One Sri Lanka Journalism Fellowship: Rebuilding Lankan Media, one journalist at a time…

In May 2016, the major new study on the media sector I edited titled Rebuilding Public Trust: An Assessment of the Media Industry and Profession in Sri Lanka, noted:

“The new government faces the daunting task of healing the wounds of a civil war which lasted over a quarter of a century and left a deep rift in the Lankan media that is now highly polarised along ethnic, religious and political lines. At the same time, the country’s media industry and profession face their own internal crises arising from an overbearing state, unpredictable market forces, rapid technological advancements and a gradual erosion of public trust.”

The report quoted Dr Ranga Kalansooriya, who worked in the print media (Sinhala and English) and later served as Director General of Sri Lanka Press Institute, as saying:

“The ethnically non-diverse newsrooms of both sides have further fuelled the polarisation of society on ethnic lines, and this phenomenon has led the media in serving its own clientele with ‘what it wants to know’ than ‘what it needs to know’.”

This is precisely what the One Sri Lanka Journalism Fellowship Program (OSLJF) has addressed, in its own small way. An initiative of InterNews, an international media development organisation, OSLJF was a platform which has brought together Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim working journalists from across the country to conceptualize and produce stories that explored issues affecting all ordinary Lankans.

From December 2015 to September 2016, some 30 full-time or freelance journalists reporting for the country’s mainstream media were supported to engage in field-based, multi-sourced stories on social, economic and political topics of public interest. They worked in multi-ethnic teams, mentored by senior Lankan journalists drawn from the media industry who gave training sessions to strengthen the skills and broaden the horizons of this group of early and mid-career journalists.

As the project ends, the participating journalists, mentors and administrators came together at an event in Colombo on 20 September 2016 to share experiences and impressions. This was more than a mere award ceremony – it also sought to explore how the learnings can be institutionalized within the country’s mainstream and new media outlets.

I was asked to host the event, and also to moderate a panel of key media stakeholders. As a former journalist who remains a columnist, blogger and media researcher, I was happy to accept this as I am committed to building a BETTER MEDIA in Sri Lanka.

Panel on Future of Sri Lankan Journalism in the Digital Age. L to R – Nalaka Gunawardene (moderator); Deepanjali Abeywardena; Dr Ranga Kalansooriya; Dr Harini Amarasuriya; and Gazala Anver

Panel on Future of Sri Lankan Journalism in the Digital Age. L to R – Nalaka Gunawardene (moderator); Deepanjali Abeywardena; Dr Ranga Kalansooriya; Dr Harini Amarasuriya; and Gazala Anver

Here are my opening remarks for the panel:

“If you don’t like the news … go out and make some of your own!” So said Wes (‘Scoop’) Nisker, the US author, radio commentator and comedian who used that line as the title of a 1994 book.

Instead of just grumbling about imperfections in the media, more and more people are using digital technologies and the web to become their own reporters, commentators and publishers.

Rise of citizen journalism and digital media start-ups are evidence of this.

BUT we cannot ignore mainstream media (MSM) in our part of the world. MSM – especially and radio broadcasters — still have vast reach and they influence public perceptions and opinions. It is VITAL to improve their professionalism and ethical conduct.

In discussing the Future of Journalism in the Digital Age today, we want to look at BOTH the mainstream media AND new media initiatives using web/digital technologies.

BOTTOMLINE: How to uphold timeless values in journalism: Accuracy, Balance, Credibility and promotion of PUBLIC INTEREST?

I posed five broad questions to get our panelists thinking:

  • What can be done to revitalize declining quality and outreach of mainstream media?
  • Why do we have so little innovation in our media? What are the limiting factors?
  • What is the ideal mix and balance of mainstream and new media for Lanka?
  • Can media with accuracy, balance and ethics survive in our limited market? If so, how?
  • What can government, professionals and civil society to do to nurture a better media?

 The panel comprised:

  • Dr Harini Amarasuriya, Senior Lecturer, Social Studies Department, Open University
  • Deepanjali Abeywardena, Head of Information and Intelligence Services at Verité Research. Coordinator of Ethics Eye media monitoring project.
  • Dr Ranga Kalansooriya, Director General, Department of Information. Former Director General, Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI).
  • Gazala Anver, editor, Roar.lk a new media platform for all things Sri Lanka
Panel on Future of Sri Lankan Journalism in the Digital Age. L to R – Nalaka Gunawardene (moderator); Deepanjali Abeywardena; Dr Ranga Kalansooriya; Dr Harini Amarasuriya; and Gazala Anver

Panel on Future of Sri Lankan Journalism in the Digital Age. L to R – Nalaka Gunawardene (moderator); Deepanjali Abeywardena; Dr Ranga Kalansooriya; Dr Harini Amarasuriya; and Gazala Anver

Earth Journalism award winners: Front-runners in the race to save the planet

Earth Journalism 2009 Award winners


“If we are to have any hope of reversing the effects of climate change, then we have a monumental task of educating the six billion people on our planet about how climate change works and what they can do to help. The media is critical in this effort, since just one reporter has the ability to reach thousands, even millions, of people. These awards help to expand and honour these vitally important efforts.”

