සමාජ මාධ්‍ය අවහිරයෙන් ඔබ්බට: නව නීති හා නියාමන අවශ්‍යද? Beyond Social Media block in Sri Lanka

This article, in Sinhala, appeared in Irida Lakbima broadsheet newspaper on Sunday, 18 March 2018 and is based on an interview with myself on Sri Lanka’s Social Media block that lasted from 7 to 15 March 2018.

I discuss Facebook’s Community Standards and the complaints mechanism currently in place, and the difficulties that non-English language content poses for Facebook’s designated monitors looking out for violations of these standards. Hate speech and other objectionable content produced in local languages like Sinhala sometimes pass through FB’s scrutiny. This indicates more needs to be done both by the platform’s administrators, as well as by concerned FB users who spot such content.

But I sound a caution about introducing new Sri Lankan laws to regulate social media, as that can easily stifle citizens’ right to freedom of expression to question, challenge and criticise politicians and officials. Of course, FoE can have reasonable and proportionate limits, and our challenge is to have a public dialogue on what these limits are for online speech and self-expression that social media enables.

Lakbima 18 March 2018

 

 

 

Comment: Did Facebook’s “Explore” experiment increase our exposure to fake news?

Facebook Explore feed: Experiment ends

On 1 March 2018, Facebook announced that it was ending its six-nation experiment known as ‘Explore Feed’. The idea was to create a version of Facebook with two different News Feeds: one as a dedicated place with posts from friends and family and another as a dedicated place for posts from Pages.

Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed at Facebook wrote: “People don’t want two separate feeds. In surveys, people told us they were less satisfied with the posts they were seeing, and having two separate feeds didn’t actually help them connect more with friends and family.”

An international news agency asked me to write a comment on this from Sri Lanka, one of the six countries where the Explore feed was tried out from October 2017 to February 2018. Here is my full text, for the record:

Did Facebook’s “Explore” experiment increase

our exposure to fake news?

Comment by Nalaka Gunawardene, researcher and commentator on online and digital media; Fellow, Internet Governance Academy in Germany

Despite its mammoth size and reach, Facebook is still a young company only 14 years old this year. As it evolves, it keeps experimenting – mistakes and missteps are all part of that learning process.

But given how large the company’s reach is – with over 2 billion users worldwide – there can be far reaching and unintended consequences.

Last October, Facebook split its News Feed into two automatically sorted streams: one for non-promoted posts from FB Pages and publishers (which was called “Explore”), and the other for contents posted by each user’s friends and family.

Sri Lanka was one of six countries where this trial was conducted, without much notice to users. (The other countries were Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Serbia, Slovakia.)

Five months on, Facebook company has found that such a separation did not increase connections with friends and family as it had hoped. So the separation will end — in my view, not a moment too soon!

What can we make of this experiment and its outcome?

Humans are complex creatures when it comes to how we consume information and how we relate to online content. While many among us like to look up what our social media ‘friends’ have recommended or shared, we remain curious of, and open to, content coming from other sources too.

I personally found it tiresome to keep switching back and forth between my main news feed and what FB’s algorithms sorted under the ‘Explore’ feed. Especially on mobile devices – through which 80% of Lankan web users go online – most people simply overlooked or forgot to look up Explore feed. As a result, they missed out a great deal of interesting and diverse content.

For me as an individual user, a key part of the social media user experience is what is known as Serendipity – accidentally making happy discoveries. The Explore feed reduced my chances of Serendipity on Facebook, and as a result, in recent months I found myself using Facebook less often and for shorter periods of time.

For publishers of online newspapers, magazines and blogs, Facebook’s unilateral decision to cluster their content in the Explore feed meant significantly less visibility and click-through traffic. Fewer Facebook users were looking at Explore feed and then going on to such publishers’ content.

I am aware of mainstream media houses as well as bloggers in Sri Lanka who suffered as a result. Publishers in the other five countries reported similar experiences.

For the overall information landscape too, the Explore feed separation was bad news. When updates or posts from mainstream news media and socially engaged organisations were coming through on a single, consolidated news feed, our eyes and ears were kept more open. We were less prone to being confined to the chatter of our friends or family, or being trapped in ‘eco chambers’ of the likeminded.

Content from reputed news media outlets and bloggers sometimes comes with their own biases, for sure, but these act as a useful ‘bulwark’ against fake news and mind-rotting nonsense that is increasing in Sri Lanka’s social media.

It was thus ill-advised of Facebook to have taken such content away and tucked it in a place called Explore that few of us bothered to visit regularly.

The Explore experiment may have failed, but I hope Facebook administrators learn from it to fine-tune their platform to be a more responsive and responsible place for global cacophony to evolve.

Indeed, the entire Facebook is an on-going, planetary level experiment in which all its 2 billion plus members are participating. Our common challenge is to balance our urge for self-expression and sharing with responsibility and restraint. The justified limitations on free speech continue to apply on new media too.

[written on 28 Feb 2018]

Communicating Research on Global Change: How to engage policy-makers?

What is to be done? With a few strategies, this gap can be bridged...

What is to be done? With a few strategies, this gap can be bridged…

How to ‘Bell’ the policy ‘cats’? I posed – and tried to answer – this question in October 2013 when addressing a group of Asian research leaders gathered in Bangkok, Thailand.

