will kill you!"

But, in September, the ownership of the then independent Sunday Leader changed hands. It was acquired by Asanga Seneviratne, an ally of the president.

One of his first decisions was to fire the editor after she refused to prevent her reporters from criticising the government.

"It is unbelievable that the Sunday Leader has apologised in front of the Sri Lanka Press Council to the defence minister," said Dr Agnes Callamard, executive director of Article 19, the global organisation that defends press freedom.

Article 19 warned the United Nations last April that affiliates of the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, appeared to be buying up private media, and thereby reducing diversity and narrowing debate.

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