Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa says he “regrets” losing his temper during his much publicised exchange with Sunday Leader Editor Frederica Janz, but claims he was provoked as Janz ‘threatened’ him. The events leading up to the exchange between the two revolved around Rajapaksa’s attempt to bring down a puppy from Zurich, Switzerland via Sri Lankan Airlines.
Sri Lankan Air Lines was allegedly planning to switch an A340 aircraft scheduled to fly one leg of the journey to Zurich to an A330 as the pilot Capt. Praveen Wijesinghe was not qualified to fly the larger aircraft. The move would have resulted in 56 passengers booked for the flight on the A340 having to reschedule, resulting in loss of revenue for Sri Lankan Air Lines. However, the move had allegedly been shelved due to objections from the Airline Pilots’ Guild of Sri Lanka (ALPGSL).
Speaking to The Nation, Rajapaksa described the story that led to the exchange between the two as ‘a non-issue’. He claimed he knew nothing of any attempt by Sri Lankan Air Lines to switch aircraft. “I had no idea until she (Janz) told me about it. Her claims were all hypothetical. None of what she said had happened or was going to happen.
So I asked her why she calls me about something that has not happened,” he said. He said he warned the editor he would sue her if she wrote about something that has not occurred.
Rajapaksa pointed out that there was a court order against the Sunday Leader not to harass him and said in that sense, the Leader editor may well be in contempt of court. He claimed Janz had no respect for media ethics and had used her power as a journalist to harass and threaten him.“I have every right to bring down a dog if I wish via Sri Lankan. I’m the one paying for the cargo. So what’s wrong with that?” he queried.
When pointed out that the issue now was not centered on bringing down the puppy, but on the alleged foul-mouthed tirade he launched against the Leader editor, Rajapaksa said he “regretted” losing his temper on the occasion, but claimed he was provoked due to what Janz told him the second time she called.
“She phoned the next day and said they weren’t running the article, but it was not because she was scared of me. Why do that? She was using her power as a journalist to threaten me. I’m a public official. I believe no one should abuse their power to threaten someone, but here she was using her power as a journalist and editor to threaten me,” he claimed.
The defence secretary admitted that he did swear during the exchange but claimed he was not directly using those words at Janz. “I was using the words in general terms, on people who betray the country. However, I let my emotions get the better of me and I regret that,” he said.
Rajapaksa said what happened was just one more attempt by interested parties to hound and harass him. “They did it to me during the war. Clearly, they haven’t given up,” he added.
Written by Sandun Jayawardene