Revisiting Mass Media Failure in Sri Lanka: What is to be done?

Science writer Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at National Policy Workshop on Prevention of Chronic Kidney Disease, held in Colombo on 16 Dec 2015

Science writer Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at National Policy Workshop on Prevention of Chronic Kidney Disease, held in Colombo on 16 Dec 2015

On 16 December 2015, I was invited by Sri Lanka’s Presidential Task Force for the Prevention of Chronic Kidney Disease to speak on this topic at the NATIONAL WORKSHOP ON PREVENTION OF CHORNIC KIDNEY DISEASE held in Colombo.

Speaking to an audience of scientists, health and agriculture sector public officials and policy makers, I briefly explored the kind of misinformation, myths and pseudo-science uncritically peddled by Lankan media.

Professor Rezvi Sheriff, Sri Lanka's top kidney specialist, chairing National Policy Workshop on CKDu in Colombo, 16 Dec 2015

Professor Rezvi Sheriff, Sri Lanka’s top kidney specialist, chairing National Policy Workshop on CKDu in Colombo, 16 Dec 2015

Scientists are researching widely on what causes the Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) in Sri Lanka that affects thousands of people (mostly farm workers) and burdens the public healthcare system. As health officials and policy makers struggle with the prolonged humanitarian emergency, unprofessional and fear-mongering media coverage often adds to public confusion and fear.

As a science writer, I have long been concerned about public communication of risk in times of distress. In late 2012, speaking at an Asian science communication workshop held in Colombo, I first coined the phrase: Mass Media Failure is complicating Mass Kidney Failure.

I revisited and updated this analysis,arguing that there are many reasons for systemic media failure in Sri Lanka that has allowed ultra-nationalists and certain environmental activists to pollute the public mind with half-truths and conspiracy theories. These need media industry level reform.

Meanwhile, for improving the CKDu information flow in society, I proposed some short, medium and long term recommendations.

Here is my full PowerPoint:

 

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