Sri Lanka State of the Media Report’s Tamil version released in Jaffna

Rebuilding Public Trust: Tamil version copies displayed at the launch in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

Rebuilding Public Trust: Tamil version copies displayed at the launch in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

Journalists, academics, politicians and civil society representatives joined the launch of Tamil language version of Sri Lanka’s Media Development Indicators (MDI) Report in Jaffna on 24 January 2017.

The report, titled Rebuilding Public Trust: An Assessment of the Media Industry and Profession in Sri Lanka, contains 101 recommendations for media sector reforms needed at different levels – in government policies, laws and regulations, as well as within the media industry, media profession and media teaching.

The report, for which I served as overall editor, is the outcome of a 14-month-long consultative process that involved media professionals, owners, managers, academics and relevant government officials. It offers a timely analysis, accompanied by policy directions and practical recommendations.

The original report was released on World Press Freedom Day (3 May 2016) at a Colombo meeting attended by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Minister of Mass Media.

The Jaffna launch event was organised by the Department of Media Studies of the University of Jaffna, the Jaffna Press Club and the National Secretariat for Media Reforms (NSMR).

Students of Jaffna University Media Studies programme with its head, Dr S Raguram, at the launch of MDI Sri Lanka Tamil version, Jaffna, 24 January 2017

Students of Jaffna University Media Studies programme with its head, Dr S Raguram, at the launch of MDI Sri Lanka Tamil version, Jaffna, 24 January 2017

Reginald Cooray, Governor of the Northern Province, in a message said: “I am sure that the elected leaders and the policy makers of this government of Good governance will seize the opportunity to make a professionally ethical media environment in Sri Lanka which will strengthen the democracy and good governance.”

He added: “The research work should be studied, appreciated and utilised by the leaders and the policy makers. Everyone who was involved in the work should be greatly thanked for their research presentation with clarity.”

Lars Bestle of International Media Support (IMS) speaks at Sri Lanka MDI Report's Tamil version launch in Jaffna, 24 January 2017

Lars Bestle of International Media Support (IMS) speaks at Sri Lanka MDI Report’s Tamil version launch in Jaffna, 24 January 2017

Speaking at the event, Sinnadurai Thavarajah, Leader of the Opposition of the Northern Provincial Council, urged journalists to separate facts from their opinions. “Media freedom is important, but so is unbiased and balanced reporting,” he said.

Lars Bestle, Head of Department for Asia and Latin America at International Media Support (IMS), which co-published the report, said: “Creating a healthy environment for the media that is inclusive of the whole country is an essential part of ensuring democratic transition.”

He added: “This assessment points the way forward. It is now up to the local actors – government, civil society, media, businesses and academia – with support from international community, to implement its recommendations.”

Nalaka Gunawardene, Consultant Editor of Sri Lanka Media Development Indicators (MDI) Report, speaks at the launch of Tamil version in Jaffna on 24 Jan 2017

Nalaka Gunawardene, Consultant Editor of Sri Lanka Media Development Indicators (MDI) Report, speaks at the launch of Tamil version in Jaffna on 24 Jan 2017

I introduced the report’s key findings and recommendations. In doing so, I noted how the government has welcomed those recommendations applicable to state policies, laws and regulations and already embarked on law review and regulatory reforms. In sharp contrast, there has been no reaction whatsoever from the media owners and media gatekeepers (editors).

Quote from 'Rebuilding Public Trust' - State of Sri Lanka's media report

Quote from ‘Rebuilding Public Trust’ – State of Sri Lanka’s media report

Dr S Raguram, Head of Media Studies at the University of Jaffna (who edited the Tamil version) and Jaffna Press Club president Ratnam Thayaparan also spoke.

The report comes out at a time when the country’s media industry and profession face multiple crises stemming from an overbearing state, unpredictable market forces and rapid technological advancements.

Balancing the public interest and commercial viability is one of the media sector’s biggest challenges today. The report says: “As the existing business models no longer generate sufficient income, some media have turned to peddling gossip and excessive sensationalism in the place of quality journalism. At another level, most journalists and other media workers are paid low wages which leaves them open to coercion and manipulation by persons of authority or power with an interest in swaying media coverage.”

Notwithstanding these negative trends, the report notes that there still are editors and journalists who produce professional content in the public interest while also abiding by media ethics. Unfortunately, their work is eclipsed by media content that is politically partisan and/or ethnically divisive.

The result: public trust in media has been eroded, and younger Lankans are increasingly turning to entirely web-based media products and social media platforms for information and self-expression. A major overhaul of media’s professional standards and ethics is needed to reverse these trends.

