Colombo, March 21: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has warned media owner against misusing the freedom of the press and has set up a committee to advise him on how to protect Buddhist sites, and deal with those who tarnish the character of the Buddha and distort the Buddhist scriptures (the Tripitaka).
“Media freedom does not mean freedom of the media owners. Certain media owners want to run the country the way they want. I cannot allow that to happen “, the President said while participating in the “Discussion with the Village” program held on Saturday at the Yombuweltenna village in Nuwara Eliya District.
Gotabaya further said that he has not exerted any influence on the media but will not hesitate to take necessary legal actions against groups if they attempt to push the country and the people backwards, by abusing media freedom for the benefit of various groups and individuals.
“Today, a group of media persons who had worked against the country during the war has reappeared and through their media institutions are attacking the nationalist ideology and programs,” the President said.
To Seek Second Term?
“The majority of voters elected me as the President to rebuild this nation. Only 16 months have passed out of the 60-month long mandate. There is still considerable time ahead. Some are worried about the next President. No one should worry in this regard as it is people’s choice,” Gotabaya said, hinting that he might back out of his commitment not to seek a second term.
The remaining period of his tenure will be utilized to fulfill the aspirations of the people by working hard to uplift the national economy as well as the rural masses’ living standards, he said and added that a responsibility of the officials is to support the people to maintain their livelihoods. “People should never be oppressed.”
The President also stated that he did not expect any offensive act from the side of public officials that would disrupt the daily life of the people.
“I have never destroyed the environment. During the time when I was the Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development, I have carried out works that no one had ever done for environmental conservation. Even Independence Square was filled with garbage. That miserable situation was eliminated and the city of Colombo was transformed into a green garden. A Senior Minister in the previous government has gifted a 30 acre land in Hanthana Forest Reserve to his daughter. If they had protected the environment, they would not have had to come before the media and cry today”, the President said.
“During the period 2015-2019, 77 acres of forestlands in the Kurunegala District, 258 acres in Puttalam, 100 acres in Moneragala, 224 acres in Anuradhapura and in many other areas including Milewa, Matale, Laggala, Rideegama and Welikanna have been destroyed,” he added.
Poverty alleviation and economic uplift in rural areas are a major part of the policy of the government. 35% out of the 75% of the rural population are directly engaged in the agricultural sector, he said, and pledged that he will economically empower the rural people by developing the agricultural sector.
Committee to Protect Buddha and Buddhism From Distortions
President Gotabaya has formed a committee to recommend steps to deal with those who disrespect Buddhist sacred sites, and misinterpret and spread falsehoods about the Buddha’s character and the Tripitaka (Buddhist scriptures).
This decision was made in response to a written request made by the Mahanayake Theros of the Tri Nikayas to the President when the Buddhist Advisory Council met at the Presidential Secretariat on March 19, for the 9th time.
Puravidya Chakravarthi, Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thera, Vidyodaya Parivenadhipati Ven. Balangoda Sobhitha Nayake Thera, Deputy Registrar of the Asgiriya Chapter, Ven. Narampanawe Ananda Thera, General Secretary of the Asgiriya Maha Vihara Chapter of the Siyam Maha Nikaya Ven. Medagama Dhammananda Thera, Deputy Registrar of the Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya, Ven. Nedagamuwe Vijayamaithri Nayaka Thera, Chancellor of the Rajarata University, Chief Incumbent of the Mirisawetiya Raja Maha Vihara Ven. Ethalawetunawewa Gnanatilake Thera, Ven.Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera, Ven. Prof. Induragare Dhammaratana Thera and Ven. Dr. Kirinde Assaji Thera have been appointed as the members of the Committee.
“Sri Lanka is a major center of Theravada Buddhism. Those who are masquerading as faithful followers of Buddhism and as Buddhist monks are trying to distort the basic teachings of Buddhism. The government must intervene swiftly to thwart the planned conspiracy to destroy pure Theravada Buddhism”, the Maha Sangha said.
The Sangha also stressed the need of an initiative to defeat the heretics academically.
These heretics have been systematically insulting the monks who are engaged in the task of protecting the Buddha Sasana and the Tripitaka, the Sangha said.
The Maha Sangha expressed regret over these happenings and highlighted the importance of paying immediate attention to such activities that are being carried out through social media networks, the Sangha said.
Protecting and preserving the Tripitaka means defending the Buddhist heritage and culture. The Maha Sangha stressed the need to expedite the drafting of the Tripitaka Conservation Act, pointing out that declaring the Tripitaka as a World Heritage Site alone would not ensure its survival in pristine form.
The need to strengthen the Buddhist Books and Publications Regulation Act designed to mark the 2600th Sambuddha Jayanthi was also discussed at length. It was decided to present a draft bill to the Parliament following due amendments and proposals from the Maha Nayaka Theras within a month.
During the meeting, the progress of actions under the Antiquities Ordinance which was amended to conserve antiquities and consolidate national heritage was reviewed.
Many archaeological monuments in Sri Lanka represent the Buddhist heritage. The Maha Sangha highlighted that it is not appropriate to look at these archaeological monuments in the same way that an old coin or antiquity is looked at, and emphasized the need to consider the ideas and suggestions of the Maha Sangha.