So said Dr Rajendra Pachauri, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner and head of the UN climate panel (IPCC) at the gala ceremony in Copenhagen tonight to present the inaugural Earth Journalism Awards.

Among the other presenters were key figures on climate and environmental issues, including Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland; Marina Silva, the former environment minister of Brazil; and award-winning Chinese movie star Li Bingbing, who is also the Global Ambassador for WWF’s Earth Hour.

Nearly 1,000 journalists, bloggers and citizen reporters from 148 countries participated in the competition by submitting their work. The 15 winners were selected through a process involving a globe-spanning, independent jury with over 100 media and climate change experts. The winning reports included a Kenyan group who spread environmental information to their peers in the Nairobi slums through a hip hop video filmed atop mountains of trash, a compelling account of a small Pakistani community adapting to climate change, and an investigative report on disturbing business practices in Papua New Guinea’s carbon market.

Full list of winning entries and winners found on Earth Journalism website.

The Global Public Award, determined by thousands of online votes, went to “The Route of Smoke,” a multimedia report by Brazilian journalists Andreia Fanzeres and Cristiane Prizibisczki, who documented how customary farming practices that contribute to the country’s emissions are clashing with new methods for responsible agriculture.

“Our reporting showed how complex this issue of burning forests in the Amazon really is,” Fanzeres said. “It’s not about ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys.’ If you understand the complexities of climate change, you can start to solve the problem.”

James Fahn, Internews’ Global Director of Environmental Programs, said: “The Earth Journalism Awards were established to boost climate change coverage in this critical year leading up to Copenhagen, and to highlight the efforts of journalists reporting on this challenging subject around the world.”

10 Nov 2009: Earth Journalism Awards: Vote online for your favourite climate story!

Earth Journalism Awards: Vote online for your favourite climate story!

Earth Journalism Awards banner

Journalism as if the planet mattered...


Who speaks for the Earth?

Thirty years ago, public astronomer Carl Sagan posed this question in his trail-blazing television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. And this is how he answered it:

“Our loyalties are to the species and to the planet. We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that cosmos ancient and vast from which we spring!”

While we all can – and must – speak for our home planet, journalists covering environmental issues do that everyday as part of their job. And now, the rest of the world can vote for the year’s best efforts in this line of work.

Fifteen winners of the inaugural Earth Journalism Awards were announced this week in Paris. The organisers — Internews, an international NGO that works to empower local media worldwide — have opened the online public voting to find the winner of a 16th prize.

The finalists were selected out of some 900 journalists, bloggers and young creatives from 148 countries who registered to send in their best climate change reports from 2009 in the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next month.

earth-journalism_awards“The Earth Journalism Awards were established to boost climate change coverage in this critical year leading up to Copenhagen, and to highlight the efforts of journalists reporting on this challenging subject around the world,” says James Fahn, Internews’ Global Director of Environmental Program. “We were overwhelmed by the tremendous response we received, and would like to thank the hundreds of journalists who entered their stories for participating.”

Winning stories include: a compelling account from Pakistan of how a small coastal community is responding to the multiple challenges that climate change is already posing them; a multi-media investigation on the use and effects of fire in the Amazon; and a business report from East Africa on how Kenyan companies are missing out on the growing global carbon credits market.

They were chosen through a process involving a globe-spanning, independent jury that involved over 100 media and climate change experts. I was part of that process.

The 15 winning stories are available online, and the public now has the opportunity to vote on the Awards website, Twitter, and Facebook for the Global Public Prize – the one story or series that they think should have the attention of the negotiators in the closing days of the negotiations. Voting closes on 9 December 2009.

Watch video announcing the Earth Journalism Awards 2009:

Internews is inviting the winners of the Earth Journalism Awards to cover the negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, (COP15) December 7-18. There they will receive support from Internews to report on the negotiations to their media organizations back home. They will also attend a high profile awards ceremony, to be co-hosted by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, at the Danish Radio Hall on December 14, the eve of the final high-level negotiations. Each of the fifteen winners will receive one of the coveted regional or thematic awards as determined by the independent juries.

The Earth Journalism Awards is being implemented by Internews in association with partners that include the Government of Denmark, hosts of the negotiations; The World Bank; MTV International, the leading global broadcaster and youth brand; The Government of Italy, The V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation and the Edgerton Family Fund; Flip Video Spotlight; the Open Society Network, WWF International, The Global Canopy Programme and the Tcktcktck campaign, part of the GCCA, the international alliance of campaigning NGOs that includes Oxfam, WWF, and Greenpeace, Global Forum for Media Development and IMS.