For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
In many countries in the world the Media and Information Ministry is the most powerful vehicle that guides the people among other things on the progress of the policies being made, projects being implemented and steps being taken by the government for social integration, protection of national integrity, prevention of child abuse and ensure practices to protect the children, ensure just treatment in matters of gender promotion, investment, ensure high standards of advertisement, respect media ethics and language use in the media, ensure good quality and content in the media, with the overall objective for the welfare of the people.
Has this being carried out by the Ministry of Mass Media and Information in Sri Lanka or has any step being taken to ensure these qualities? Is the Ministry in Sri Lanka a private property of building the personal image of and ensuring personal benefits of one personality, its Secretary, over and above the enormous task that needs to be executed by this Ministry? To what extent its vast resources of assets and manpower with several Additional and Asst. Secretaries and several hundred staff are being misused, mishandled and wasted at enormous expense to the government and public funds?
I happened to visit the Website of the Ministry and go through about its “on going projects” and upon further extensive enquiries being made through institutions attached to the Ministry, I was shocked about my findings and was compelled to write this paper in the interest of the country to highlight some of the deliberate negligence, mismanagement, and the misuse taking place in the Media Ministry since 2004 which drastically affects the overall good performance by the President and the government, with comparison to excellent performance being made by several other Ministries. Among the “on going projects” shown in the media Ministry website includes Establishment of the National Broadcasting Authority, Revision of the Rupavahini Corporation Act, and Introduction of the Digital Technnology, and I was able to find that all these matters remain only to be mentioned in the website and no action has up to now being taken to even to initiate it and they are not at all ongoing projects. A fine example of stagnation of activities of this Ministry can be seen from the write up on the Mahinda Rajapaksa National Tele-Cinema Park under the “on-going” project in the Web site, The item entered at the time of its opening by the President on the 30th March, remains as it is, proving that there was no progress since then.
There has been a vast stride of development in Media Technology throughout the world even in backward development countries, but it is yet to embrace the private as well as the State Media in Sri Lanka, and even there is no plan at least to introduce these technological developments for the media development in Sri Lanka. It keeps on going as it happened to be several years ago and what is given importance is making all media whether it is State or private, print or digital to highlight the presence or utterances of the Ministry Secretary and project his personal image or accrue personal benefits at each and every turn.
Formulation of a Media Culture
Every country formulate their own culture and ethics to protect their national integrity, women’s right, prevent child abuse and crimes, prevent misuse of language, introduce good ethics, as it is the fundamental responsibility of an Institution handling the media of a country. Has the Media Ministry of this country taken any action to execute its fundamental responsibilities in this regard? We found His Excellency the President expressing his dismay and shock recently about the certain words being used in Tele Dramas such as ‘Thamuse’ and even expressed the view that screening of Tele-dramas to be restricted to certain time-belts. If the Media Ministry has carried out its due responsibility, and provided proper guidelines on contents, use of language and quality of the media, the President need not have highlighted these matters. Sadly, it seems that Sri Lanka has a Media Ministry that does not care at all about what goes on in the air, what is televised or what is printed but it is interesting only in misusing a massive institution with ample resources and manpower thereby forcing the country to suffer cultural and moral degeneration. If proper guidelines had been given the Media Monitoring Unit which has a staff of 2 persons have appropriately monitored such misuses.
The Hon. Minister announced that a Media Authority will be established in Sri Lanka. This announcement was given wide publicity by all media Institutions since they realized the importance of such an Authority. The Hon. Minister explained in several subsequent gatherings about his vision of such an Authority. Even making embarrassment to the Hon. Minister his visionary objective remains to be shelved by the ministry officials and it is the view of the media personnel that if such an Authority was established the wings of the person who acts as the media God in this country will get clipped and there will be no room for this person to continue with his swindling and implementing the agenda for personal benefits.
