සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #160: දේශපාලන සන්නිවේදනයෙ ටෙලිවිෂන් සාධකය

“Of all the institutions arrayed with and against a President, none controls his fate more than television,” President Richard Nixon wrote in 1989, some 16 years after he resigned.

TV reporters, he said, in many ways “are political actors just like the President, mindful of their ratings, careful of preserving and building their power.” The media, he wrote, “have to be outfoxed, outflanked and outperformed.”

As Los Angeles Times noted shortly after Nixon’s 1994  death, his relationship with broadcast television was an especially chequered one. But then, many politicians around the world struggle on how get the best out of this pervasive yet demanding medium that can make or break a political career in our media saturated times.

In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala language), I look at how Lankan politicians across the political spectrum have risen to this challenge. It’s a fair question to ask now that we’ve had broadcast TV for 35 years, and our first ‘Television Generation’ has grown up — and some of them are active in politics. I haven’t seen this aspect explored in academic writing, but hope my views inspire more detailed study of this fascinating topic…

Cartoons are by my one-time senior colleague W R Wijesoma.

Cartoon by W R Wijesoma, first published in The Island on 24 January 1989

Politicians playing havoc on TV: Cartoon by W R Wijesoma, first published in The Island on 24 January 1989

ජනතාවගේ ඡන්දයෙන් පාර්ලිමේන්තුවට, පළාත් සභාවලට හෝ පළාත් පාලන ආයතනවලට තේරී පත්වීමේ ක‍්‍රියාදාමය අද අපේ රටේ මැතිවරණ පොරයක් බවට පත්ව තිබෙනවා.  එහිදී අපේක්‍ෂකයන් යම් ප‍්‍රතිඥා හා පොරොන්දු මාලාවක් ඉදිරිපත් කිරිමත්, ඒවාගේ ගුණාගුණ විවාදයට ලක් කිරීමත් පුළුල්ව කැරෙනවා.

පත‍්‍රකලාවේදී මලල්ගොඩ බන්දුතිලක සූරීන් ලියූ ‘ශ‍්‍රී ලංකාවේ මැතිවරණ පුරාණය’  ග‍්‍රන්ථයට අනුව මෙරට ඡන්දයෙන් නියෝජිතයන් තෝරා ගැනීම ඇරඹුණේ 1911දී.  එහෙත් මුළු ලංකාවට ම ඡන්ද කොට්ඨාශ 4කින් පටන් ගත් මැතිවරණ ක‍්‍රමවේදය පුළුල් වූයේ 1931දී සර්වජන ඡන්දය ලැබීමෙන් පසුවයි. 1947 මහ මැතිවරණය තෙක් දේශපාලන පක්‍ෂ වශයෙන් තරග කිරීම වෙනුවට අපේක්‍ෂකයන් තමන්ගේ පසුබිම හා ජනප‍්‍රියත්වය මත ඡන්ද දිනා ගැනීම සිදු වූවා.

1947න් පසු දේශපාලන පක්‍ෂ වශයෙන් සංවිධානගත වී මැතිවරණ තරග කිරීම බහුලව කෙරුණත් ජනකාන්ත චරිත පෙරමුණට ගැනීම දශක ගණනක් තිස්සේ මෙරට මැතිවරණ ව්‍යාපාරවල පැවති ලක්‍ෂයක්.

20 වන සියවසේ මැතිවරණවලට සාපේක්‍ෂව වත්මන් මැතිවරණ ව්‍යාපාර ශෛලියෙන් හා ක‍්‍රමවේදයෙන් වෙනස් වන්නේ කෙසේ ද?  (අප කථා කරන්නේ දේශපාලන සංස්කෘතිය ගැන නොවෙයි.)

මැතිවරණ සඳහා නවීන සන්නිවේදන මාධ්‍ය හා තාක්‍ෂණයන් සූක්‍ෂම ලෙස යොදා ගැනීම වඩාත් ප‍්‍රබලව මතුව තිබෙනවා.  මෙරට වඩාත් සමාජගත වූ ජන මාධ්‍යය වන ටෙලිවිෂන්, මැතිවරණවලට හා දේශපාලන ප‍්‍රතිරූප ගොඩනැංවීමේදී කෙතරම් වැදගත් සාධකයක් ද? (නිල සංඛ්‍යා ලේඛන මගින් තහවුරු වන පරිදි තව දුරටත් රේඩියෝව නාගරිකව හෝ ග‍්‍රාමීයව හෝ අංක එක තැනෙහි නැහැ!)

මේ ගැන මෙරට විද්වත් පර්යේෂණ කෙරී ඇත්දැයි මා විපරම් කළත් එබදු සොයා ගැනීම් ප‍්‍රකාශිතව නැහැ.  ටෙලිවිෂන් ආගමනයෙන් 35 වසරක් ගෙවී ඇති නිසා මේ පැතිකඩට මාධ්‍ය හා සමාජ විද්‍යා පර්යේෂකයන් අවධානය යොමු කළ යුතු යයි මා සිතනවා. එයට තුඩු දිය හැකි මූලික අදහස් දැක්වීමක් අද කරනවා.