It’s a question without easy or simple answers. Policy makers come in different forms and types, and gaining their attention depends on many variables — such as a country’s political system, governance processes, level of bureaucracy and also timing.

I revisited this question this week when speaking to a group of young (early to mid-career) researchers from across South Asia who want to study many facets of global change. They were brought together at a regional workshop held in in Paro, Bhutan, by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN) and the National Environment Commission of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at APN South Asian Proposal Development Training Workshop in Paro, Bhutan, 14-16 Dec 2016. Photo Xiaojun Deng, APN

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at APN South Asian Proposal Development Training Workshop in Paro, Bhutan, 14-16 Dec 2016. Photo Xiaojun Deng, APN

Titled as the ‘Proposal Development Training Workshop (PDTW)’ and held from 14 to 16 December 2016, PDTW aimed “to raise awareness of APN among early career scientists and practitioners, and to increase the capacity to develop competitive proposals for submission to APN”.

The workshop involved two dozen researchers and half a dozen mentors. I was the sole mentor covering the important aspect of communicating research.

I urged researchers to try and better understand the imperfect, often unpredictable conditions in which South Asia’s policy makers operate.

Researchers and activists who would like to influence various public policies. Everyone is looking for strategies and engagement methods. The policy cycle cannot run according to text book ideals when governments have to regularly cope with economic uncertainties, political upheavals and social unrest, etc.

Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN): Proposal Development Training Workshop 2016 — in Paro, Bhutan. Photo by Xiaojun Deng, APN

Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN): Proposal Development Training Workshop 2016 — in Paro, Bhutan. Photo by Xiaojun Deng, APN

Imagine what keeps your policy makers awake at night, I suggested. Are they worried about balance of payment, disaster responses or a Parliamentary majority? How can research findings, while being evidence based, help solve problems of economic development and governance?

I also suggested that researchers should map out the information behaviour of their policy makers: where do they get info to act on? Is there a way research findings can be channeled to policy makers through some of these sources – such as the media, professional bodies and international development partners?

I suggested two approaches to communicating research outcomes to policy makers: directly, using own publications and/or social media; and indirectly by working with and through the media.

Finally, I shared some key findings of a global study in 2012 by SciDev.Net (where I was an honorary trustee for nearly a decade) which looked at the different contextual settings within which policy makers, the private sector, NGOs, media organisations and the research community operate to better understand how to mainstream more science and technology evidence for development and poverty reduction purposes.

Communicating Climate Change: Going Beyond Fear, CO2 & COPs!

SRI LANKA NEXT 2016 International Conference on Climate Change - http://www.srilankanext.lk/iccch.php

SRI LANKA NEXT 2016 International Conference on Climate Change – http://www.srilankanext.lk/iccch.php

On 19 October 2016, I spoke on climate change communications to a group of Asian journalists and other communicators at a workshop organized by Sri Lanka Youth Climate Action Network (SLYCAN). It was held at BMICH, Colombo’s leading conventions venue.

It was part of a platform of events branded as Sri Lanka NEXT, which included the 5th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum and several other expert consultations.

I recalled what I had written in April 2014, “As climate change impacts are felt more widely, the imperative for action is greater than ever. Telling the climate story in accurate and accessible ways should be an essential part of climate response. That response is currently organised around two ‘planks’: mitigation and adaptation. Climate communication can be the ‘third plank’ that strengthens the first two.”

3 broad tips on climate communications - from Nalaka Gunawardene

3 broad tips for climate communications – from Nalaka Gunawardene

I argued that we must move away from disaster-driven climate communications of doom and gloom. Instead, focus on climate resilience and practical solutions to achieving it.

We also need to link climate action to what matters most to the average person:

  • Cheaper energy (economic benefits)
  • Cleaner air (health benefits)
  • Staying alive (public safety benefits)

I offered three broad tips for climate communicators and journalists:

  • Don’t peddle fear: We’ve had enough of doom & gloom! Talk of more than just disasters and destruction.
  • Look beyond CO2, which is responsible for only about half of global warming. Don’t forget the other half – which includes some shortlived climate pollutants which are easier to tackle such action is less contentious than CO2.
  • Focus on local level impacts & responses: most people don’t care about UNFCCC or COPs or other acronyms at global level!
Global climate negotiations - good to keep an eye on them, but real stories are elsewhere!

Global climate negotiations – good to keep an eye on them, but real stories are elsewhere!

Finally, I shared my own triple-S formula for covering climate related stories:

  • Informed by credible Science (but not immersed in it!)
  • Tell authentic and compelling journalistic Stories…
  • …in Simple (but not simplistic) ways (using a mix of non-technical words, images, infographics, audio, video, interactive media)

Poor venue logistics at BMICH prevented me from sharing the presentation I had prepared. So here it is:

Social Media in Sri Lanka: Do Science and Reason Stand a Chance?

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks on "Using Social Media for Discussing Science" at the Science, Technology & Society Forum in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 9 Sep 2016. Photo by Smriti Daniel

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks on “Using Social Media for Discussing Science” at the Science, Technology & Society Forum in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 9 Sep 2016. Photo by Smriti Daniel

Sri Lanka’s first Science and Technology for Society (STS) Forum took place from 7 to 10 September in Colombo. Organized by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research, it was one of the largest gatherings of its kind to be hosted by Sri Lanka.

