Jaffna has one of the oldest and richest regional newspaper publishing traditions in South Asia. The Tamil daily newspaper, Namathu Eelanadu, which is one of the oldest and prominent newspapers, hit the stands in Jaffna again since October 2002. With the re – arrival of Namathu Eelanadu, readers in the northern peninsula will have four daily papers to provide them news and views. The paper is published on the web too.
The first newspaper in Jaffna, Uthayatharakai (Morning Star) was published in 1841. It was a bilingual paper. Papers such as Catholikka Pathukavalan, Catholic Guardian, Hindu Organ (bilingual), Dravida Kokila and Suthesanaattiyam were published from mid 19th century to the turn of the 20th century.
The next major landmark in Jaffna’s newspaper history was Eelakesari (Lion of Eelam), published in 1930 by Mr. N. Ponnaiah, a social worker and a businessman from Kurumbasiddy.
Jaffna’s first daily, Eelanadu was published in 1961. Mr. S. M Gopalaratnam from Batticaloa was the founding editor of the paper.
Namathu Eelanadu comes in the tradition of Eelanadu. Late Hon. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah founded the Namathu Eelanadu in 2002 which had a special focus on the Jaffna peninsula and its news coverage was seen as pro-Tamil nationalist. It will be the Tamil homeland’s vanguard daily. Eelanadu would be competing in the Jaffna newspaper market with the dailies Uthayan, Valampuri and Thinakkural. The Tamil dailies published from Colombo, Thinakaran and Virakesari are also available in the peninsula now.
Four daily papers, Murasoli, Eelamurasu, Uthayan and Eelanadu, were published in Jaffna in 1986-87. The Indian army which arrived in the peninsula under the Indo Lanka agreement in July 1987, bombed the Eelamurasu and arrested its staff in October that year when it started military operations against the Liberation Tigers.
The Historical Tamil daily Newspaper, Namathu Eelanadu, hits the stands in Jaffna again.
From 1990 to 95 only two dailies, Uthayan and Eelantham, were published in Jaffna. Newsprint too was banned under the economic embargo Sri Lankan government on the north at the time, crippling the regional newspaper industry there.
Uthayan was the only daily that was able to continue publishing in the northern peninsula after the Sri Lanka Jaffna army captured Jaffna in early 1996. It ran unhindered and without any potential or real competitors under the SLA’s dispensation in Jaffna until the launch of the daily, Valampuri, in December 1999.
Hon. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah (died August 20, 2006) was the managing director of Namathu Eelanadu newspaper in Jaffna. He was also a former Member of Parliament for the Tamil United Liberation Front, and a member of the pro LTTE Tamil National Alliance in the Sri Lankan Parliament. He has also served as the President of the Consortium of Valikamam North Public Organizations. He is from Tellippalai. He also campaigned against the displacement of Tamils in Jaffna due to the High security zones.
The Sri Lankan army and the EPDP carried out a raid on the newspaper office in December 2005. Three of its reporters were shot dead on various occasions and the office was set on fire. A death warrant was issued publicly by the EDPD against the chief journalist, Mr Kandeepan and he had to flee Sri Lanka.
Hon. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah was shot dead inside his house which was 300 metres inside the High Security Zone of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in Tellippalai in Jaffna on August 20, 2006. His killing is part of series of killing, abduction and attacks on the Tamil Media in Sri Lanka. He had earlier received death threats and accused of being an LTTE agent.
Since the killings of Hon. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah and the three journalists, the press office was forced to close down in order to save the lives of the other workers. However the newspaper continues to operate online amidst the threats.