ජාතික මට්ටමේ මැතිවරණවලට තරග කරන දේශපාලන පක්‍ෂවලටත්, ජනාධිපතිවරණ අපේක්‍ෂකයන්ටත් රාජ්‍ය රේඩියෝ හා ටෙලිවිෂන් ගුවන් කාලය ලබා දීම කලෙක සිට ක‍්‍රියාත්මක වනවා.  එහෙත් පෞද්ගලික ටෙලිවිෂන් නාලිකා රැසක් තිබෙන අද කාලේ වැඩිපුර ප‍්‍රතිරූප ගොඩනැංවෙන්නේ ටෙලිවිෂන් සංවාද හා ප‍්‍රවෘත්ති ආවරණය හරහායි.

හැම දේශපාලන පක්‍ෂයටම හා දේශපාලන චරිතයටම එක සේ පෞද්ගලික ටෙලිවිෂන් ආවරණය ලැබෙන්නේ නැහැ.  (එයට පසුබිම් වන විසමතා හා එහි දිගු කාලීන විපාක වෙනම විග‍්‍රහ කළ යුතුයි.)  එසේම කෙතරම් ගුවන් කාලයක් ලැබුණත් එයින් හරිහැටි ඵල නෙලා ගැනීමට කුසලතාවය නැති චරිත ද සිටිනවා.  මෙය අපට වඩා දිගු ටෙලිවිෂන් ඉතිහාසයක් ඇති ඇමරිකාව, යුරෝපය හා ජපානය වැනි සමාජයන්හි ද හමු වන විසමතාවයක්.

‘ටෙලිවිෂන් යුගයේ මුල්ම ජන නායකයා’ හැටියට පිළිගැනෙන ජෝන් එෆ්. කෙනෙඩි ගැන 2013 නොවැම්බර් 24 වනදා කොලමින් විග‍්‍රහ කළා. කෙනෙඩිගේ මාධ්‍ය ආදර්ශය එදා මෙදා තුර ලොව පුරා දේශපාලකයන් සමීපව අධ්‍යයනය කරනවා.  සහජ හැකියාව, වාග්චාතුර්යය, සුහද බව, හාස්‍යජනක බව හා අවශ්‍ය පමණට ගැඹුරුවීම වැනි ගුණාංග රැසක සියුම් සංකලනයක් කෙනෙඩිගේ සාර්ථකත්වයට හේතු වූවා.

John F Kennedy (left) and Ronand Reagan

John F Kennedy (left) and Ronand Reagan

පසු කලෙක මාධ්‍ය හරහා හෘදයාංගම ලෙස සිය ජනතාවට සමීප වීමට සමත් ලෝක නායකයන් අතර රොනල්ඞ් රේගන් හා නෙල්සන් මැන්ඩෙලා කැපී පෙනුණා.  වචයක්වත් මුවින් නොබැන, නවීන සන්නිවේදන මාධ්‍ය සියුම් හා සංවේදී ලෙස හැසිර වීම හරහා මැන්ඩෙලා ලෝකයට අගනා සන්නිවේදන පාඩමක් කියා දුන් හැටි 2013 ඔක් 20 වනදා කොලමින් අප කථා කළා.

දකුණු ආසියාවේ රාජීව් ගාන්ධි, බෙනාසීර් භූතෝ හා මොහමඞ් නෂීඞ් ටෙලිවිෂන් ජය ගත් නායකයන් බව මගේ තක්සේරුවයි.  රාජ්‍ය බලය හෝ ව්‍යාපාරික සහයෝගය හෝ හරහා වැඩි ගුවන් කාලයක් තමන්ට ලබා ගන්නවා වෙනුවට සූක්‍ෂමව හා නිර්මාණශීලිව ටෙලිවිෂන් මාධ්‍යය මෙහෙයවීමේ කලාව මේ නායකයන් දැන සිටියා.

(බෙනාසිර්ගේ ටෙලිවිෂන් ප‍්‍රධානියා හා නෂීඞ්ගේ මාධ්‍ය උපදේශකවරයා මුණ ගැසී මා කථාබහ කොට තිබෙනවා.  ඔවුන් දෙපල ම කීවේ කෙතරම් ධනයක් හා තාක්‍ෂණයක් තිබුණත් අවසන් විනිශ්චයේදී තම දේශපාලන නායකයන් ජනතාවට සමීප වූයේ ඒ සාධක නිසා නොව සහජ හැකියාව හා ආයාසයෙන් ප‍්‍රගුණ කර ගත් ටෙලිවිෂන් හරහා ජනතාව ඇමතීමේ හැකියාව නිසා බවයි.)

ටෙලිවිෂන් හරහා දේශපාලනය විද්‍යාවකට වඩා කලාවක්.  එය මුළුමනින් ශාස්ත‍්‍රාලීය පර්යේෂණ හරහා තේරුම් ගැනීම අපහසුයි. ‘ටෙලිවිෂන් අත් ගුණය’ කියා යමක් සමහර දේශපාලකයන්ට හා ජන නායකයන්ට තිබේ යයි මට සිතෙනවා. ඉංග‍්‍රීසි බසින් media savvy කියනවා (මාධ්‍ය භාවිතයේ බුහුටි බව).

