More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 100

Over the next few weeks, allmediascotland.com is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

Three days later, there was the fateful encounter with PM. At a private birthday party given by Nirj Deva, MEP for the South East of England, the PM roundly reproved me. “There is only one thing I have to say to you and that is that I am not the man who is going to divide this island.”

This encounter was colourfully reported in the Sunday Leader. The newspaper I had come to edit now became my sternest critic with an editorial, gossip column items and ‘inside’ political pieces about me. Then the Directorate of Internal Intelligence (NIB) started its work: surveillance started, my room was searched and hotel employees and records examined.

Within two weeks, the NIB investigation had cleared me, although they discovered that my work visa had wrongly been made out by the clerk at immigration inscribing my designation ‘BBC’.

When I had pointed out the error, he shrugged his shoulders. “We put all resident British journalists in the BBC file.” As there were only two British correspondents on the island with resident visas, it didn’t seem that unreasonable. Who was I, newly arrived, to question the bureaucratic procedure?

After all the press comment, a senior and respected journalist, Gamini Werrakoon, editor of The Island, advised me: “You have been causing waves in this country,” and, rattling the ice in his whisky at the Orient Club, he chuckled and added, “Tidal waves.”

When I was asked to write a weekly column in a local paper owned by the PM’s uncle, I construed it either as it as an attempt to rein me in, or as an arm’s length conciliatory gesture. I met with Sujan Wijewardene at the Navratna Restaurant at the Taj Samudra. To be precise, we met in the closed and deserted grillroom next door, out of sight and ears of the curious.

The Daily Mirror allowed me complete freedom. I wrote on all sorts of topics, again, often with a sense of humour. Tongue in cheek, I praised the LTTE’s police force who were strictly enforcing traffic discipline on their newly-opened roads, in contrast to the island’s recognised police force.

I was offered a job as editor of a planned new newspaper. The problem was it was to be backed by opposition PA stalwarts. To me, it would simply have been a professional assignment and I stipulated that I would brook no editorial interference from the owners or backers. But, after much consideration, I recognised the government would regard it as an inflammatory action if I took on the job, so I declined.