Modelled on Japan’s well known annual STS forums, the event was attended by over 750 participants coming from 24 countries – among them local and foreign scientists, inventors, science managers, science communicators and students.

I was keynote speaker during the session on ‘Using Social Media for Discussing Science Topics’. I used it to highlight how social media have become both a boon and bane for scientific information and thinking in Sri Lanka. This is due to peddlers of pseudo-science, anti-science and superstition being faster and better to adopt social media platforms than actual scientists, science educators and science communicators.

Social Media in #LKA:Do Science & Reason stand a chance? Asks Nalaka Gunawardene

Social Media in #LKA:Do Science & Reason stand a chance? Asks Nalaka Gunawardene

Sri Lanka takes justified pride in its high literacy levels and equally high coverage of vaccination against infectious diseases. But we cannot claim to have a high level of scientific literacy. If we did, it would not be so easy for far-fetched conspiracy theories to spread rapidly even among educated persons. Social media tools have ‘turbo-charged’ the spread of associated myths, superstitions and conspiracy theories!

I cautioned: “Unless we make scientific literacy an integral part of everyone’s lives, ambitious state policies and programmes to modernize the nation could well be jeopardized. Progress can be undermined — or even reversed — by extremist forces of tribalism, feudalism and ultra-nationalism that thrive in a society that lacks the ability to think critically.”

It is not a case of all doom and gloom. I cited examples of private individuals creatively using social media to bust myths and critique all ‘sacred cows’ in Lankan society – including religions and military. These voluntary efforts contrast with much of the mainstream media cynically making money from substantial advertising from black magic industries that hoodwink and swindle the public.

My PowerPoint presentation:

 

Video recording of our full session:

 

The scoping note I wrote for our session:

Sri Lanka STS Forum panel on Using Social Media for Discussing Science Topics. 9 Sep 2016. L to R - Asanga Abeygunasekera, Nalaka Gunawardene, Dr Piyal Ariyananda, Dr Ananda Galappatti & Smriti Daniel

Sri Lanka STS Forum panel on Using Social Media for Discussing Science Topics. 9 Sep 2016.
L to R – Asanga Abeygunasekera, Nalaka Gunawardene, Dr Piyal Ariyananda, Dr Ananda Galappatti &
Smriti Daniel

Session: Using Social Media for Discussing Science Topics

With 30 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people regularly using the Internet, web-based social media platforms have become an important part of the public sphere where myriad conversations are unfolding on all sorts of topics and issues. Facebook is the most popular social media outlet in Sri Lanka, with 3.5 million users, but other niche platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram are also gaining ground. Meanwhile, the Sinhala and Tamil blogospheres continue to provide space for discussions ranging from prosaic to profound. Marketers, political parties and activist groups have discovered that being active in social media is to their advantage.

Some science and technology related topics also get discussed in this cacophony, but given the scattered nature of conversations, it is impossible to grasp the full, bigger picture. For example, some individuals or entities involved in water management, climate advocacy, mental health support groups and data-driven development (SDG framework) are active in Sri Lanka’s social media platforms. But who is listening, and what influence – if any – are these often fleeting conservations having on individual lifestyles or public policies?

Is there a danger that self-selecting thematic groups using social media are creating for themselves ‘echo chambers’ – a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are dismissed, disallowed, or under-represented?

Even if this is sometimes the case, can scientists and science communicators afford to ignore social media altogether? For now, it appears that pseudo-science and anti-science sentiments – some of it rooted in ultra-nationalism or conspiracy theories — dominate many Lankan social media exchanges. The keynote speaker once described this as Lankan society permanently suspending disbelief. How and where can the counter-narratives be promoted on behalf of evidenced based, rational discussions? Is this a hopeless task in the face of irrationality engulfing wider Lankan society? Or can progressive and creative use of social media help turn the tide in favour of reason?

This panel would explore these questions with local examples drawn from various fields of science and skeptical enquiry.

 

 

Right to Information (RTI): Citizens Benefit Most!

On 11 May 2016, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms & Mass Media convened a meeting with the senior managers of print and broadcasting media house to discuss how media can support the new Right to Information (RTI) law that has recently been tabled in Parliament.

Nearly 15 years in the making, the RTI law is to be debated in June and expected to be adopted with multi-party consensus. The law represents a transformation across government by opening up hitherto closed public information (with certain cleared specified exceptions).

While media can also benefit from RTI, it is primarily a law for ordinary citizens to demand and receive information related to everyday governance (most of it at local levels). For this, citizens need to understand the RTI process and potential benefits. Media can play a major role in explaining RTI law, and promoting its use in many different ways to promote the public interest and to nurture a culture of evidence-based advocacy for good governance and public accountability.

This presentation was made by media researcher and columnist Nalaka Gunawardene in his capacity as a member of the voluntary Right to Information Task Force convened by the Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms & Mass Media. He illustrates how RTI can benefit citizens, and shares examples from other South Asian countries where newspapers and broadcast houses have been promoting RTI in innovative ways.

 

සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #266: තොරතුරු නීතියේ වැඩිම ප‍්‍රයෝජන සාමාන්‍ය පුරවැසියන්ටයි!

In this week’s Ravaya column (appearing in the print issue of 1 May 2016), I return to the topic of Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information (RTI) law that has recently been tabled in Parliament.

Over 15 years in the making, the RTI law is to be debated in June and expected to be adopted with multi-party consensus. The law represents a transformation across government by opening up hitherto closed public information (with certain cleared specified exceptions).