ටෙලිවිෂන් හරහා ජනහද දිනන්නට රූපකාය හා වාග් චාතුර්යය පමණක් සෑහෙන්නේ නැහැ. Charisma යයි ඉංගී‍්‍රසියෙන් කියන සිත් ඇද ගන්නා ජනකාන්ත ගුණය ද තිබිය යුතුයි. එයටත් වඩා තීරණාත්මක වන්නේ නිර්ව්‍යාජ වූ මිත‍්‍රශීලී බවක් තිබීමයි. එය ආයාසයෙන් මතු කර ගන්නට අමාරුයි. සමහරුන්ට එය සොබාවයෙන් පිහිටනවා.

මහජන රැස්වීම් වේදිකාවල ජනයා අමතන ආකාරයට වඩා බෙහෙවින් වෙනස් ශෛලියක් ටෙලිවිෂන් මාධ්‍යයේදී යොදා ගත යුතුයි. ටෙලිවිෂන් කැමරාව කෙනකුගේ මුහුණේ සමීප දසුන් හසු කර ගන්නට සමත්. එහිදී ආවේගයන් ප‍්‍රබල ලෙස ඉස්මතු කැරෙනවා.

එසේ ම වේදිකාවල උද්වේගකර ලෙසින් කථා කළ හැකි වුවත් ටෙලිවිෂන් මාධ්‍යයේදී හැකි තාක් සිනහ බරිතව, සැහැල්ලූවෙන් හා හෘදයංගම ලෙසින් කථා කිරීම අවශ්‍යයි. මන්ද යත් පේ‍්‍රක්‍ෂකයන් සමූහ වශයෙන් නොව තනි තනිව විසිත්ත කාමරවල හෝ වෙනත් තැන්වල සිට එය නරඹන නිසා.

අපේ රටේත්, වෙනත් පෙර අපර දෙදිග බොහෝ රටවලත් ජන නායකයන්ට මේ දෙආකාරයේ කථා ශෛලිය පවත්වා ගැනීම අපහසුයි. අපේ තරුණ දේශපාලකයෝ පවා වේදිකා ඇමතුම් ශෛලිය ටෙලිවිෂන් මාධ්‍යයටත් යොදා ගන්නට තැත් කොට අසාර්ථක වනවා.

W R Wijesoma's cartoon in The Island - 18 March 1982

W R Wijesoma’s cartoon in The Island – 18 March 1982

මෙරට ටෙලිවිෂන් මාධ්‍යය ඇරැඹෙන විට රාජ්‍ය නායකයා වූයේ ජනාධිපති ජේ. ආර්. ජයවර්ධන. මුල් ටෙලිවිෂන් දශකය පමණ ගෙවී ගියේ ඔහුගේ පාලන කාලයේ වුවත් ඔහු ටෙලිවිෂන් සමඟ එතරම් ගනුදෙනු කළේ නැහැ. ඉඳහිට ටෙලිවිෂන් සාකච්ඡාවක් කළ විට පවා සැහැල්ලූවෙන් නොසිටි බව මට මතකයි.

කොටින්ම කියතොත් ජේ. ආර්. ජනතාවට හෘදයාංගම ලෙස ඇමතීමේ හැකියාව තිබූ නායකයෙක් නොවෙයි. ඔහුගේ මුල් බස වූ ඉංග‍්‍රීසියෙන් පවා ඔහුට තිබුණේ ගාම්භීර හා ශාස්ත‍්‍රීය මට්ටමේ ශෛලියක්.

ඔහුගේ කැබිනට් ඇමතිවරුන් අතර විවිධාකාර දක්ෂයන් රැසක් සිටියත් ටෙලිවිෂන් මාධ්‍යයට මනා ලෙසින් අනුගත වූයේ (මාධ්‍ය භාර) රාජ්‍ය ඇමති හා කථානායක ආදී තනතුරු දැරූ ආනන්දතිස්ස ද අල්විස්. ඔහු ද්විභාෂා දක්ෂයෙක්. එමෙන්ම සැහැල්ලූවෙන්, විහිළුවෙන් හරබර දේ කීමේ හැකියාව ඔහුට තිබුණා.

Dr. Ananda Tissa De Alwis Stampශ‍්‍රී ලංකාවේ ටෙලිවිෂන් පරිණාමය විමසිලිමත්ව බලා සිටින මා මෙරට ටෙලිවිෂන් ජය ගත් මුල් ම දේශපාලකයා ලෙස සලකන්නේ ඔහුයි. ටෙලිවිෂන් කැමරාව දෙස බලා ගෙන, සමීප හිතවතෙකු සමඟ පිළිසඳරේ යෙදෙන ආකාරයෙන් කථා කිරීමේ හැකියාව ඔහු ඉක්මනින් ප‍්‍රගුණ කළා. වේදිකා කථා කිරීමේ ශෛලියට වඩා මෙය ඉතා වෙනස් වන බව ඔහු හඳුනා ගත්තා.

