My comments (in Sinhala) on mass media’s role in disaster response, published by Ravaya broadsheet newspaper on 4 June 2017.
Summary: In the aftermath of all recent disasters in Sri Lanka, private broadcast media houses have been competing with each other to raise and deliver disaster relief. All that is well and good – except that news coverage for their own relief work often eclipses the journalistic coverage of the disaster response in general. In such a situation, where does corporate social responsibility and charity work end and opportunistic brand promotion begin? I argue that media houses must be free to embark on relief efforts, but ideally they should do so having fulfilled their primary responsibility of reporting on and critiquing the post-disaster realities. Sri Lanka’s media reporting of disasters is often superficial, simplistic and incident-driven, which needs to improve to become more investigative, reflective and sustained beyond the immediate news cycle of a disaster. Without fixing these deficiencies, media houses getting into aid collection and donation is a sign of wrong priorities.
The question has come up again after Dr Ranga Kalansooriya, Director General of the Lankan government’s Department of Information, wanted the media to give preeminence to its watchdog function and pull back from supplying relief in the aftermath of disasters.
As Dr Rohan Samarajiva, who was present at the event, noted, “Some of his comments could even be interpreted as suggestive of a need to prohibit aid caravans being organized by the media. But I do not think this will happen. The risks of being seen as stifling the natural charitable urges of the people and delaying supplies to those who need help are too high…”
Ranga raised a valid concern. In the aftermath of recent disasters in Sri Lanka, private broadcast media houses have been competing with each other to raise and deliver disaster relief. All well and good – except that coverage for their own relief work often eclipsed the journalistic coverage of the disaster response in general. In such a situation, where does corporate social responsibility and charity work end and opportunistic brand promotion begin?
For simply raising this concern in public, some broadcast houses have started attacking Ranga personally. In my latest Ravaya column (in Sinhala, appearing in the print issue of 2 October 2016), I discuss the role and priorities of media at times of disaster. I also remind Sirasa TV (the most vocal critic of Ranga Kalansooriya) that ‘shooting the messenger’ carrying unpalatable truths is not in anybody’s interest.
In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala, appearing in the print issue of 28 August 2016), I applaud the Sri Lanka government’s new solar power generation programme, and suggest ways in which it can be made more effective in securing energy independence of the nation.
The global trend, especially for domestic and small scale electricity users, is towards decentralized and distributed energy systems. In this scenario, users generate power on site, tapping into renewable sources available locally.
How can our tropical island plug into the sun, wind, trees and the ocean to meet more of our energy needs? Why don’t renewable energies produce a larger share of our energy mix? Who or what are the bottlenecks? I discuss these and other related issues in the column this week.
Self-generating electricity from renewables is slowly picking up, partly encouraged by the introduction in 2009 of net metering. This allows private individuals or companies to “sell” their surplus power to the national grid (the transaction happens in kind, not cash). A two-way electricity meter enables this process.
In August 2016, the Cabinet approved a community based solar power generation programme. Known as “Soorya Bala Sangramaya” (Battle for Solar Energy), it is expected to make at least 20% of electricity consumers to also generate electricity using solar panels – they will be able to sell their excess to the national grid under a guaranteed tariff.
Announcing the Cabinet decision, the government said: “Currently 50% of electricity production in Sri Lanka is done by renewable energy sources and it is expected to increase this percentage to 60% in 2020 and to 70% in 2030. Accordingly, it is required to build wind power plants of 600 MW and solar power plants of 3,000 MW within the next 10 years. It is expected to join consumers in power generation and to promote small solar power plants established on the roof of their houses by the project called ‘Soorya Bala Sangramaya’. It is expected to make at least 20% of consumers to produce electricity and it is expected pay for the excess electricity generated by the consumer.”
The fearless and politically engaged Buddhist monk stood up to every Lankan head of state beginning with President J R Jayewardene (in office: 1977-1988). He never hesitated or minced his words when he sensed that elected leaders were overstepping their mandate.
For over four decades, Sobitha used his powerful oratorical and organisational skills to mobilise people into peaceful political resistance. He won some battles and lost others, but never stopped fighting for people’s rights. With every struggle, he became more resolute and resourceful.
At certain times, this monk was more formidable – and also more feared by rulers – than the divided and endlessly bickering opposition political parties of Sri Lanka.
To my mind, Sobitha was like a saffron version of Desmond Tutu, the Anglican cleric who became an unstoppable force for social justice, equality and political reforms in South Africa. Both used their oratory and sense of justice to fight for all oppressed people. Neither sought any personal gains from it.
See also my tribute in English, published by Groundviews.org
In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala), published on 9 November 2014, I reflect on the recent landslide in Meeriyabedda, Koslanda, Sri Lanka on 29 October. The disaster wiped out an entire settlement of plantation workers whose houses were built on a hill already identified as prone to landslide hazards.
I discuss landslide hazard mapping being done for two decades by National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) and ask what failures in risk communication led to this preventable tragedy. I also quote NBRO scientists as saying how climate change and resulting increase in extreme rainfall events can trigger more landslides.
In this week’s Ravaya column, in Sinhala, I further explore the origins and evolution of Sri Lanka Eye Donation movement, with emphasis on its founder and leader for 40 years, Dr Hudson Silva (1929-1999).
Who is a citizen journalist? Does everyone who blogs and tweets automatically become one? If not, who qualifies? Who judges this on what criteria? And what niche in media and public sphere do citizen journalists fill when compared with salaried journalists working for more institutionalised or mainstream media?
These have been debated for years, and there is no global consensus. They are belatedly being asked and discussed in Sri Lanka, and form the basis of my latest Ravaya column (in Sinhala).
My views were summed up sometime ago in this comment I left on a blog:“Just as journalism is too important to be left solely to full-time, salaried journalists, citizen journalism is too important to be left simply to irresponsible individuals with internet access who may have opinions (and spare time) without the substance or clarity to make those opinions count.”