- At 32, he was the youngest Editor ever appointed to the oldest newspaper in Asia and was respected for his courage, keen perception and his relentless exposure of corruption in Ceylonese politics and government through his daily editorial regularly expressed with his satirical wit.
- In 1959, Vittachi wrote the book, “Emergency ’58,” about the 1958 communal riots in Ceylon. This vivid, blunt and non-partisan documentary became the biggest best seller in Ceylon’s history, at the time.
- Himself a Sinhalese, Vittachi subjected the role of Sinhalese and Tamil to equal unsparing scrutiny. He chronicled the manipulations of politicians who exploited old divisions to their advantage and who were ultimately responsible for the wave of violence that swept over Ceylon.
- The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his defense of civil rights and press freedom and his able stewardship of the power of the press which he discharged with a sense of responsibility in keeping with the highest traditions of journalism.”
Eleven years ago EDWARD MICHAEL LAW YONE founded The Nation of Rangoon. Since then, under his guidance, it has steadily grown in stature to become the leading English-language paper in his country. Rejecting sensationalism and fanaticism, The Nation has presented to the Burmese people a consistently fair and comprehensive report of events that most immediately affect their welfare.
In promoting clean government, LAW YONE has on numerous occasions clashed with officialdom, but he has stood firm even under prosecution. Through his reasoned editorials he has helped to bring about reforms that have promoted the progress of his country. Notable among contributions to his profession in Burma has been his active participation in a School of Journalism he helped found in order to raise the standards of press reporting.
TARZIE VITTACHI has also wielded a potent pen in the public interest in his country. As editor of the Ceylon Observer, he has called to public attention abuses in government and supported those who deserved the public trust.
With his recent book, Emergency ’58, Mr. VITTACHI has given his people and the world a vivid documentary of the 1958 communal riots in Ceylon. This book was written when the conflict was still smoldering and before the truth could be obscured or glossed over. Himself a Sinhalese, he has subjected the role of Sinhalese and Tamil to equal unsparing scrutiny. He has likewise chronicled the manipulations of politicians who are exploiting old divisions to their advantage and who were ultimately responsible for the wave of violence that swept over Ceylon.
Emergency ’58 appeals to all elements of Ceylonese society, particularly the leaders of the diverse groups, for a more rational attitude toward old differences and new insecurities. Though addressed chiefly to the Ceylonese, the book bears a wider implication for similar problems plague other newly-independent people in our part of the world.
These two editors, like Ramon Magsaysay, have had the courage of their convictions. Setting personal security aside, they have worked, the one in Burma and the other in Ceylon, to build nations where man could live with man in honor and peace.
In electing EDWARD MICHAEL LAW YONE and TARZIE VITTACHI to share the 1959 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism and Literature, the Board of Trustees recognizes their defense of civil rights and press freedom and their able stewardship of the power of the press which they have discharged with a sense of responsibility in keeping with the highest traditions of journalism.
I am very deeply conscious of the honor and privilege of having been selected to receive one of the Awards commemorating the life work of one of the most dedicated and well-beloved statesmen of the 20th century. I accept this recognition with due awareness of the distinction it confers upon me, leavened by my consciousness of my own shortcomings in the profession in which I belong.
The response within me to the honor you have bestowed upon me is not one of satisfaction that something has been achieved, nor that some talent and skill I may have shown as a newspaperman and writer has been adequately rewarded, but one of humility and awe at the dimensions of the responsibility it implies for the future. It means to me that whatever I do as a journalist and writer in the future, whatever the mistakes I may have made in the past, will have to reflect, in such measure as I am capable of, that vitality, reliability and inspired leadership that Ramon Magsaysay symbolized in his life. The life of a journalist is not the romantic crusade that the script writers have made it out to be. The life of a journalist who comments on political affairs, as I do, is particularly perilous. But these perils are not usually of the kind that make heroes out of cub reporters or elevate painstaking and studious columnists and editors into glamorous buccaneers ready to draw their pens from their scabbards at the drop of a ballot. A journalist, a good one, might win a hundred readers overnight and lose two friends. He may lose the hundred readers a week later but he may never win back his friends. But there are greater perils than this and much nearer home. A newspaperman can lose his sense of proportion and perspective under the weight of political pressure or he can sacrifice forever his sense of human justice towards people of other races, religions and pigmentation, under the querulous demands of commercial or political expediency. A newspaperman, however fine and strong his nature may be, runs the terrible risk of losing his sense of human participation. He can easily lose that feeling that nothing human is alien to him. When this happens what is there left? Only the empty husk of a man. He becomes the kind of man who is hardboiled and blas, about other peoples’ tragedies and bitter about his own. He becomes cynical about human virtues as well as human weaknesses.
In Asia we cannot afford the luxury of such sterile cynicism. Newspapermen have often to stand up against popular fervor when it is misdirected and agitated beyond the limits of law and order and fundamental human decency. He cannot sit back and merely record the passing parade indifferently. More than ever before, our tasks, our needs and our urgency are the same. We are involved in the possible growth or degradation of Asia. Let us hope that we will be given the strength to bear intelligently and honorably this involvement in the life of the people of which we are an articulate segment.
ABHAYA GAMINI PERERA “TARZIE” VITTACHI was born in Colombo, Ceylon, on September 23, 1921. His parents, both teachers, taught their precocious son early to read, write, question and think for himself. Upon completion of primary and secondary schooling at Ananda College in Colombo, the premier Buddhist college in Ceylon, he entered the University of Ceylon where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics with a minor in political science in 1944.
Employed as principal of a provincial school at the age of 23, VITTACHI, after four years, sought greater challenge for his restless energy and curiosity in an entirely different work. By his own account of the next two years as Assistant Accountant in the Bank of Ceylon, “every day was a new death” he “could not imagine a life of checking debits-credits, debits-credits and guarding other peoples’ money.” Already considered too rebellious to be a good banker, publication by Sight and Sound, the prestigious official journal of the British Film Institute, of a piece by VITTACHI on “Cinema in Ceylon” convinced Bank management he was not cut out for banking. “Me, too,” he has said.
In 1950, VITTACHI “on an impulse” joined the Ceylon Daily News as Assistant Editor. Soon advanced to News Editor, he also began to make a national reputation as the author of two popular columns. One, entitled “Cursory Glances,” exposed graft, nepotism and maladministration in the Government. The other, called “Bouquets and Brickbats,” is until today the most widely read satire on Ceylon’s social and political moves.
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