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Sri Lankan born BBC journalist dies aged 67

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George Alagiah, one of the BBC’s longest-serving and most respected journalists, has died at 67, nine years after being diagnosed with cancer.

A statement from his agent said he “died peacefully today, surrounded by his family and loved ones”.

A fixture on British TV news for more than three decades, he presented the BBC News at Six for the past 20 years.

Before that, he was an award-winning foreign correspondent, reporting from countries ranging from Rwanda to Iraq.

He was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in 2014 and revealed in October 2022 that it had spread further.

Paying tribute, his agent, Mary Greenham, said: “George was deeply loved by everybody who knew him, whether it was a friend, a colleague or a member of the public.

“He simply was a wonderful human being. My thoughts are with Fran, the boys and his wider family,” she said.

Alagiah died earlier on Monday, but “fought until the bitter end”, his agent added.

BBC director general Tim Davie said: “Across the BBC, we are all incredibly sad to hear the news about George. We are thinking of his family at this time.

“He was more than just an outstanding journalist, audiences could sense his kindness, empathy and wonderful humanity. He was loved by all and we will miss him enormously.”

BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson tweeted: “A gentler, kinder, more insightful and braver friend and colleague it would be hard to find.”

BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet called him “a great broadcaster”, a “kind colleague” and “a thoughtful journalist”.

Clive Myrie, presenting the BBC News at One, said: “On a personal note, George touched all of us here in the newsroom, with his kindness and generosity, his warmth and good humour. We loved him here at BBC News, and I loved him as a mentor, colleague and friend.”

Fellow journalists including LBC’s Sangita Myska, the Guardian’s Pippa Crerar and Mark Austin of Sky News were among those to also pay tribute.

Austin tweeted: “This breaks my heart. A good man, a rival on the foreign correspondent beat but above all a friend. If good journalism is about empathy, and it often is, George Alagiah had it in spades.”

Myska noted Alagiah’s influence on British Asian reporters.

“Growing up, when the BBC’s George Alagiah was on TV my dad would shout “George is on!”. We’d run to watch the man who inspired a generation of British Asian journalists. That scene was replicated across the UK. We thank you, George. RIP xx”

Former BBC North American editor Jon Sopel wrote: “Tributes will rightly be paid to a fantastic journalist and brilliant broadcaster – but George was the most decent, principled, kindest, most honourable man I have ever worked with. What a loss.”

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner recalled Alagiah visiting him in hospital after he was shot and critically injured in an al-Qaeda attack in Saudia Arabia in 2004.

“He brought me his book A Passage to Africa, and we talked for hours about the continent he loved and spent so much of his career covering. A true journalist and a great author.”

Alagiah won awards for reports on the famine and war in Somalia in the early 1990s, and was nominated for a Bafta in 1994 for covering Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign against the Kurds of northern Iraq.

He was also named Amnesty International’s journalist of the year in 1994, for reporting on the civil war in Burundi, and was the first BBC journalist to report on the genocide in Rwanda.

George Maxwell Alagiah was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, before moving to Ghana and then England in childhood.

His main childhood memory of Sri Lanka was leaving it. His parents were Christian Tamils; the country, then called Ceylon, mired in ethnic violence.

His father, Donald, was an engineer specialising in water distribution and irrigation. Feeling unwelcome and unsafe in his own land, he took his young family to Africa in search of a new and better life.

The family initially prospered in Ghana but Alagiah’s parents decided to educate their children in England. At the age of 11, his father dropped him off at boarding school in Portsmouth; they both had to hold back the tears.

His childhood of change and assimilation helped shape his personality and informed his professional judgement.

There was some racism. He was almost the only boy of colour; there were “Bongo Bongo land” taunts in the showers. He gave up asking people to say his name correctly (his family pronounced it, “Uller-hiya”).

“In those days,” he reflected “you were almost apologetic if you had a ‘funny name’.” The alternative was to stick out like an “exotic cactus in a bed of spring meadow plants”.

But, in some ways, his school in England – St John’s College – was a closed and unreal society, which sealed him off from the huge social changes going on outside its walls. The anti-immigrant sentiment in many parts of the country was something that largely passed him by.

As he grew up, he became, he believed, the “right sort” of foreigner in a land where “class trumps race every time”.

Later, he attended Durham University, where he met, and later married, Frances Robathan.

After graduating, he spent seven years at South Magazine, proud of its editorial line which painted an unequal world as an unstable one.

He joined the BBC as a foreign affairs correspondent in 1989 and then became Africa correspondent, the continent of his childhood.

