During their professional life, it is one of the aspects of the profession of journalists to meet and discuss with various people such as people’s leaders, administrators, politicians and professionals. But if a journalist gets the rare opportunity to meet foreign heads of State and hold discussions face-to-face, it is a very rare event.
The most prominent journalist in Sri Lanka who had that rare experience is Gamini Weerakoon, a senior journalist who worked for a long time as the editor-in-chief of The Island and Sunday Island newspapers. He passed away on November 11.
Gamini reported to his newspapers the interviews with Japanese Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki, Indian Prime Ministers Indrakumar Gujral and Chandra Shekhar, Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq and that country’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Najibullah.
His full name is Gamini Abhaya Weerakoon, who was known as Gamini Weerakoon in the media world. He was born on March 19, 1941 in Bentara. Gamini’s father was a businessman P.D. Weerakoon. He moved from Bentara with his family to Mount Lavinia for the convenience of Gamini who studied at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia.
After completing his school education, Gamini joined the Faculty of Science at Colombo University in 1963. Gamini Weerakoon, who had a keen interest in journalism, joined Lake House in 1966 as a reporter for the Sunday Observer newspaper.
Renowned newspaper Editor Denzil Peiris was then Editor of the Sunday Observer. Later, he told us that the Editor’s advice from him was a great help to his journalism career. One of the main duties assigned to him by Denzil Peiris was to report the meetings of the Senate at that time.
I first met Gamini at the Colombo University. At that time, he was a second year student in the Faculty of Science and I was in the first year of the Faculty of Arts. But a close friendship was formed between us while reporting on the Non-Aligned Nations Summit held in Colombo in 1976. Gamini reported the conference for the ‘Daily News’ newspaper and I reported it for the ‘Atta’ newspaper.
The Head of State Summit was held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) with the participation of 96 heads of state from non-aligned countries. Reporters were allowed to go there only at the opening of the conference.
We had to report the rest of the proceedings of the conference from the news centre set up at the Sri Lanka Foundation near the Independence Square.
We could see all the events of the conference at the BMICH on a giant television screen from the Sri Lanka Foundation.
The decisions taken there were given to us through news announcements. A large number of local and foreign reporters, television cameramen and photographers covered the conference from there. It was there that Gamini and I, who had known each other at the university, formed a close friendship.
Gamini Weerakoon became the News Editor of the Daily News in 1977. He was later appointed as the Parliamentary Editor of the Sunday Observer.
In 1981, Upali Wijewardene founded the Upali Newspaper Company and started the Divaina and Island newspapers. Gamini Weerakoon also joined The Island as its News Editor. He later became Deputy Editor of The Island and Sunday Island newspapers. After the departure of Vijitha Yapa, who was the Editor-in-Chief of those two newspapers, in 1986, Gamini Weerakoon was appointed as the Editor-in-Chief of The Island and Sunday Island newspapers.
Later in 1999, he was also appointed as the Editorial Director of Upali Newspaper Company.
Gamini’s editorials for ‘The Island’ and ‘Sunday Island’ newspapers were very popular among English readers because of his independent and fearless views. They were like B.A. Siriwardene’s editorials of ‘Aththa’ newspaper. There were times when some politicians who were offended by some of the editorials he wrote complained to the Chairman of Upali Newspaper Company. But none of them could stop his pen.
Gamini, who has visited the US, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, and France on professional invitations, maintained close relations with journalists and organisations in South Asian countries. The speech made by Gamini, who participated in a regional conference held in Madras organised by the ‘Hindu’ Newspaper, was quoted and praised by India’s leading newspaper Editors N. Ram Shekhar Dasna, K.K. Katyal and others.
Gamini, who was keenly interested in international politics, also covered 4 non-aligned summits held in Colombo, New Delhi, Harare and Jakarta.
Many young journalists who joined ‘The Island’ newspaper and received Gamini’s guidance and advice are currently working as key journalists in newspapers, electronic media and social media.
Gamini Weerakoon, was fondly called ‘Gamma’ by his fellow journalists. His wife Rajitha Weerakoon worked as a senior journalist at the Lake House Sunday Observer newspaper. Daughter Surangi is their only child.
After leaving ‘The Island’, Gamini also worked as a Consultant Editor for the ‘Sunday Leader’ and wrote a column for the ‘Sunday Times’ until last month.
The contribution made by veteran Editors like Gamini Weerakoon, who has been active in the field of journalism for 57 years, is unparalleled.