ආනන්දතිස්ස ද අල්විස්ගේ ටෙලිවිෂන් හැකියාව උරගා බැලූණු එක් අවස්ථාවක් මට හොඳට මතකයි. 1983 ජූලි ඛේදවාචකයේ අවසන් අදියර එළඹෙද්දී රටේ ජනතාව සන්සුන් කිරීමට රජය වෙනුවෙන් රට ඇමතුවේ ඔහුයි. කොළඹට කිසිදු කොටි ප‍්‍රහාරයක් එල්ල නොවූ බවත්, එකම කොටියන් සිටියේ දෙහිවල සත්තු වත්තේ බවත් කියමින් එබඳු සංවේගදායක හා සංත‍්‍රාසමය මොහොතක පවා ටෙලිවිෂන් හරහා රට වැසියන් අස්වැසීමට ඔහු උත්සාහ ගත්තා.

මෙරටට ටෙලිවිෂන් හඳුන්වා දෙන අවධියේ මුල් තැන ගෙන කි‍්‍රයා කළ රාජ්‍ය නිලධාරියා වූ ආචාර්ය සරත් අමුණුගම පසු කලෙක සකි‍්‍රය දේශපාලනයට පිවිසුණා. ආනන්දතිස්ස ද අල්විස්ට පසු ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ දේශපාලකයන් අතර ටෙලිවිෂන් හරහා හදවත් ඇමතීමේ හා ලයාන්විත තර්කනයේ කුසලතාව හොදින් ම ප‍්‍රගුණ කර ඇත්තේ ආචාර්ය අමුණුගමයි.

ඔහු කියන දෙයට අප එකඟ වුවත් නැතත් ඔහුගේ දේහ චලනය, මුහුණේ මදහාසය හා කටහඬ පාලනය තරුණ දේශපාලකයන් හා අනෙකුත් ජනමතයට බලපෑම් කිරීමට කැමති කොයි කවුරුත් සමීපව අධ්‍යයනය කිරීම වටිනවා.

ජනාධිපති පේ‍්‍රමදාස චතුර වේදිකා කථිකයෙකු වුවත් සිය කථා ශෛලිය ටෙලිවිෂන් අවශ්‍යතා සඳහා වෙනස් කර ගත්තේ නැහැ. නමුත් ටෙලිවිෂන් මාධ්‍යයේ බලය වටහා ගත් ඔහු හැම නාලිකාවක ම ප‍්‍රවෘත්ති ආවරණයේ අධි නියෝජනයක් නිල බලයෙන් ලබා ගත්තා. මෙය කාටූන් ශිල්පී ඩබ්ලිව්. ආර්. විජේසෝම සූරීන් වරක් සියුම් ලෙස උපහාසයට ලක් කළා.

Cartoon by W R Wijesoma, first published in The Island on 3 March 1993

Cartoon by W R Wijesoma, first published in The Island on 3 March 1993

දේශපාලන වේදිකා මෙන්ම විද්වත් සභාවලදීත් තැනේ හැටියට කථිකත්වය වෙනස් කිරීමේ හපනුන් වූ අනුර බණ්ඩාරනායක, ලලිත් ඇතුළත්මුදලි හා ගාමිණී දිසානායක වැනි අය ද ටෙලිවිෂන් මාධ්‍යයේ හෘදයාංගම ශෛලිය හරිහැටි හසු කර ගත්තේ නැහැ.

මෙය මෙරට පමණක් නොව ලොව බොහෝ රටවල අත්දුටු සත්‍යයක්. සජීව සභාවල චතුර හා උද්වේගකර කථිකයන්ට ටෙලිවිෂන් මැදිරියක අජීවී ටෙලිවිෂන් කැමරාව දෙස බලා ගෙන එය හරහා රටක් පුරා විසිරී පේ‍්‍රක්‍ෂක පිරිසක් සාර්ථක ලෙස ඇමතීමේ සුවිශේෂි හැකියාව බොහෝ විට ලබා ගැනීම අපහසු වනවා.

දැනට සකි‍්‍රය දේශපාලනයේ සිටින අයගේ ටෙලිවිෂන් කථන හැකියාව වෙන් වෙන්ව ඇගැයීමට මා කැමති නැහැ. අපේ පළමුවන ටෙලිවිෂන් පරම්පරාවේ සාමාජිකයන් ගණනාවක් ද දේශපාලනයේ නියැලෙනවා. 1980 හා 1990 දශකවල ටෙලිවිෂන් සමග හැදුණු වැඩුණු පමණට ම මේ සැම අයකුම දක්‍ෂ ටෙලිවිෂන් සන්නිවේදකයන් වන්නේ නැහැ.

දේශපාලන සංවාදවලදි විනීතව, සිනහ බරිතව, උපහාසාත්මකව කථා කිරීමේ හැකියාව තියුණු කර ගත් තරුණ දේශපාලකයන් කිහිප දෙනකු සිටිනු පෙනෙනවා. එමෙන්ම වේදිකාවක හා ටෙලිවිෂනයේ වෙනස නොහඳුනන, ටෙලිවිෂන් හරහා අනවශ්‍ය ලෙසින් කෑ මොර දෙන තරුණ දේශපාලකයන් ද සිටිනවා.

