As a journalist, I was trained to look for what’s New, True and Interesting (‘NTI Test’). Early on, I went beyond just reporting events, and probed the underlying causes and processes. With experience, I can now offer my audiences something more: perspective and seasoned opinion. These are needed today more than ever as we wade through massive volumes of information, trying to make sense of it all.
I’ve been privileged to chronicle and comment on the closing decade of the 20th Century and the opening one of the 21st – years of unprecedented change, and considerable turmoil, in my country (Sri Lanka), region (Asia) and the world. In my chosen areas of science, technology and sustainable development, changes have happened at a dazzling and often bewildering speed.
As a science writer and development film maker, I work with researchers, activists and officials across Asia who struggle to balance ecological concerns with economic development imperatives. I call myself a ‘critical cheer-leader’ of their efforts. Through TVE Asia Pacific, SciDev.Net and my other affiliations, I seek to enhance the public understanding of complex issues and choices required in pursuing sustainable development.
I sometimes feel a strange kinship with the ancient Greeks, who first asked some fundamental questions about the universe. They didn’t always get the answers right, and neither do I. But it is very important that we question and critique progress – I do so with an open mind, enthusiasm and optimism. On some occasions, this involves asking uncomfortable questions that irk those in positions of power and authority. In that sense, I sometimes play the role of that little boy who told the Emperor had no clothes on. (Does anyone know what happened to the boy after that?).
This is the basic premise for a new weekly newspaper column I am writing from this month in the Sinhala weekend newspaper Ravaya. A few weeks ago, the executive editor of Ravaya invited me to write a regular column, which I accepted after some hesitation. My hesitation was not about them; it was about my own ability to express myself in Sinhala, a language I studied more than a quarter century ago, but have not worked in for over 20 years. But I’ve decided to take it on as a challenge, and see how far I can go and how well I can write on topics and issues that are close to my heart: science, technology, environment and development. The first column has just appeared in the Ravaya issue for 6 Feb 2011.
I have been a regular reader of Ravaya in all its 25 years of publication. As I wrote in a book review last year: “It is an extraordinary publication that has, for nearly a quarter of a century, provided a platform for vibrant public discussion and debate on social and political issues. It does so while staying aloof of political party loyalties and tribal divisions. While it cannot compete directly (for circulation) with newspapers published by the state or press barons, this sober and serious broadsheet commands sufficient influence among a loyal and discerning readership.”
Published by a company owned by journalists themselves, Ravaya is almost unique among Lankan newspapers for another reason: its columnists and other contributors are allowed to take positions that are radically different from those of its formidable editor, Victor Ivan. I’m not sure how soon I will get to test this, but such pluralism is very rare in today’s mainstream media in Sri Lanka.