While media can also benefit from RTI, it is primarily a law for ordinary citizens to demand and receive information related to everyday governance (most of it at local levels). For this, citizens need to understand the RTI process and potential benefits. Media can play a major role in explaining RTI law, and promoting its use in many different ways to promote the public interest and to nurture a culture of evidence-based advocacy for good governance and public accountability.

In this column, I look at how RTI can benefit citizens, and share examples from other South Asian countries where even school children are using RTI to solve local level problems that affect their family, school or local community.

RTI Law is like a key that opens government information

RTI Law is like a key that opens government information

වසර 15ක පමණ සිවිල් සමාජ අරගලයකින් පසුව ශ‍්‍රී ලංකාවේ තොරතුරු අයිතිය තහවුරු කැරෙන නව නීතිය කෙටුම්පතක් ලෙස පාර්ලිමේන්තුවේ සභාගත කොට තිබෙනවා. ඉදිරි සති කිහිපය තුළ මෙය විවාදයට ගෙන සම්මත වීමට නියමිතයි.

2015 අපේ‍්‍රල් මාසයේ සම්මත වූ 19 වන ව්‍යවස්ථා සංශෝධනය මගින් දැනටමත් තොරතුරු දැන ගැනීමේ අයිතිය මෙරට මූලික මානව අයිතියක් ලෙස පිළිගෙන හමාරයි. මේ නීතිය කරන්නේ එය ප‍්‍රායෝගිකව ක‍්‍රියාත්මක කිරීමට අවශ්‍ය ක‍්‍රමවේදය බිහි කිරීමයි.

එසේම තොරතුරු අයිතියට අදාළ වන්නේ කුමන රාජ්‍ය ආයතන හා කිනම් ආකාරයේ තොරතුරුද, හෙළිදරව් කළ නොහැකි තොරතුරු වර්ග මොනවාද (ව්‍යතිරේක) හා හෙළිදරව් කළ යුතු තොරතුරු නොදී සිටින රාජ්‍ය නිලධාරීන්ට එරෙහිව පුරවැසියන්ට ගත හැකි පරිපාලනමය ක‍්‍රියාමාර්ග මොනවාද ආදිය මේ පනතෙන් විස්තර කැරෙනවා.

මේ කෙටුම්පත භාෂා තුනෙන්ම පාර්ලිමේන්තුවේ වෙබ් අඩවියෙන් බලාගත හැකියි. http://www.parliament.lk/uploads/bills/gbills/english/6007.pdf

මේ හැකියාව තිබියදීත් පනත් කෙටුම්පත නොකියවා අනුමාන හෝ  ඕපාදුප මත පදනම් වී මේ ගැන දුර්මත පතුරු වන අයත් සිටිනවා. (මෑතදී මට දුරකථනයෙන් කතා කළ එක් ජාතික පුවත්පතක මාධ්‍යවේදියෙක් ඇසුවේ තොරතුරු පනත මගින් මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ට හා සෙසු පුරවැසියන්ට දඬුවම් දීමට අදහස් කරනවාද කියායි!)

තොරතුරු අයිතිය හා නීතිය ගැන මීට පෙර කිහිප වතාවක් අප මේ තීරු ලිපියේ සාකච්ඡා කළා. යළිත් මේ තේමාවට පිවිසෙන්නේ තවමත් මේ සංකල්පය ලක් සමාජයට ආගන්තුක නිසායි.

ලෝකයේ මුල්ම තොරතුරු නීතිය සම්මත වී 2016ට වසර 250ක් සපිරෙනවා. 1766දී එම නීතිය හඳුන්වා දුන්නේ ස්වීඩනයේ. එදා මෙදාතුර රටවල් 100කට වැඩි ගණනක තොරතුරු නීති සම්මත කරගෙන තිබෙනවා.

අපේ සාර්ක් කලාපයේ තොරතුරු නීතියක් නොමැතිව සිටි එකම රට ශ‍්‍රී ලංකාවයි. ශිෂ්ට සම්පන්න ජන සමාජයකට හා ප‍්‍රජාතන්ත‍්‍රවාදී රාජ්‍ය පාලනයකට අත්‍යවශ්‍ය යැයි සැලකෙන මේ නීතිය ප‍්‍රමාද වී හෝ අපට ලැබීම හොඳයි. එහෙත් මේ නීතිය සාර්ථක වන්නේ එය ගැන සමස්ත ජන සමාජයම දැනුවත් හා උද්‍යෝගිමත් වූ විට පමණයි.

බොහෝ නීති පනවන්නේ රජයට යම් ඉලක්ක හා අරමුණු සාක්ෂාත් කර ගන්න. එහෙත් තොරතුරු නීතිය මහජනයා අතට ලැබෙන, ඔවුන් බලාත්මක කළ හැකි නීතියක්.

A009-001(1)

තොරතුරු නීතිය මාධ්‍යවේදීන් සඳහා යයි මතයක් පවතිනවා. හිටපු ජනාධිපතිවරයා වරක් කතුවරුන් අමතමින් කීවේ ‘ඔබට තොරතුරු නීතියක් මොකටද?  ඕනෑ දෙයක් මගෙන් අහන්න’ කියායි!

මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ටද තොරතුරු නීතිය උපකාර වෙතත් තමන්ට අවශ්‍ය සැඟවුණු තොරතුරු සොයා යෑමේ උපක‍්‍රම ඔවුන් සතුව තිබෙනවා. එවැනි ආයතනික හෝ සිවිල් බලයක් නොමැති සාමාන්‍ය පුරවැසියන්ට රාජ්‍ය ආයතන සතු තොරතුරු ඉල්ලා ලබාගන්නට අයිතියක් තහවුරු කරන්නේ තොරතුරු නීතිය මගින්.

මහජන මුදලින් නඩත්තු කැරෙන මහජන සේවයට පිහිටුවා ඇති රාජ්‍ය ආයතනවල ක‍්‍රියාකලාපය විමර්ශනය කිරීමට එම මහජනයාට ඇති අයිතිය තහවුරු කිරීමයි  තොරතුරු නීතිය මගින් කරන්නේ.

ඕනෑම රටක තොරතුරු නීතියක් සාර්ථක වන්නේ එහි තමන්ට තිබෙන ප‍්‍රායෝගික වැදගත්කම හා එය භාවිතය ගැන මහජනයා දැනුවත් වූ තරමටයි.

නීතිඥ ගිහාන් ගුණතිලක 2014දී ලියූ, ශ‍්‍රී ලංකා පුවත්පත් ආයතනය පළ කළ තොරතුරු නීතිය පිළිබඳ අත්පොතෙහි මේ ප‍්‍රයෝජන උදාහරණ කිහිපයකින් පැහැදිලි කරනවා.

උදාහරණ 1: අපේ නිවෙස ඉදිරියෙන් දිවෙන පාර අබලන් වී තිබූ නිසා එය පිළිසකර කරනු ලබනවා. එහෙත් එහි ප‍්‍රමිතිය හා නිමාව සැක සහිතයි. මේ ගැන පුරවැසියන් ලෙස අපට කුමක් කළ හැකිද?

තොරතුරු අයිතිය යටතේ පාර පිළිසකර කිරීමට අදාළ පළාත් පාලන ආයතනයෙන් හෝ මාර්ග සංවර්ධන අධිකාරියෙන් හෝ විමසිය හැකි වනවා. ඒ සඳහා කොපමණ මහජන මුදල් ප‍්‍රතිපාදන වෙන් කළාද, කොන්ත‍්‍රාත් දීමට ටෙන්ඩර් කැඳ වූවාද, වැය කළ මුදල් ද්‍රව්‍යවලට හා වේතනවලට බෙදී ගියේ කෙසේද ආදි සියල්ල හෙළි කිරීමට අදාළ ආයතනයට සිදු වනවා.

බොහෝ විට මේ තොරතුරු පිටු රැසකින් සමන්විත ෆයිල් එකක් විය හැකියි. එය ලද පසු අධ්‍යයනය කොට මහජන මුදල් නිසි ලෙස වැය වී ඇත්ද හා එසේ නැතිනම් ඇයිද යන්න දත හැකියි. මේ දක්වා සැකය හා අනුමානය පදනම් කර ගෙන කළ තර්ක හා චෝදනා මින් පසු තොරතුරු සාක්ෂි මත පදනම්ව කළ හැකි වනවා.

උදාහරණ 2: හැම වසරකම රටේ මහත් ආන්දෝලනයක් ඇතිකරන ක‍්‍රියාදාමයක් නම් රජයේ පාසල්වලට දරුවන් ඇතුළු කර ගැනීමයි. ක‍්‍රමවේදයක් ස්ථාපිත කොට තිබෙත්, නිසි පාරදෘශ්‍යභාවයක් නැති නිසා අක‍්‍රමිකතා හා දුෂණ රැසකට ඉඩ පෑදී තිබෙනවා.

තොරතුරු නීතිය යටතේ මේ ක‍්‍රමවේදය ගැන  ඕනෑම රජයේ පාසලකින් විස්තරාත්මක තොරතුරු ඉල්ලා සිටීමට පුරවැසි අපට හැකි වනවා. දරුවන් ඇතුළු කිරීමට යොදා ගත් නිර්ණායක මොනවාද, ඉල්ලූම් කළ සමස්ත සංඛ්‍යාව අතරින් තෝරා ගත් දරුවන් ඒ නිර්ණායක සියල්ල සපුරා සිටියාද, ප‍්‍රතික්ෂේප කිරීමට නිශ්චිත හේතු මොනවාද ආදි සියලූ තොරතුරු හා තීරණ හෙළි කරන ලෙස තොරතුරු නීතිය යටතේ අපට බල කළ හැකියි.

උදාහරණ 3: ගොවිතැන් වැඩිපුර කරන ප‍්‍රදේශයක ගොවීන්ට ජලය ලබා දීමට නව ඇළ මාර්ග ඉදි කිරීමට මහජන මුදල් වෙන් කැරෙනවා. එය එසේ කළ බවත්, මාධ්‍ය හරහා වාර්තා වනවා. එහෙත් මාස හා වසර ගණනක් ගෙවී ගියත් ඇළ මාර්ග ඉදි වන්නේ නැහැ. කුමක් වූවාදැයි නොදැන ගොවීන් වික්ෂිප්තව සිටිනවා.