21 වන සියවසේ ජන ජීවිතය වඩාත් විද්්‍යුත් හා වෙබ් මාධ්‍යවලට සමීප වෙද්දී සාම්ප‍්‍රදායික දේශපාලන රැස්වීම් හා වේදිකා කථාවල සාපේක්ෂ වැදගත්කම කෙමෙන් අඩු වී යනවා. එළැඹෙන වසර හා දශකවල දේශපාලනයේ වඩාත් තීරණාත්මක සාධකය වනු ඇත්තේ තම අදහස් හා ප‍්‍රතිපත්ති මාධ්‍ය හරහා වඩාත් විශ්වසනීය ලෙසත්, චිත්තාකර්ෂණීය ලෙසත් සන්නිවේදනයේ හැකියාවයි.

මෙය මුදල් වියදම් කිරීමෙන් පමණක් ලබා ගත හැක්කක් නොවෙයි. මහා ලොකුවට මාධ්‍ය හරහා තම ප‍්‍රචාරණය ගෙන ගිය සමහර ධනවත් දේශපාලකයෝ යළි යළිත් මෙරට ඡන්දදායකයන් විසින් ප‍්‍රතික්‍ෂෙප කොට තිබෙනවා.

අනාගත දේශපාලනයට ගෙයින් ගෙට යාම හෝ පෝස්ටර්, බැනර්, කටවුට් ගැසීමට වඩා ටෙලිවිෂන් හා වෙබ් හරහා ජන හදට සමීප වීමේ හැකියාව  ඕනෑ වන බව නම් පැහැදිලියි.

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The Island President: New film profiles Mohamed Nasheed at the Frontline of Climate Justice

When it comes to climate change, we're all Maldivians!

President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives is an articulate, passionate climate witness on behalf of his endangered island nation of 350,000 people. The technocratic and amiable President is one of the youngest heads of state in the world today. The one-time freelance journalist (who worked with and for various media when he was in political exile) remains very accessible to the international media. He knows the power of old and new media — and how to leverage it for his cause.

I admit to being a Nasheed fan. During the past couple of years, I have blogged about, interviewed and made a short film about President Nasheed. In the less than three years he has been in office, he has faced more than his fair share of economic and political challenges at home, but he has never lost sight of the long-term, bigger issue of climate change advocacy.

And now, his global status as the ‘rock star of climate change’ is enhanced by ‘The Island President’, a 90-minute, feature-style major documentary about him produced by a leading American production company, Actual Films. The film is to be released this summer at various film festivals. I can’t wait to catch it.

The Island President has been in the making for nearly two years. The film makers had exclusive access to the President both in his island nation and on his international travels.

The Island President: Official Trailer

The official Synopsis reads: “The Island President is a a dramatic feature documentary that lifts the issue of global warming out of the theoretical and into the personal. President Mohamed Nasheed is trying to save 385,000 people from drowning. His nation of 1,200 low-lying islands, the Maldives, is sinking into the Indian Ocean as sea levels rise due to global warming.

“With a young, charismatic South Asian leader updating a role once played by Jimmy Stewart, The Island President is like a non-fiction Mr. Smith Goes to Washington elevated to the world stage. Actual Films has secured exclusive access to follow President Nasheed as he prepares over the coming months for the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit in December. The terms of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty on Climate Change are about to expire, and leaders from around the world will converge on Copenhagen to hammer out a new treaty with renewed urgency. As the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy acknowledged, “the December days in Copenhagen in 2009 will be…a political thriller on an international scale.” The Summit will be an international showdown where President Nasheed will try to convince world leaders to finally take serious action against looming danger of climate change. The stakes couldn’t be higher-President Nasheed sees this as the last chance to save his homeland, and the world.”

The Island President is a co-production involving Actual Films, AFTERIMAGE PUBLIC MEDIA and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Read about the film makers: Jon Shenk, Director; Bonni Cohen, Producer; and Richard Berge, Producer.

October 2009: President Mohamed Nasheed: Encounter with a genial climate crusader…

President Nasheed knows what to say and how to say it to the eager media...

Asian Tsunami+5: It’s governance, stupid!

Kalutara beach in south-western Sri Lanka before & during the 2004 tsunami - Satellite image courtesy Digital Globe

This montage of satellite images was taken by the DigitalGlobe Quickbird satellite. It shows a portion of the south-western coast of Sri Lanka, in Kalutara, some 40km south of the capital Colombo. The lower image was taken on Sunday 26 December 2004, at 10.20 am local time, shortly after the moment of impact of the Indian Ocean tsunami that wreaked havoc in South and Southeast Asia that day. For comparison, we have an image of the same location on a normal day a few months earlier.

The tsunami was one of the most widely photographed and videographed disasters in history. In fact, it marked a turning point for citizen journalism in Asia.

For many of us in the media and communication sectors, this was the biggest story of our lives. Because the killer waves hit numerous coastal locations in several countries, this disaster’s ‘Ground Zero’ was scattered far and wide. Not even the largest news organisations could see, hear and capture everything. Everyone had to choose.

