Coming home: Sri Lanka’s new Media Minister Ruwan Wijewardene visits Lake House

Ruwan Wijewardene eyes a picture of his father during his first visit to Lake House as Sri Lanka's Media Minister

March 9, 2019 (LBO) – Ruwan Wijewardene has visited Lake House for the first time since being appointed Sri Lanka’s Media Minister. The visit, seemingly routine for a minister visiting a state institution under his or her purview, is of important historical significance in the history of Media in Sri Lanka.

Lake House, one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic structures, was built by the Minister’s grandfather D. R. Wijewardene. The building was built to house Sri Lanka’s preeminent media empire, whose importance in the history of Sri Lanka’s Media remains unequaled even today.

When D.R. Wijewardene passed away at age 64, his youngest son Ranjit Wijewardene was appointed as Chairman at the age of 23. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s father Esmond, Ranjit’s much older brother in law, was the Editorial Director.

D. R. Wijewardene’s biographer, H. A. J. Hulugalle, in a article published near the time of his death in 1950 wrote: “He leaves a group of half a dozen newspapers, in a palatial home (Lake House) equipped as well as any newspaper organisation in the East and giving to the readers daily in all the languages of the country ‘all the news that’s fit to print,’ independent views, a valuable medium of culture and an indispensable arena of public debate. For thirty years he gave himself up fiercely and wholeheartedly to the exacting business of conducting these journals.”

During Prime Minister Sirmavo Bandaranaike’s government, the media institution was nationalised, leaving the Wijewardene family to have to start over from scratch.

The Minister shares his grandfather’s initials with his full name being Dinendra Ruwan Wijewardene. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is also a grandchild of D. R. Wijewardene being the son of his daughter Nalini Wijewardene.

D. R. Wijewardene’s media empire was one of the most important engines of Sri Lanka’s independence movement. Today it still soldiers on under the care of the nation. It now falls to the new minister to re infuse his grandfather’s values into one of Sri Lanka’s most hallowed institutions.

His grandfather’s core persona is described in the above mentioned article written upon his demise. The author condensed his character into one memorable line: “D. R. Wijewardene was first and last a patriot.”