තොරතුරු නීතිය යටතේ තව දුරටත් නොදන්නාකමින් හා අවිනිශ්චිත බවින් කල් ගෙවිය යුතු නැහැ. වාරි ඇළ මාර්ග සඳහා වෙන් කළ ප‍්‍රතිපාදනවලට කුමක් වූවාද,  එය වෙනත් දෙයකට යොදා ගත්තාද, නැතිනම් වැය නොකිරීම නිසා යළිත් භාණ්ඩාගාරයට ගියාද, එසේ නම් ඒ සඳහා වගකිව යුත්තේ කවුද ආදි මේ සියල්ල ගැන පරිපාලන තොරතුරු  ඕනැම පුරවැසියකු ඉල්ලා සිටියොත් හෙළි කිරීමට අදාළ රාජ්‍ය ආයතනයට සිදු වනවා. එහිදී තොරතුරු ඉල්ලීම පීඩාවට පත් ගොවීන්ට පමණක් නොව සියලූ පුරවැසියන් සතු අයිතියක්.

උදාහරණ 4: රටේ බහුතරයක් ජනයා සෞඛ්‍ය සේවා සඳහා යන්නේ රජයේ රෝහල්වලට. මහජන මුදලින් නඩත්තු කැරෙන රාජ්‍ය සෞඛ්‍ය සේවා පද්ධතියේ අඩුපාඩු තිබෙනවා. වාර්ෂිකව සෞඛ්‍ය ක්ෂේත‍්‍රයට අති විශාල මුදලක් වෙන් කළත්, පරිපාලන දුර්වලතා නිසා හැම විටම නිසි ප‍්‍රතිඵල ලැබෙන්නේ නැහැ.

තමන්ට අදාළ රජයේ රෝහලක කටයුතු සිදු වන ආකාරය ගැන සෑහීමකට පත්විය නොහැකි නම් ආයතනයේ පරිපාලන තොරතුරු ඉල්ලීමට නව නීතිය යටතේ පුරවැසියන්ට අයිතියක් ලැබෙනවා.

බෙහෙත් හිඟය, රෝග විනිශ්චයට උපකාර වන පරීක්ෂණ පහසුකම් ක‍්‍රියාත්මක නොවීම, වෛද්‍යවරුන් අනුයුක්ත නොකිරීම ආදි  ඕනෑම කරුණක් ගැන අනුමාන හා සැකයක් මත පදනම් වී චෝදනා කරනු වෙනුවට සැබෑ තොරතුරු ලබා ගෙන, ඒවා විමර්ශනය කොට වඩාත් නිවැරදි නිගමනවලට එළැඹීමට හැකි වනවා.

තවත් උදාහරණ  ඕනෑ තරම් අපට පරිකල්පනය කළ හැකියි.

Cartoon by Awantha Artigala, Daily Mirror newspaper Sri Lanka

Cartoon by Awantha Artigala, Daily Mirror newspaper Sri Lanka

රජයේ ආයතනයක ඇති වන පුරප්පාඩු පිරවීමේදී නිසි ක‍්‍රමවේදයක් අනුගමනය කළාද කියා දැන ගැනීමට එම තනතුරුවලට ඉල්ලූම් කළ, එහෙත් නොලද  ඕනෑම කෙනකුට හැකි වනවා. පොලිසිය සමග කැරෙන ගනුදෙනුවලදී දැනට වඩා පාරදෘශ්‍ය වීමට පොලිස් තන්ත‍්‍රයට තොරතුරු නීති හරහා බල කළ හැකියි.

තොරතුරු ඉල්ලා සිටින මහජනයා නොතකා සිටීමට හෝ අනවශ්‍ය ලෙස කල් දමමින් රස්තියාදු කිරීමට ඇති අවකාශ ඇහිරීම අලූතෙන් පිහිටුවීමට නියමිත තොරතුරු කොමිසමේ වගකීමයි. ව්‍යතිරේකවලට සම්බන්ධ නොවූ වෙනත්  ඕනෑම තොරතුරක් නොදී සිටින (මධ්‍යම, පළාත් සභා හා පළාත් පාලන ආයතන මට්ටමේ) රාජ්‍ය ආයතන ගැන මෙකී තොරතුරු කොමිසමට පැමිණිලි කළ හැකි වනවා.

තොරතුරු නීතිය මෙවලමක් කර ගෙන යහපාලනය ඉල්ලා සිටීම පුරවැසි අප සැමගේ යුතුකමක් හා වගකීමක්.

තොරතුරු නීතිය ප‍්‍රාන්ත මට්ටමින් 1990 දශකයේ මැද භාගයේ පටන්ද ජාතික මට්ටමින් 2005 සිටද ක‍්‍රියාත්මක වන ඉන්දියාවේ එම නීතිවලින් වැඩිපුරම ප‍්‍රයෝජන ගන්නේ සාමාන්‍ය පුරවැසියෝ. මාධ්‍ය හෝ සිවිල් සංවිධානවලට වඩා ඉදිරියෙන් සිටින්නේ ඔවුන්.

තොරතුරු අයිතිය බාල මහලූ, උගත් නූගත් හැම පුරවැසියෙකුටම හිමි වන්නක්. ඡන්ද බලය මෙන් යම් වයස් සීමාවකින් ඔබ්බට ගිය පසු ලැබෙන්නක් නොවෙයි.

foi-laws

ඉන්දියාවේ පාසල් සිසුන් හා ළාබාල දරුවන් පවා තොරතුරු නීතියෙන් ප‍්‍රයෝජන ගන්නවා. මේ ගැන රසවත් උදාහරණයක් ගිය වසරේ වාර්තා වුණා.