And not just geographically, but thematically too, the tsunami’s impact was felt across sectors, issues and concerns. That provided both ample scope and many challenges for journalists, aid workers and others who rushed to the multiple scenes of disaster.

But there was a downside. Because the tsunami’s scale was so vast and its effects spread so wide, no single individual or organisation could comprehend the full picture for months. For many of us in the Indian Ocean rim, culturally unfamiliar with tsunamis, it was as if a Godzilla had stomped through our coasts. Grasping the full, strange phenomenon was hard.

Countries affected by 2004 Dec tsunami - map courtesy BBC

Journalists, professionally trained to hastily produce ‘first drafts of history’, found it a bit like being close to a huge tapestry still being woven: we all absorbed parts of the unfolding complexity. We reported or analysed those elements that held our interest. But we were too close, and too overwhelmed, for much perspective.

Five years on, we can ‘zoom out’ more easily to see the bigger picture. When I do, one overarching factor stands out as the most important and lasting lesson of the tsunami: the need for better governance.

The absence of good governance was at the root of most major stories about the tsunami. It cut across every level in our societies — politics, public institutions, corporate sector, humanitarian agencies, academia and civil society.

This is the thrust of my latest op ed essay, written in time for the tsunami’s fifth anniversary being marked today. I briefly recall three aspects of the tsunami that I covered as a journalist — early warnings, deluge of aid and environmental lessons — to show how the absence of governance aggravated matters in each case.

The lesson is not simply one of academic interest: it holds many practical, survival level implications. I end by quoting Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, who argues that democracy and good governance are also the most important elements in climate change adaptation.

Read the full essay online:
Media Helping Media (UK): Tsunami five years on – the lessons learned
OneWorld.Net (UK): The big lesson of the tsunami: better governance
DNA newspaper (India: condensed version): The Tsunami Effect
Groundviews.org: Better governance – The Biggest Lesson of 2004 Tsunami
Himal Southasian Online edition: Better Governance: The biggest lesson of 2004 tsunami
The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka): Better Governance: The biggest lesson of 2004 tsunami

When it comes to climate change, we are all Maldivians!

It was Woody Allen who said ‘Ninety per cent of life is just showing up’. Well, part of the remaining 10 per cent must involve waving our hands and speaking out in this increasingly attention-challenged world.

My organisation, TVE Asia Pacific, lacks both a travel budget and a promotional budget. So I need to be both resourceful and persevering when showcasing our work in the vast Asia Pacific region and beyond. I attempt this by turning myself into a one-man cheering squad for our work in the public interest. (If this makes me something of a self-promoter, so be it!).

I was very grateful when our friends in Greenaccord accommodated my last minute request to screen our latest short film Small Islands – Big Impact at their 7th international media forum in Viterbo, Italy, today. This is what I recently made in the Maldives, one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to sea level rise.

I presented this at the end of the fourth day, soon after the gathering of 130 journalists and scientists from 55 countries had listened to 10 Climate Witnesses who travelled from far corners of the world to share their stories of ground level changes induced by climate change.

Here is what I said introducing the film:

Small and low lying island states are on the frontline of impact from climate change. That is why we made this film, so that we can highlight the plight of the Maldives in various climate related discussions around the world.

It is based on an exclusive interview that President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives gave me in August 2009. In this wide-ranging interview, he shared his concerns and visions for his island nation.

President Nasheed is an articulate, passionate climate witness on behalf of his endangered island nation of 325,000 people. The technocratic and amiable President is one of the youngest heads of state in the world today. Interestingly, he worked as a freelance journalist when he was in exile for several years, and remains very accessible to the international media.

As a journalist and broadcaster, I’ve been covering this story for over 20 years, from the late 1980s. I have seen how the vulnerability of small island states – like the Maldives – has risen up in the international discussions on climate. Sustained reporting by journalists has played a significant role in this process.

We have unfinished business. As President Nasheed says so emphatically, we are in this together. We need to work on coping and survival strategies.

When it comes to climate change, we are all Maldivians.

This is the second time a TVEAP film has been showcased at a Greenaccord event. In October 2006, the post-tsunami Asian environmental series The Greenbelt Reports was previewed at the 4th Greenaccord Forum.

‘Small Islands – Big Impact’ film making waves in the world’s Biggest Polluter…

Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Dilrukshi Handunnetti: Making waves

My good friend Dilrukshi Handunnetti, a leading investigative journalist in Sri Lanka, is currently on a Jefferson Fellowship traveling in the United States. She is one of a dozen journalists from the Asia Pacific who have been competitively chosen to participate in this prestigious programme, which in 2009 is focusing on the theme, The Right Climate for Confronting Climate Change?

I finished my latest climate film, Small Islands – Big Impact, only the day before Dilrukshi left for Hawaii, her first stop in the multi-destination, intensive programme. Given her long standing coverage of the Maldivian political affairs as well as Asian/global environmental issues, I gave her a DVD of the film to take along.