It was often a depressing experience. He interviewed child soldiers in Liberia, victims of mass rape in Uganda and witnessed hunger and disease almost everywhere.

“There is a new generation in Africa”, he wrote, “my generation, freedom’s children, born and educated in those years of euphoria after independence, we have had a chance. We didn’t do much with it.”

One of his proudest professional moments came when he broadcast some of the first pictures of the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999, he said.

Other stories he covered in news reports and documentaries included the trade in human organs in India, street children in Brazil, civil war in Afghanistan and human rights violations in Ethiopia.

He interviewed figures including South African President Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Moving to news presenting, he fronted the BBC One O’Clock News, Nine O’Clock News and BBC Four News, before being made one of the main presenters of the Six O’Clock News in 2003.

He anchored news programmes from Sri Lanka following the December 2004 tsunami, as well as reporting from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and from Pakistan following the South Asian earthquake in 2005.

He was appointed an OBE for services to journalism in 2008.

‘Energised and motivated’
After Alagiah’s initial cancer diagnosis in 2014, the disease spread to his liver and lymph nodes, which needed chemotherapy and several operations, including one to remove most of his liver.

He said he was a “richer person” for the experience upon returning to presenting in 2015, and said working in the newsroom was “such an important part of keeping energised and motivated”.

He had to take several further breaks from work to have treatment, and in January 2022 said he thought the cancer would “probably get me in the end”, but that he still felt “very lucky”.

Speaking on the Desperately Seeking Wisdom podcast in 2022, he said that when his cancer was first discovered, it took a while for him to understand what he “needed to do”.

“I had to stop and say, ‘Hang on a minute. If the full stop came now, would my life have been a failure?’

“And actually, when I look back and I looked at my journey… the family I had, the opportunities my family had, the great good fortune to bump into [Frances Robathan], who’s now been my wife and lover for all these years, the kids that we brought up… it didn’t feel like a failure.”

Alagiah had two children with Frances.

(BBC News)

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Cricket equipment distributed to 67 schools in the Gampaha district

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With the aim of developing cricket in the schools of the Gampaha district, cricket equipment was distributed to 67 schools yesterday (July 15) at the Presidential Secretariat. 

This event was held under the patronage of Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka, the Chief of Staff to the President and the President’s Senior Adviser on National Security.

The program was organized by the Youth Vision 2048 organization and the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, following the vision of President Ranil Wickremesinghe. It was carried out under the full guidance and supervision of Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka.

In his address, Mr. Ratnayaka emphasized the importance of school cricket in nurturing talented players for the national level. He also highlighted President Wickremesinghe’s commitment over the past two years to rebuilding the country’s economy. The President aims to implement an economic program that ensures a prosperous future for the country’s children within a corruption-free framework.

Mr. Ruwan Wijewardena, Presidential Adviser on Climate Change, also spoke at the event, expressing his appreciation for all those contributing to the development of future generations’ sports skills.

President of Youth Affairs and Sustainable Development Director Sachira Sarathchandra, Youth Vision 2048 Advisor Dr. Lasantha Gunawardena, Youth Vision 2048 President Dan Poddiwela, along with officials and principals from the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, sports instructors, and students, were present at the event.

(President’s Media Division)

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Maithri, Pujith, Nilantha given time till August 30 to finish payments

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The Supreme Court yesterday ordered former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP Pujith Jayasundara and former Chief of State Intelligence Service, DIG Nilantha Jayawardena to pay all the compensations stipulated by the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks before August 30.

If they fail to pay the amount before that date, the Attorney General was ordered to take the necessary steps to prosecute them before September 20 for contempt of Court for not acting according to the judgement.

Also, according to the decision of the Supreme Court, the National Police Commission was ordered to take the necessary steps to conduct a disciplinary investigation against the former head of the State Intelligence Service Nilantha Jayawardena and report to the Court about its progress on September 20 through a motion.

Meanwhile, the Court was informed that out of the Rs. 75 million ordered by the Court, former IGP Pujith Jayasundera has paid only Rs. 1.9 million.

The Court was further informed that then Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando has paid the total amount of compensation ordered by the Supreme Court.

President’s Counsel Faizer Mustapha, appearing for Maithripala Sirisena, informed the Supreme Court that his client has already paid Rs. 58 million in compensation to the victims and further requested for six years to pay the remaining Rs. 42 million in equal installments.

(dailynews.lk)

(This story, originally published by dailynews.lk has not been edited by SLM staff)

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This week’s Cabinet decisions

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A number of decisions have been taken at the Cabinet meeting held yesterday (July 15).

The decisions taken by the Cabinet of Ministers are as follows :

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