දකුණු ඉන්දියාවේ හයිද්‍රාබාද් නුවරට සමීප නිසාමාබාද් දිස්ත‍්‍රික්කයේ වයස 10-12 අතර පාසල් සිසුන් තොරතුරු නීතිය යටතේ මහජන තොරතුරු ඉල්ලා අවස්ථා හතරකදී සාර්ථකව එය ලබා ගත්තා.

දස හැවිරිදි මනෝජ්ට තිබූ ප‍්‍රශ්නය බීඩි එතීමේ නිරත වූ මව්පියන්ගේ දරුවන්ට කම්කරු දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව දෙන ඉන්දියානු රුපියල් 1,000ක වාර්ෂික ශිෂ්‍යාධාරය නොලැබීමයි. මව්පියන් සුසුම් හෙළමින් සිටින අතර මනෝ්ජ් මේ අසාධාරණයට අදාළ තොරතුරු ඉල්ලා කම්කරු දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවට ගියා. මෙයින් කලබලයට පත් කම්කරු නිලධාරීන් ශිෂ්‍යාධාර හිඟ මුදල් ලබා දී ප‍්‍රමාදයට හේතු දක්වන ලියුමක් ද මේ දරුවාට යැව්වා.

මෙයින් දිරිමත් වූ මනෝජ් තම ප‍්‍රදේශයේ පුරාවිද්‍යාත්මක වැදගත්කම ගැන පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවෙන් තොරතුරු ඉල්ලා එය ලබා ගත්තා. එයද තොරතුරු නීතිය යටතේයි.

මේ දෙස බලා සිටි ඔහුගේ පාසල් සගයෝ වෙනස් ප‍්‍රශ්න ගැන තොරතුරු ඉල්ලීම් ගොනු කරන්න පටන් ගත්තා. කවීතා නම් ළාබාල දැරිය තම ගමට හරියට බස් සේවාවක් නොතිබීමට හේතු විමසා සිටියා. අදාළ නිලධාරීන් ප‍්‍රතිචාර නොදැක් වූ විට ඇය තොරතුරු නීති ඉල්ලීමක් ගොනු කළා.

ප‍්‍රාන්ත රජයට හිමි බස් සමාගම මුලින් කීවේ එම මාර්ගයේ බස් ධාවනය පාඩු ලබන බවයි. එහෙත් දැරිය ඉල්ලූ තොරතුරුවලින් එය එසේ නොවන බව ගම්වාසීන්ට පෙනී ගියා. අන්තිමේදී බස් සේවය නැවත ස්ථාපිත කිරීමට රාජ්‍ය බස් සමාගමට සිදු වුණා. මේ නිසා ඒ ගමින් අවට පාසල්වලට යන ශිෂ්‍ය සංඛ්‍යාව වැඩිවුණා.

මෙවන් උදාහරණ විශාල ගණනක් ගෙවී ගිය දශකයේ ඉන්දියාවෙන් වාර්තාගතයි. අපට වඩා සාක්ෂරතාවෙන් අඩු ඉන්දීය මහජනයා මෙතරම් නිර්මාණශීලීව හා ධෛර්යමත්ව තොරතුරු නීතිය තම ප‍්‍රශ්න විසඳීමට යොදා ගන්නා සැටි තොරතුරු නීතිය ලැබීමට ආසන්න ලක් සමාජයට මාහැඟි ආදර්ශයක්.

Crying Wolf in the Global Village? Managing Disaster Early Warnings in the Age of Social Media

Participants of SHER (Science, Health, Environment & Risk) Communication - Role of S&T Communication in Disaster Management and Community Preparedness held in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 8-9 Dec 2015

Participants of SHER (Science, Health, Environment & Risk) Communication – Role of S&T Communication in Disaster Management and Community Preparedness held in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 8-9 Dec 2015

On 8 – 9 December 2015, I attended and spoke at the Asian Regional Workshop on “SHER (Science, Health, Environment & Risk) Communication: Role of S&T Communication in Disaster Management and Community Preparedness” held in Jakarta, Indonesia.

It was organised by the Association of Academies and Societies of Sciences in Asia (AASSA) in collaboration with the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI), Korean Academy of Science and Technology (KAST) and the Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) in Indonesia.

The workshop brought together around 25 participants, most of them scientists researching or engaged in publication communication of science, technology and health related topics. I was one of two journalists in that gathering, having been nominated by the National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka (NAASL).

I drew on over 25 years of journalistic and science communication experience, during which time I have worked with disaster managers and researchers, and also co-edited a book, Communicating Disasters: An Asian Regional Handbook (2007).

Nalaka Gunawardene speaking at Science, Health, Environment & Risk Communication Asian regional workshop held in Jakarta, Indonesia, 8-9 Dec 2015

Nalaka Gunawardene speaking at Science, Health, Environment & Risk Communication Asian regional workshop held in Jakarta, Indonesia, 8-9 Dec 2015

The challenge in disaster early warnings is to make the best possible decisions quickly using imperfect information. With lives and livelihoods at stake, there is much pressure to get it right. But one can’t be timely and perfectly accurate at the same time.