I’m delighted to hear that she has been showing Small Islands – Big Impact in various presentations, often producing a…big impact wherever it was shared. It’s always good to have such feedback — here’s an excerpt from an email she has just sent me from Boulder, Colorado:

“I liked presenting your short film and the response it generated. The film generated a discussion on promoting the concept of (climate) adaptation as a human right – just as I felt it would be such a catch phrase here. I also had the (media coverage of) the underwater Cabinet meeting with me. So Maldives got a lot of attention despite not having a Maldivian here.

“Several wanted to know about the actual risk level of the Maldives and the possibility of the islands being submerged. They also asked about purchasing land elsewhere and whether the Maldives had the financial capability to do that. Others wanted to know about depleting fish catch President Nasheed spoke about as this was a common concern to Indonesia, Southern India and Vietnam.

President Nasheed

President Nasheed: Stop pointing fingers, extend a helping hand...

“Some queried whether President Nasheed was going to Copenhagen to state his case. Two others asked whether lobby groups were behind his thinking. Several found, including American, Chinese and Indian participants, that President Nasheed’s call to end the blame game should be heeded by all. There was collective agreement that others’ behaviour impacted on the likes of President Nasheed and vulnerable communities.

“Interestingly, everyone found his interview a STORY. Something that they would want to report on in their respective media. We continue to discuss the same on our tours and walkathons from venue to venue for various meetings. In fact, I had the American participant asking our resource persons (IPCC types, no less!) whether they were willing to acknowledge the concept of climate refugees directly in relation to the Maldives.

“I think the movie served a great purpose of awakening the minds of many to the threat level faced by some communities on low lying coastal nations – like the pacific Islands and the Maldives. A senior broadcaster from the Tonga Broadcasting Corporation personally thanked me for wanting to highlight their plight as a small island nation.”

You can watch Small Islands – Big Impact online here:

Read the full text of my interview with President Nasheed on TVEAP website

As with all TVEAP films, this one too is available free of license fees and copyright restrictions to broadcast, civil society and educational users anywhere in the world. It’s now a year since I wrote a widely reproduced op ed essay on Planet before profit for climate change films — I practise what I preach!

A journalist for over 17 years, Dilrukshi Handunnetti has extensively covered politics, the environment, culture, and history and gender issues. In her current role, she writes the parliamentary column for the newspaper in addition to writing and editing investigative stories carried in her publication. Dilrukshi has also covered the ethnic conflict from a non-military perspective and written extensively on issues of good governance, graft and corruption. Dilrukshi is the recipient of many national journalism awards in Sri Lanka, including: the Young Reporter of the Year 2001, Best Environment Reporter of the year 2002, Best Environment Reporter of the year 2003, Best English Journalist of the Year 2004 (Merit) Award and D B Dhanapala Award for the Best English Journalist of the Year 2005, all presented by the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka.

In this extract from our 2005 film Deep Divide, Dilrukshi talks about Sri Lanka’s coastal resource development challenges before and after the 2004 Asian Tsunami:

President Mohamed Nasheed: Encounter with a genial climate crusader…

President Mohamed Nasheed: Stop pointing fingers!

President Mohamed Nasheed: Stop pointing fingers!


It had taken many days to set up the interview, but in the end we got only 15 minutes of the promised 30. President Mohamed Nasheed turned up more than an hour late, lagging behind in his day’s schedule. While waiting, his staff had repeatedly asked me to cut down the interview as the President was already late for a state function. I had nodded half-heartedly.

President Nasheed (known among his people as ‘Anni’) walked in, beaming and apologising for keeping us waiting for over a day. We had set up our lights and video camera the previous day, only to find that the President had cancelled all his appointments that day to be with his young daughter hospitalised with the ‘flu. As a father myself, I could fully understand – even if it affected our filming plans.

I introduced myself and crew, and asked how his sick daughter was doing. She is not in any danger, he said, and should be home soon. That was a relief.

I ushered President Nasheed to the simple chair we’d chosen for him to occupy during our interview, being filmed in the stately room where the President normally receives high level state guests. As the crew pinned up the mic and adjusted the lights, I quickly explained who we were, and what the interview was for – a short film that would be globally distributed highlighting the vulnerability of his island nation to climate change impact.

There was not an air of pomposity around him. He exchanged a few words in Divehi with my Maldivian film crew – Ibrahim Yasir and Hussein Makzoom. As I would soon find out in the interview, he was also very well informed, articulate and passionate. (I remembered interviewing former President Maomoon Abdul Gayoom nearly 20 years ago when I covered the Small States Conference on Sea Level Rise he convened in Nov 1989. Gayoom was expressive in his own way but had an air of scholarly superiority about him.)

In the 15 minutes that we had, I asked a total of 10 questions. I had sent in advance a baker’s dozen questions to his media staff. I don’t know if they briefed him, but clearly President Nasheed was in his element. He didn’t have any notes, and yet answered my questions perceptively, genuinely and always eagerly. The one-time journalist and human rights activist was very media savvy.

Read my full interview on TVE Asia Pacific website and on Groundviews citizen journalism website (where a discussion is unfolding)

He must have been asked some or most of these questions many times before. Yet with each answer, he found his comfort levels with me and by about the fifth minute, we were nicely chatting along. I had to keep reminding myself that I was really talking to one of Asia’s youngest heads of state. At that moment, he sounded every bit a chatty technocrat.