MDI Sri Lanka - Tamil version being presented to stakeholders in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

MDI Sri Lanka – Tamil version being presented to stakeholders in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

MDI Sri Lanka - Tamil version being presented to stakeholders in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

MDI Sri Lanka – Tamil version being presented to stakeholders in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

The Tamil report is available for free download at:

https://www.mediasupport.org/publication/rebuilding-public-trust-media-assessment-sri-lanka-tamil-language-version/

The English original report is at:

https://www.mediasupport.org/publication/rebuilding-public-trust-assessment-media-industry-profession-sri-lanka/

Read my July 2010 op-ed: [Op-ed] Major Reforms Needed to Rebuild Public Trust in Sri Lanka’s Media

Advertisements

Video: Sri Lanka’s Lost Generations: Systems Ecologist Ranil Senanayake on genepool implications of insurrection & war


Last year, I read an uncommon book with an unusually long title written by an unorthodox author.

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right and Here I am Stuck in the Middle again: 30 years of attempting policy change in Sri Lanka was an author-published volume by systems ecologist Dr Ranil Senanayake. In it, he collected some of his more noteworthy media articles and non-technical writing on forestry, biodiversity, agriculture, conservation and the broader issues of sustainable development, published over three decades.

In his Epilogue, I came across one of the most chilling passages I read that year: “It has been commented that this nation twice removed from its gene pool the genes for activism. In 1971 the government ‘removed’ up to 20,000 or more of the educated. Those who attended university, demonstrated interest in radical politics, were young or unemployed were singled out for liquidation. The next programme was in the late 1980s when over 40,000 were ‘removed’ with hardly a word being uttered in protest on any international stage…These people never passed their genes on. Genetically speaking, we removed from our race a large percentage of the traits for high intellectual potential and activism. Metaphorically it has become the time of the bottom feeders to manifest themselves as intellectuals and leaders.”

I touched on this when I filmed a long interview with Ranil (now published on Groundviews.org: read Part 1 and Part 2). Here is the short video I edited, where his expressions match the gravity of his concerns:

Reproduced below is the full transcript of this short video (11 mins). My questions posed to him have been paraphrased on-screen; his spoken answers are verbatim.

You can debate Ranil’s views either on this blog, or on Groundviews where this video is also published.

Sri Lanka’s Lost Generations: Ranil Senanayake Speaks

An Eye for an Eye?

See, in 1971 and in the late 80s, when we heard these so called JVP revolution. We went out and we killed first 20,00 mass of men, more or less. And the second time, about 40,000. Young people, children of this country. Why? Because they were a threat to the established government of this country.

Now, I can see that if there is indeed a revolution, a country must respond. But responding in this brutal manner because the response was not merely a military response, it was a response of pure terrorism. It was terrorised the whole nation.

Collateral Damage?

One story that I can share with you is that a senior person who was involved in this, in the control, at a table made the statement that “If 10% of the people that we destroy were hardcore JVPers we would have broken the back of the revolution”. This totally horrified me. It, it…I was depressed for weeks when I heard that.

It meant 90% of those people they killed were innocent. Their only ‘crime’ was they were young, they were educated and they had the fire of youth in them.

I, as a person, said I could not live in a country that kills its own people — own children — for its survival and I left, I went away for sometime. I wrote a poem which Hon Lakshman Jayakody read into the Parliament, into the Hansard, pointing out where we were going wrong, in this case.

What Have We Done?

But worse, what that action brought was the REMOVAL from our gene pool of the genes for intellect, education. The genes for revolution. The genes that would drive people forward; the genes that produced people who would fight and die for a country, for a nation. We removed this and as from my genetics, as an geneticist, you remove 60,000 children from a population as small as ours, you are taking away a large ocean of the cleverest of our population. And we shot ourselves in the foot.

This is karma vipaka, as the Buddha says. For the action ghastly action, for the action of taking away of our youth, killing our youth, removing them from our gene pool, we will have to suffer the fate of having a gene pool, well, you see what we have today…

We ALL live with the consequences…

Unfortunately, there is something else, as a Sri Lankan and as a Buddhist, which I find loathsome and that is — when ever somebody dies for whatever reason even a murderer, it is our tradition to give a dana (alms giving). First, a week after they deceased, then a month and annually. We have lost 60,000 children for our own society, for maintaining our status quo. Has anyone EVER given a Dane to these people who have departed? Up to today, no!

So is it a surprise that as a nation we suffer what we suffer? We are responsible for that and yet uptodate we are not willing to accept the responsibility for the actions we did. I think that is something that we have to deal with. Sri Lankans will have to deal with in the future to come. Because, as Buddha says, karma vipaka — for every action there is a reaction. And for that action, look what we have today.

On Sri Lanka’s Separatist War…

The separatism that came after the youth insurrection was again something that was building up for sometime. It was the similar, shall we say almost parallel, political moment that happened in the North. Where the separatism when they were talking about it on a political platform then descended into a violent struggle, if you want to call it.

I think it was, it is still pointless, but I think what most people fail to realise is that it is rooted in our history. It’s rooted in 3,000 years of history. And that is why it is so difficult for us to deal with the subject of finding a common ground, to deal with the subject of extending our hands out, to deal with the subject of trying to understand the other position, because unfortunately we are still rooted in these many, many years, thousands of years of history.