We have come a long way since the devastating Boxing Day tsunami of December 2004 caught Indian Ocean countries by surprise. Many of the over 230,000 people killed that day could have been saved by timely coastal evacuations.

The good news is that advances in science and communications technology, greater international cooperation, and revamped national systems have vastly improved tsunami early warnings during the past decade. However, some critical gaps and challenges remain.

The Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWS) was set up in 2005 under UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Over USD 400 million has been invested in state of the art equipment for rapid detection and assessment. However, the system’s overall effectiveness is limited by poor local infrastructure and lack of preparedness. Some countries also lack efficient decision-making for issuing national level warnings based on regionally provided rapid assessments.

Warnings must reach communities at risk early enough for action. False warnings can cause major economic losses and reduce compliance with future evacuation orders. Only governments can balance these factors. It is important that there be clearer protocols within governments to consider the best available information and make the necessary decisions quickly.

Now, the proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is making this delicate balance even more difficult. To remain effective in the always-connected and chattering Global Village, disaster managers have to rethink their engagement strategies.

Controlled release of information is no longer an option for governments. In the age of 24/7 news channels and social media, many people will learn of breaking disasters independently of official sources. Some social media users will also express their views instantly – and not always accurately.

How can this multiplicity of information sources and peddlers be harnessed in the best public interest? What are the policy options for governments, and responsibilities for technical experts? How to nurture public trust, the ‘lubricant’ that helps move the wheels of law and order – as well as public safety – in the right direction?

As a case study, I looked at what happened on 11 April 2012, when an 8.6-magnitude quake occurred beneath the ocean floor southwest of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Several Asian countries issued quick warnings and some also ordered coastal evacuations. For example, Thai authorities shut down the Phuket International Airport, while Chennai port in southern India was closed for a few hours. In Sri Lanka, panic and chaos ensued.

In the end, the quake did not generate a tsunami (not all such quakes do) – but it highlighted weaknesses in the covering the ‘last mile’ in disseminating early warnings clearly and efficiently.

Speakers on ‘ICT Applications for Disaster Prevention and Treatment’ in Jakarta, Indonesia, 8-9 Dec 2015

Speakers on ‘ICT Applications for Disaster Prevention and Treatment’ in Jakarta, Indonesia, 8-9 Dec 2015

See also: Nurturing Public Trust in Times of Crisis: Reflections on April 11 Tsunami Warning. Groundviews.org 26 April 2012

I concluded: Unless governments communicate in a timely and authoritative manner during crises, that vacuum will be filled by multiple voices. Some of these may be speculative, or mischievously false, causing confusion and panic.

My full PowerPoint:

 

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:

 

Grassroots Journalism in the Digital Age: Innovate or Perish!

Grassroots Journalism in the Digital Age - by Nalaka Gunawardene

Grassroots Journalism in the Digital Age – by Nalaka Gunawardene

I just spoke to a group of 75 provincial level provincial journalists in Sri Lanka who were drawn from around the island. They had completed a training course in investigative journalism conducted by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), with support from InterNews.

The certificate award ceremony was held at Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), Colombo, on 2 October 2015.

In this talk, I look at the larger news media industry in Sri Lanka to which provincial journalists supply ground level news, images and video materials. These are used on a discretionary basis by media companies mostly based in the capital Colombo (and some based in the northern provincial capital of Jaffna). Suppliers have no control over whether or how their material is processed. They work without employment benefits, are poorly paid, and also exposed to various pressures and coercion.

A tale of two industries: one that evolved, and the other that hasn't quite done so...

A tale of two industries: one that evolved, and the other that hasn’t quite done so…

I draw a rough analogy with the nearly 150-year old Ceylon Tea industry, which directly employs around 750,000 people, sustains an estimated 2 million (10% of the population) and in 2014 earned USD 1.67 billion through exports. For much of its history, the Ceylon tea producers were supplying high quality tea leaves in bulk form to London based tea distributors and marketers like Lipton.

Then, in the 1970s, a former tea taster called Merrill J Fernando established Dilmah brand – the first producer owned tea brand that did product innovation at source, and entered direct retail. He wanted to “change the exploitation of his country’s crop by big global traders” – Dilmah has today become one of the top 10 tea brands in the world.

The media industry also started during British colonial times, and in fact dates back to 1832. But I question why, after 180+ years, our media industry broadly follows the same production model: material sourced is centrally processed and distributed, without much adaptation to new digital media realities.

I draw a parallel between tea small holders – those growing on lands less than 10 acres (4 ha) who account for 60% of Sri Lanka’s annual tea production – and the provincial journalists. Both are supplies at the beginning of a chain. Neither has much or any say in how their material is processed and marketed.

Provincial Journalists - Ground level ‘eyes and ears’ of media industry, unsung & often unknown

Provincial Journalists – Ground level ‘eyes and ears’ of media industry, unsung & often unknown

As usual, I don’t have all the answers, but I ask some pertinent questions:

Where are the Merrill Fernandos of our media industry?

Who can disrupt these old models and innovate?

Can disruptive innovators emerge from among provincial journalists?

How can they leverage digital tools and web based platforms?

What if they start value-adding at source and direct distribution via the web?

But since they have families to feed, how to make an honest living doing that?

PPT on SLIDEShare:

http://www.slideshare.net/NalakaG/grassroots-journalism-in-the-digital-age-by-nalaka-gunawardene