Journalist who insulted the judiciary left with no penalty – A verdict from the Supreme Court!

With the sentencing of MP Ranjan Ramanayake to four years in prison for contempt of the judiciary, the topic is now widely discussed.
There have been several instances in history where a person has been convicted of contempt of court, including a journalist named Garumuni Tilakaratne. Tilakaratne, who was the Aranayake regional correspondent for the Divaina newspaper, was accused of contempt of court about 30 years ago for a report he published.

The context 

After the victory of Mr. R. Premadasa in the 1989 Presidential Election, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who contested as the SLFP presidential candidate in that presidential election, went on to file a petition challenging the appointment of the winning candidate R. Premadasa after the presidential election. The incident was a heated topic at the time.
During the hearing of the petition, one of the Members of Parliament expressed his views at a public meeting held in Aranayake, Ambalatenna area. Dharmasiri Senanayake, who was a Member of Parliament for the Kegalle District at the time as well as the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, had commented on the petition and how it should be decided.

The Newspaper report 

Dharmasiri Senanayake’s speech at Aranayake was published in the Divaina newspaper on November 12, 1990. It was published under the headline ‘We are also ready for any election’. Under that, Mr. Senanayake’s full speech was published.

Contempt of court 

Senanayake’s critical remarks on the judiciary were published in the newspaper just as they were delivered, and a case was filed in the Supreme Court against Garumuni Tilakaratne, alleging that it was an insult to the judiciary under Article 105 (3) of the Constitution.

Garumuni left alone 

Mr. Dharmasiri Senanayake stated that he did not make such a statement regarding this case. The editor of the Divaina newspaper has also pleaded guilty before the court stating that he regrets publishing such a report.
Garumuni Tilakaratne has stated that he does not want to be convicted of a crime he did not commit. He told the court that he had only reported a speech delivered at a meeting and that affidavits from those who attended the Aranayake meeting that day could be presented to prove that his report was true.
He also asked the court to refrain from punishing him for writing a story and sending it to the press office, claiming that it was published by the editor and that he had already pleaded guilty. Mr. Tilakaratne has also told the court that the report was not prepared with the intention of insulting the judiciary and that he was not aware of the contempt.

Garumuni declared guilty

However, the Supreme Court found that Garumuni Tilakaratne guilty in this regard and the Supreme Court did not sentence him. The court ruled that his involvement in the incident was minor and should not be punished. This judgment was pronounced as 1991 (1) SLR 134.

Contempt of court – No boundaries

 Attorney-at-Law Jagath Liyanarachchi said that Sri Lankan law does not define contempt of court and does not specify the punishment for contempt of court.
He said that if the offense of contempt of court had been defined, it would have been easier for people to express their views in a manner that does not insult the judiciary and for journalists to publish news in a manner that does not insult the judiciary.
Although the Law Commission of Sri Lanka had drafted a bill on contempt of court in 2008, it has not yet been finalized, he added.
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