Breaking Free of History’s Grip?

It is indeed, it should be the task of the leaders and the politicians to bring us into the modern age. To demonstrate that that history is past, that we have to now forge something into the future. That involves all of us.

But our shallow politicians have chosen otherwise, from both areas, from both sectors. They have chosen division as their power, division as their source of strength, because as I told you , because of the past history this is the easiest, this is the least common denominator — this is the easiest place to go to, it’s the shallowest political refuge.

And that’s what politicians from both sides have been doing. Not looking at the future, not working towards bringing us into the future but dragging us back into the past and opening up the old wounds and the old fears that we brought along with this for all these years and capitalising on them, from both sides.

Aren’t we ALL immigrants on the island of Lanka?

Indeed, you are absolutely right! Humanity has been wandering around this planet for thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of years. People have come and people have gone. I mean, this whole question of I came first or you came first is spurious at best, I mean, this is just the refuge of a cheap politician to say I came first, you came later, you came first, I came first, this is all ridiculous…

Prisoners of Our Fathers’ Hopes & Fears?

We are prisoners of our own constructs. Or, as the song goes, “We are indeed prisoners of our father’s hopes and fears.”

Fears. Fears is where the politicians move to. Fear is what they use as their tool of power. We are trapped in this thing and until that fear is removed, and until we are educated into understanding where we are, and we are educated into understanding that there is nothing lost, in treating another human being as equal and as a brother, we are lost.

We are a nation of people who claim to live by the words of the Buddha. If we do, this would never come about. Never. So it shows as a nation a loss, it shows as a nation, that we have failed to live up to what we claim we are – Buddhists…

Dr Ranil Senanayake
Interviewed by Nalaka Gunawardene
Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 19 March 2012

Released online: June 2012
Dr Ranil Senanayake Online profile

No copyright restriction.This video may be used by anyone, anywhere.

Remembering Arthur C Clarke, the public intellectual

Cartoon by W R Wijesoma in The Observer (Sri Lanka)

Space prophet mobbed by anxious politicians: Cartoon by W R Wijesoma in The Observer (Sri Lanka)

This cartoon is nearly as old as myself! It was drawn by Sri Lanka’s leading political cartoonist W R Wijesoma and appeared in The Observer newspaper of Colombo sometime in the late 1960s (I haven’t been able to ascertain the exact date).

It shows science fiction writer (later Sir) Arthur C Clarke, already settled down in Ceylon (later Sri Lanka) and ‘Serendipitised’ enough to sport the native attire of sarong, being mobbed by the island’s leading politicians — all of them now departed — each wanting to know what he can foresee or foretell about their personal political futures.

Sir Arthur, whose 91st birth anniversary falls today, took pains to explain that science fiction writers like himself were not soothsayers with powers to predict the future. He was fond of quoting fellow SF writer Ray Bradbury’s famous saying: “People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it.”

But that kind of reason never deterred politicians of every colour and hue, who are always anxious to know just when they can get elected – or return – to high office and all the trappings of power that go with it.

To mark the birth anniversary – the first since his death in March 2008 – I have just published an op ed essay, titled Sir Arthur C Clarke: A life-long public intellectual, on Groundviews website. In this essay I explore, briefly, some of his life-long pursuits for more rational discussion and debate in public policy. I also wonder how and why he lost his struggle against Sri Lankans’ obsession with astrology.

Here’s an excerpt:

But even half a century of Arthur C Clarke could not shake Sri Lankans off their deep obsession with astrology — the unscientific belief that human destinies are somehow shaped and controlled by celestial bodies millions of kilometres away. A life-long astronomy enthusiast, he repeatedly invited astrologers to rationally explain the basis of their calculations and predictions. This challenge was craftily avoided by astrologers who continue to exercise much influence over politics, public policy, business and everyday life in Sri Lanka.

Despite his broad-mindedness, Clarke couldn’t understand how so many highly educated Sri Lankans practised astrology with a faith bordering on the religious (another topic on which he held strong views). Ironically, even the government-run technical institute named after him used astrologically chosen ‘auspicious times’ for commissioning its new buildings. In later years, Clarke would only say, jokingly: “I don’t believe in astrology; but then, I’m a Sagittarius — and we’re very sceptical.”

On a personal note, I’m truly privileged to have known and worked with both Sir Arthur Clarke and his cartoonist W R Wijesoma (who was my senior colleague at The Island newspaper which he joined at its inception in 1981). I know how much Sir Arthur liked this cartoon, the original of which he obtained from Wijesoma and preserved among dozens of other souvenirs and mementos.

Alas, Wijesoma left us in January 2006 — or he might just have drawn another brilliant cartoon to send off Sir Arthur on his final journey. In fact, a worthy follower of Wijesoma’s cartoon tradition did just that earlier this year – see this blog post of mine from March 2008: Arthur C Clarke autographing all the way to the Great Beyond….?

Read the full essay on Groundviews citizen journalism website.