Privacy Protection in the Digital Age: My interview with TV Derana English news

online is not absolute but relative: within that, we can & should determine how much of our personal data we want to give out when using . Beware of third party apps riding !

These sum up my remarks in an interview for the evening English news bulletin of TV Derana, currently Sri Lanka’s top ranked terrestrial TV channel. Broadcast on 22 March 2018.


Debating Social Media Block in Sri Lanka: Talk show on TV Derana, 14 March 2018

Aluth Parlimenthuwa live talk show on Social Media Blocking in Sri Lanka – TV Derana, 14 March 2018

Sri Lanka’s first ever social media blocking lasted from 7 to 15 March 2018. During that time, Facebook and Instagram were completely blocked while chat apps WhatsApp and Viber were restricted (no images, audio or video, but text allowed).

On 7 March 2018, the country’s telecom regulator, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRCSL), ordered all telecom operators to impose this blocking across the country for three days, Reuters reported. This was “to prevent the spread of communal violence”, the news agency quoted an unnamed government official as saying. In the end, the blocking lasted 8 days.

For a short while during this period, Internet access was stopped entirely to Kandy district “after discovering rioters were using online messaging services like WhatsApp to coordinate attacks on Muslim properties”.

Both actions are unprecedented. In the 23 years Sri Lanka has had commercial Internet services, it has never imposed complete network shutdowns (although during the last phase of the civil war between 2005 and 2009, the government periodically shut down telephone services in the Northern and Eastern Provinces). Nor has any social media or messaging platforms been blocked before.

I protested this course of action from the very outset. Restricting public communications networks is ill-advised at any time — and especially bad during an emergency when people are frantically seeking reliable situation updates and/or sharing information about the safety of loved ones.

Blocking selected websites or platforms is a self-defeating exercise in any case, since those who are more digitally savvy – many hate peddlers among them –can and will use proxy servers to get around. It is the average web user who will be deprived of news, views and updates.

While the blocking was on, I gave many media interviews to local and international media. I urged the government “to Police the streets, not the web!”.

At the same time, I acknowledged and explained how a few political and religious extremist groups have systematically ‘weaponised’ social media in Sri Lanka during recent years. These groups have been peddling racially charged hate speech online and offline. A law to deal with hate speech has been in the country’s law books for over a decade. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No 56 of 2007 prohibits the advocacy of ‘religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’. This law, fully compliant with international human rights standards, has not been enforced.

On 14 March 2018, I took part in the ‘Aluth Parlimenthuwa’ TV talk show of TV Derana on this topic, where I articulated the above and related views. The other panelists were Deputy Minister Karu Paranawithana, presidential advisor Shiral Lakthilaka, Bar Association of Sri Lanka chairman U R de Silva, and media commentator Mohan Samaranayake.

Part 1:

Part 2:


End-of-the-World Special: Chicken Little Media Awards 2012

chickenlittle“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

That was the refrain of a certain Chicken Licken or Chicken Little, the lead character in a popular folk tale. The rather timid creature was easily scared, and each time something slightly out of the ordinary was experienced, it always assumed the worst.

“The sky is falling!” has entered the English language as an idiom for hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. If the original Chicken Little was prone to hallucination, its modern day equivalents are more likely feigning hysteria for their own reasons and gains.

For much of 2012, a large section of the print and broadcast media in Sri Lanka has behaved like Chicken Little. They have uncritically and sometimes gleefully peddled the completely unsubstantiated and imaginary prophecies of doom and gloom – specifically, about the world ending on 21 December 2012.

And just like Chicken Little did, our media too had plenty of uncritical followers – a case of the blind leading the blind. They worked themselves into a misplaced frenzy, imagining all sorts of scenarios for the world’s end.

Some involved terrestrial hazards while others, extra-terrestrial ones. The prophets of doom were too busy churning out more and more fantastic tales to realize that, if all their various scenarios were to happen, we would need not one but several worlds…

imagesAh, but our intrepid media won’t allow such facts to get in the way of a good story, or reality checks to hold down their run-away imagination. Fear and panic sell newspapers, and keep TV ratings high…

As the leading Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku has noted, “Selling every day anything from bunkers to miracle bracelets and wonder cures to gullible, fearful people, they don’t just exploit them; they massively reinforce the mind crippling vicious circle of superstition in their lives. The superstition generator is running overtime, even in many of our otherwise so critical and progressive media.”

We the minority of sceptical readers have long endured not only the incredible shrill of assorted doomsday prophecies in our media, but the distraction of public attention and the deprivation of valuable media space and time for covering issues of genuine public interest. In desperation and frustration, we decided to present Chicken Little Media Awards

Nominations were called via Twitter and Facebook, and selecting the worst performers was truly difficult as the contenders were engaged in a race to the bottom. The online debate about these choices will continue.

But after considerable deliberation, meanwhile, here is our choice…

Chicken Little Media Awards 2012

Most Hysterical Sinhala newspaper: Mawbima
Runner-up: Lankadeepa

Most Giddy-headed TV channel: Sirasa TV
Runners-up: Swarnawahini and TV Derana

Two-headed Chicken Little Award: Vidusara science magazine, which accommodated both critical views as well as outright superstition (thus covering all bases?)

Headless Chicken Little Award: All-astrology newspapers that thrive on people’s gullibility

We salute all reporters, editors and media managers who have peddled mind-rotting tall tales about the world ending.

P.S.: Consider it a dubious honour.