Over three decades ago interactive communication between UK and Sri Lanka was very much restricted. The mobile phone, Viber, WhatsApp, Imo, the Internet or the Face Book was never heard of. Therefore, communication facility during this era was restricted only to the British telecom phone line, which cost an arm and a leg, even to make a three-minute short call home. In such a backdrop, one had to depend on the postal services to communicate between those in the UK and Sri Lankan contacts. Postal services took about a week for an aerogramme to reach Sri Lanka. What was happening back at home was completely cut off in the absence of Lankan newspapers arriving in London.
As the Sri Lankan diaspora began to increase in number, so did crop up many a ‘corner shop’ (mini supermarkets), mainly owned by the Tamil entrepreneurs. These shops, initially imported vital items such as groceries, spices, rice etc., but later on imported Sri Lankan fresh vegetables (on a particular day of the week). When fresh vegetables arrived, those who longed for Gotukola, Mukunuwenna and Kankung rushed to these shops before the vegetables were sold out like hot cakes.
First Tabloid- Silvarrow
In 1980, Suriya Silva published an English tabloid namedSilvarrow. He did so, by getting down the Daily News from Colombo, with the courtesy of Air Lanka staff, and adopting the cut and paste technique. Silvarrow had several editors over the years, whose job was to pick and choose relevant news items (already published) from the weekly Sri Lankan papers, and to cut and paste and page setting appropriately.
Suriya circulated the newspaper by leaving stock piles at Buddhist temples and various other ‘corner shops ’. The marketing was done by distributing the tabloid free of charge, and to cover the printing costs with the advertising revenue. Many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs, solicitors and travel agents, and Sri Lankan Social Associations seized the opportunity to display their services and functions respectively, through Silvarrow paid advertisements. To ensure the continuity of this single-handed operation, AirLanka (SriLankan Airlines), as a means of supporting a local paper, dedicatedly committed to a full-page advertisement, which almost covered the printing costs of the paper. However, after nearly thirty years of its publication, Silvarrow came to an end, may be due to the news media flourished in many forms with the help of latest technology, and the readership was able to access news from any part of the world within seconds, rather than waiting for a month to read ‘old’ news. “Patriot” was Suriya Silva’s second attempt, which lasted only a few months.
Towards the latter part of 1980, the late, Reggie Fernando, who was the London Correspondent of Lake House Group of Newspapers, decided to publish the 2ndEnglish tabloid in London – News Lanka– on a weekly basis, which was released to the public on every Tuesday. News Lanka also followed the same marketing strategy of distributing free of charge and depended on the advertising revenue. The new tabloid had an added advantage of being a weekly publication, whereas Silvarrow was published monthly. In addition, Reggie’s writing style, page setting techniques, combined with his entrepreneurial skills made News Lanka the most popular English tabloid among the Lankan community in the UK.
It was not an easy task to publish a newspaper on one’s own steam, even though it meant a ‘cut and paste’ job’, because selecting of relevant and appropriate news, from home-based newspapers, had to be selective, which had to be continued on a weekly basis or monthly.
After several years of editing and publishing News Lanka, Reggie Fernando handed over the responsibility of the publication to his son – Chinthaka (Chin), who took over the reins, while Reggie remained as the editor- in- chief, whether he was in London, Wellawatta condominium or relaxing in his holiday home in Nuwara Eliya. Chin, in the meanwhile, expanded the tabloid with more pages, and filled it with Sri Lankan news, sports, features, and local topics pertinent to Sri Lankan community living in the UK. Only a few weeks ago, Chin Fernando decided to bring the curtains down on News Lanka, apparently due to ill health, causing News Lanka to face an unpredicted death.
Several months ago, Reggie Fernando too passed away in Sri Lanka, and was cremated at Mt. Lavinia cemetery. Had he been living up to this moment, what would he have been thinking about the demise of the newspaper he launched with much enthusiasm, during his cherished career as a veteran journalist and the longest London Correspondent of Lake House?
Voice of Lanka
In 1983, Victor Jayanetti launched the third tabloid in the UK and called it ‘Voice of Lanka’. He too followed the same marketing and publishing strategy and distributed the tabloid free of charge. Voice of Lankawas different from Silvarrow and News Lanka, in that it carried an editorial. It was during a period of uncertainty and unpredictability with the heat of the LTTE war rising, thus creating a void of news circulation.
In 2006, Victor was driving his motor car in London, with his wife beside him, on a shopping spree, when he suffered a severe heart attack and died. Along with his demise, Voice of Lanka too came to a halt, as there wasn’t anyone to continue with the publication. By this time a variety of Sri Lankan Sunday newspapers had started to arrive in London on the same Sunday night at around 8 pm. Many still preferred to read the printed versions of newspapers, due to the thirst for news from home, despite having access to newspapers on line, via the Internet.
Sinhala Tabloid – Lanka Viththi
Over the years, despite having three English tabloids in the UK, there was a cry from many Lankan expatriates to have ‘something closer to their heart,’ in the Sinhala Language. To fill that void, on the 14th of April 1997, another skilful journalist, Daya Ananda Ranasinghe, brought out Lanka Viththito Sri Lankans as a Sinhala New Year gift. Lanka Viththiwas published monthly, with a variety of features including a poetry (Kavi) corner. Daya Ananda Ranasinghe needs to be valued and respected for his dedication towards the Sinhala language and the Sinhala readership, as one publisher who did not depend on a single Tamil advertisement for the paper’s survival at a time Sri Lanka was about to be ripped apart by the LTTE terrorism. Consequently, a handful of patriotic Sinhalese supported Daya Ananda and extended a helping hand in the distribution and in art work etc.
When Lanka Viththiwas born, the late Reggie Fernando carried a congratulatory message in his News Lankaas follows:
“ Dear Lanka Viththi,
Welcome to the club of newspaper publication. It’s a sheer joy to see a newspaper published in our beloved mother tongue – Sinhala – and blossomed in the UK, filling a long-awaited need. This is certainly a novel experience to all our Lankan readers in the UK”.
Lanka Viththi managed to survive for sixteen long years, due to sheer determination of Daya Ananda Ranasinghe amidst many a financial hardship. The paper became so popular among Sri Lankans who were spread across various parts of the world, which was proven by the fact that many contributions in the form of feature articles and Kavi came from overseas readers, especially in Paris and Italy. As everything in this corporeal world has to come to an end, after sixteen long years of service to the Sinhala community abroad, Lanka Viththi had to bid adios to its loving worldwide readership carrying a sad message in the front page of the final edition stating thus:
“Thank You & Good Bye!” ස්තුතියි ! සමුගනිමු
To run newspapers have known to be a challenge, especially when it is circulated free of charge, and the publisher having to depend solely on the advertising revenue, with the hope that advertisers will seize the opportunity to market their services or products vigorously.
Today transition to the internet has become highly essential for any newspaper for its long-term survival. But in the case of Sri Lankan tabloids published in the UK (with a few exceptions in Lanka Viththi), it has proven to be hard when ‘the same news items are repeated in cut and paste mode’ that had already appeared during a week or month ago on national newspapers. When readers have access to online facilities via the internet currently, any newspaper should adopt its own style and spread with fresh news and feature articles. Amazingly enough, even giant newspaper publishers are on a competition today, to try and make their websites into viable businesses that can thrive in a post-print world