Nalaka Gunawardene (left) with President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives

Nalaka Gunawardene (left) with President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives

President Nasheed had lot to say, and knew just how to say it. I had prepared for days, reading his recent speeches and op ed essays. I had figured out what to ask to elicit the kind of answers I was hoping for. He didn’t disappoint me. If his staff had not interrupted our interview, we could have easily gone on for half an hour or longer.

But I knew he had already given good ‘soundbites’ that we could excerpt in a short film. For example, how many heads of state would engage in plain talk like this when asked for his core message to the upcoming climate summit in Copenhagen: “In a nutshell, I’d like to say what has already been said: ‘Don’t be stupid!’. Going on and on about who did it is not going to save us. This is the time to realise that the deed is done. So let’s see how we may be able to proceed from here…

Earlier in the interview, he sounded grave when he outlined the prospects for his nation, the lowest-lying country on the planet, now on the frontline of climate change impact. “We will die if this goes on, and therefore, we have a fundamental right for life. If that is challenged, we have to link it be a human rights issue, and not just an environmental issue.”

The next minute, his tone became more resolute when talking on coping with massive changes already unfolding as a result of global warming. He stressed the value of democracy, good governance and people’s right to information as vital elements in adaptation – the difficult task of living with climate change.

Responding to my questions, President Nasheed talked about plans to make the Maldives carbon-neutral within a decade, and said the ‘sovereign wealth fund’ he announced soon after his election was already saving money “so that we will have something when the going gets very bad….”.

Sinking slowly in the East?

Sinking slowly in the East?

We also wanted to film President Nasheed at work, to establish him as an engaged political leader – the first democratically elected President of the Indian Ocean archipelago of 325,000 people. But there was no time. We then hoped to film his daily walk home after work. But the rain and delayed schedule meant he went home by car – and after dark. So we had to rely on stock footage instead.

The mix of democrat and technocrat in President Nasheed makes him an extraordinary personality and the world is taking note. The New York Times Magazine did a full length profile in May 2009 with the title ‘Wanted: A New Home for My Country’. A Hollywood film company is currently tracking the President as he travels the world, calling for urgent climate action that goes beyond mere words. (In fact, with my consent, they filmed me filming the President.)

A month after my interview, TIME Magazine named him an Environmental Hero of 2009 – the only serving head of state so honoured this year. I was delighted to see this, but TIME’s chosen photograph made me very jealous. I had dearly wanted to shoot our interview outdoors, but a combination of bad weather and presidential schedule ruled that out. Evidently, TIME photographer Chiara Goia had better luck: President in full business suit standing about a foot deep in the calm, azure waters of the Maldives.

The same waters that he and his team are trying desperately hard to keep at bay, for as long as possible.

Read my full interview with President Mohamed Nasheed on TVEAP website and on Groundviews

Watch the short film, Small Islands, Big Impact:



Blog post January 2008: Little voices from the waves: Maldives too young to die!

Asians prominent in TIME Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment 2009

Celebrating Heroes

Celebrating Heroes


Asian environmental leaders, activists and visionaries feature prominently in TIME Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment 2009 list, published in its issue dated 5 October 2009.

This isn’t surprising, since the Asia Pacific accounts for nearly two thirds of humanity. As I’ve been saying for some years, the quest for sustainable development will be won – or lost – in Asia.

By happy coincidence, I have met three of the two dozen remarkable men and women in this year’s Heroes list — and count two of them among my extended network of friends across Asia.

One friend is the Indian film-maker Mike Pandey, who has been making environment and wildlife films for over 30 years in India, where he is one of the most respected names in conservation circles.

The other is Sheri Liao, Founder of the Global Village of Beijing (GVB), one of the earliest non-governmental organisations addressing environmental issues in China. She is an indefatigable Chinese activist and campaigner whom I first met on my first visit to Beijing in 1996. Our paths have crossed a couple of times since then, and I have always admired her zeal and single-minded pursuit of ‘greening’ China. Added on 17 Oct 2009: Blog post on Sheri Liao and greening the airwaves in China

The third ‘hero’ is the amiable and technocratic Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives. I filmed an exclusive TV interview with him a few weeks ago, which I am currently editing into a short documentary on climate change. His country, the smallest independent state in Asia (by both land area and population), is on the frontlines of impact from rising sea levels and extreme weather events triggered by global warming.

heroes_1005“From saving wild mountain rivers in China to measuring the Arctic’s icy expanse, our green heroes are informed by this simple notion: We can all make a difference,” Time editors wrote in introducing this year’s list.

I just wrote a separate blog post on Prince Mostapha Zaher, Afghanistan’s environmental chief.

And I have already blogged about another TIME Hero well ahead of their selection: environmental lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan, a determined environmental activist who keeps dozens of ships from coming to die on the beaches of her native Bangladesh.

In the coming days and weeks, I plan to write separate posts on these other heroes whose selection is both timely and inspiring to all of us working in the broader development sector.