An editor of many facets | Sunday Observer
Jayatilleke de Silva - first death anniversary:

An editor of many facets

A tribute to Jayatilleke de Silva, a former editor of the Sunday Observer and the Daily News, on his first death anniversary.

Jayatilleke de Silva, the former editor-in-chief of the Sunday Observer and the Daily News left an indelible mark during his stewardship at the flagship publications of the Lake House group, with his versatility, intellectual acumen and indomitable spirit which took the newspapers in a new direction.

Jayatilleke or Jaye as he was fondly addressed by the senior staff was not the conventional editor that came out of the stables of the two Lake House English publications. There were men who had ink in their veins and grew up in the profession that eventually propelled them to the hot seat.

Unlike these past editors, Jaye did not possess a very long record as a journalist nor was he in that class or mould that the editors of the English newspapers usually come to be identified with - from his Left leaning political ideology to his sartorial simplicity. He once served a prison term for his political convictions - hardly the type of accolade for an editor of the Daily News, one that would have been incredible in the staid old past of the newspaper’s history.

But this did not detract him from the mission he undertook to raise the quality and readership of the newspaper. He guided his staff with a mixture of hardness and benign persuasion. His steely demeanour concealed a soft heart that endeared him to staff, making them go that extra mile in their efforts.

Diminutive in stature, he, nevertheless, could be spoken of in the same breath with the giants of the past who occupied the hot seat at the Daily News and the Sunday Observer. He may not have had the whipper-snapping approach of some of the editors who have passed on, but he was able to extract the best out of his staff sans the usual histrionics. His endearing qualities were still spoken of with nostalgia by the staff long after he left the newspaper. He was one those editors who stood by his charges in fair and foul weather and in one instance had to quit his job when pitted against the management in the defence of a member of his staff.

This was not to say that he was lenient with the shirkers. He was tough with time servers and those who took the easy way out.

The school principal in him (teaching was his first profession and he eventually became the Principal of Deniyaya Central College) surfaced to the fore time and again when confronted with mediocrity among his staff.

He also brooked no interference from any quarter in the functions of his newspaper and even ticked off powerful ministers of the day who deigned to given him instructions. He certainly did not care for the consequences of the positions and stands he took which were always principled. Even when he had to leave, he left with his head held high.

Perhaps his political ideology that was known to one and all baulked against injustice and tended to sympathise with the underdog. An individual with strong principles he often threw caution to the wind even not caring for the security of his job. His editorials and writings unerringly reflected his political ideology even if they were at variance with that of the Government in power. He was a strong advocate of a political solution to the ethnic question and as would a member of the Communist Party, took a sympathetic view towards the minority communities.

Jaye, was by nature a reticent and unobtrusive figure not given to throwing his weight around. His academic achievements sat lightly on him but glimpses of his political ideology came to the fore quite often. He held strong views on the exploitation of Third World countries by capitalists and was severely critical of the machinations of the World Bank and IMF, views that were given full play in his editorials. The unrepentant Communist that he was, he also waded into most of the so called service organisations in the country that were funded internationally, that also brought him at loggerheads with the management on some occasions. It could be said that this attitude was shaped by the rough experience he underwent during his days as an active member of the Communist Party during the J.R. Jayewardene Government. He was one of those hauled up for the alleged Naxalite plot and forced into a stint behind bars. But this only served to strengthen his political convictions and he remained a true Communist to his last day. He in fact devoted a few years of his life to translate Das Kapital to Sinhala.

The passing away of Jayatilleke de Silva has removed from our midst not only an outstanding editor but also a brilliant author and a political columnist. No doubt, his footsteps will echo in the corridors of Lake House for a long time to come. The staff of the Daily News and the Sunday Observer have lost not only an individual who stood as a beacon on their path to excellence but who was also a father figure to most, including his nephew who follows in his journalistic footsteps.

The writer is the Senior Associate Editor of the Daily News