Adverse Effects of Internet
Although Internet has become a powerful vehicle of modern communication, many countries have taken precaution to protect the younger generation from its adverse cultural and moral effects, and to curb cyber crime. As a Ministry responsible to uphold the cultural and moral vales of this country which has been protected for the last several centuries, what action has been taken in Sri Lanka to avoid these adverse consequences? The Secretaries of Government Ministries are not only responsible to implement the AR and FR but also prevent and curb matters that could harm the ethics and values of this country by taking new initiatives to address such crimes. But unfortunately the Media Ministry remains aloof to the dangers of these crimes and has not taken any action at all at least to introduce some regulatory measures, as it has been done by many countries, and protect the younger generation which the President always proudly claim as the biggest investment for the future and the leaders of the future generation.
Several rounds of discussions has been held in the past with the participation of academics and veteran media personnel on the subject and reports have been submitted with guidelines to establish a media school to train youngsters interested in Media as a profession. These reports have not seen the day of light so far and have been kept shelved for unknown reasons.
Foreign Media Coordination
Many countries in the world have regular interaction between media personnel in order to get their media coverage in line with developments in the world and aware of the new technologies being introduced the Sri Lankan Ministry has not adopted any such plan at least to interact with countries such as India and Singapore which have highly developed media institutions. The Media Ministry of Sri Lanka may be holding the view that this is something unwanted or from this tower cannot be viewed in Kilinochchi itself, let along the Jaffna Peninsula and part of Tamil Nadu as it was claimed.
Ranmihitenna Tele- Cinema Garden
This project was launched by the president as a fulfillment of a long felt need of the local artistes and commissioning the project on 30th March last year the president expresses the hope that Sri Lankan film makers will complete with the best in the global arena in the near future. It was said that the park has a fully equipped studios libraries , educational facilities, swimming pools , restaurant and all other facilities for film and Tele drama making. This enables artistes to complete their creations of international standards under one roof. Rs. 600 Million was spent for the construction of the first phase of this project. Although it is more than 1 ½ years since it was commissioned it lies idle without any proper planning and initiative to market its potential, and without any steps being taken to make it up to the standards of at least some well known film studios in India. It has just become a place of visit for school tours as a modern museum and collecting entry fees.
Despite COPE instruction to make this institution the local body to promote advertising no step has been taken to transform it in accordance with the COPE guidelines.
Monitoring of Viewers and Listeners
It is the normal practice in media circles all over the world that independent surveys are carried out to assess the listenership/viewership of media institutions. It is based on the strength of these “independent” reports that sponsors come forward to patronize the programs. May be because such “independent” researchers will not oil the palms oil is learnt that the Ministry is going to undertake to prepare a rating report with some known individuals in the universities and if it was done it will not only be a waste of money but such reports will deserve to shelved to dump into the dust bin.
Misuse of Funds
Funds duly allocated for various activities to promote the media and the interests of media personnel are being diverted to non-media activities such as dislocating of carpeted access road to the Ministry and replace it with interlocking tiles, construction of utilities, construction of additional flag posts, installation of new gates, construction of name boards, painting of buildings and gossip is rampant in the Ministry circle that every interlocking tile and every paint brush carry “something” to the “concerned”. I was also able to find out that there had been a huge table of ornamental value in the Ministry used for several years and the Secretary has destroyed this table by modifying it and taken to Tele-Cinema Garden as a new furniture item. Since a long time there had been a display of photographs of Prime Ministers of this country from the first Prime Minister onwards and these photographs have been removed and arrangements are reported to be underway to display only the photographs of the Secretaries of Ministry as a part of the image building process.
Round the clock service
It is said that the top official of the Ministry is remaining in the office till late hours and visit the weekends and public holidays although nothing has been done, or being planned for the promotion of media and media activities. There are various gossips in the air about this over time work, and there could be much more behind these gossips.
The article is written anonymously and copies have been sent to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and Director General of Government Information – Prof. Ariyaratne Athugala.