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Media Sector Reforms
in Sri Lanka:
Some ‘Big Picture’ Thoughts
By Nalaka Gunawardene
Talk to Sri Lanka Media Reform Workin...
Where I come from…
 A hybrid: raised on ‘old media’, but now
active across both old and new media
 Once full-time practi...
Balancing Acts…
We need to keep in mind on media reform:
 Freedom of Expression ↔ societal stability
 Public interest ↔ ...
One vehicle, different sized wheels:
A popular Russian children’s story
 Apt analogy for Lankan
media industry today?
 4...
What’s to be done?
 Until and unless we
address ALL FOUR
elements, media
reform won’t be
complete!
 Owners
 Advertisers...
How animals in the
story resolved it…
Media Owners:
Public interest or Vested interests?
The largest wheel?
Media owners/Press Barons:
Public interest or Vested interests?
 Market freedom allows owning & operating
media as profit...
Sri Lanka’s “Free” Media & Owners:
Turning spotlight on the industry…
“In the final count isn’t it the raison
d’etre of th...
Broadcasting ownership in Sri Lanka:
State + political cronies occupy airwaves
 State as sole broadcaster for decades
 R...
Sri Lanka: Terrestrial TV channels
At least 22
free-to-air
terrestrial
TV channels
(Source:
Dirimaga
magazine,
Jan-March
2...
Satellite/Cable TV channels in
Sri Lanka: as at Jan 2015
(Source:
Dirimaga
magazine,
Jan-March
2015 issue)
A glass quarter full?
Partial liberalisation of airwaves…
 Better than SLBC & SLRC being only shows in town!
 NO due pro...
Scarcity fuels ‘Black market’
in Lankan broadcast licenses?
 ALL private radio & TV licenses in use today
in Sri Lanka ob...
Lankan state is everywhere!
A pervasive presence in the media
“…It has focussed attention on
the role of the Sri Lankan st...
Inaugurating Rupavahini in Feb 1982, President Jayewardene
wished it to be a ‘sathya-vahini’ (dispenser of truth). But it ...
How state-owned media becomes
ruling party propaganda outlets…
Before and After Presidential Election on 8 January 2015
Print Media Ownership:
What Reform potential?
 At a minimum: improve transparency in
media ownership by better public dis...
Lake House newspapers, Dec 2014:
Do we laugh or cry over these?
Broadcast Media Ownership:
What Reform potential?
 Currently, Lanka state owns/operates some radio &
TV channels + also r...
An independent media commission?
Analysis by Asanga Welikala, Jan 2015
 To be set up on the recommendation of
Constitutio...
We must also strive for
truly community media!
 Since 1980s, Lanka has had pseudo ‘community
radio’ – fully owned & opera...
Adapting ‘public service broadcasting’
to suit Lankan realities?
“The evidence shows that we in Sri Lanka
are incapable of...
Advertisers:
Necessary - but too influential?
After owners, arguably second largest wheel?
Sri Lanka: Total ad spend of LKR 77b
in 2014 (mostly in mainstream media)
Source: Neilsen
Based on monitored activities & ...
Advertising as ‘soft control’
 Government as one of the biggest advertisers
 Official notices for public information: ne...
Presidential Election Jan 2015:
What total advertising spend?
 No one really knows: parties not required to
declare campa...
Sri Lanka: Who decides on spending
LKR 77 billion/year advertising budget?
 Who decides on this ad-spend across
different...
Broadcast media advertising:
LMRB domination & high secrecy
 Lanka Market Research Bureau (LMRB) radio &
TV ratings large...
LMRB’s media ratings system
questioned & challenged
 Dr Charitha Herath (then Secy, Media Min):
“…several private and sta...
LMRB questioned & challenged
 14 June: Maharaja Chairman writes to all ad agencies
voicing concerns on LMRB’s system
 Ju...
How to improve media ratings and
circulation figures in Sri Lanka?
 Audited circulation by independent body (not
any publ...
Watch out: Digital marketing & web
media advertising growing…
 Sri Lanka digital ad spend 4-5% (as estimated
by GroupM’s ...
Media Practitioners:
Content creators, curators, moderators
Essential - but imperfect – third wheel…
Who is a media practitioner?
 Print: Editors, journalists, photojournalists
 Broadcast: News journalists, producers,
tec...
Media Practitioner issues (with
potential for improvement)
 Guaranteeing personal safety from physical
violence, legal ha...
Most media supports social justice…
But it must begin at home!
Institutional policies & practices need improvement:
 Aspi...
Tweet that resonated with many
LKA media practitioners…
Media Consumers:
‘Former Audience’, Now Empowered
Smallest wheel – but can no longer be ignored!
Conventional media structures…
 Owners, advertisers & paid
practitioners manufacture
media content   (mostly
passive) a...
Lankan media consumers/audience…
 Has little/no voice in shaping media content
 Limited choice of real alternatives (des...
Wanted, Urgent:
Better Media Literacy in Sri Lanka!
 Basic literacy high in Lanka, but mass media
literacy & new media li...
New media
Who is publishing online
now (since late 1990s)?
In THEORY, at least:
 Anybody can be a reporter,
commentator, analyst
 ...
Who is a journalist today?
It’s the SONG, not the SINGER!
Citizen Journalism (CJ)
in 21st
Century Sri Lanka…
 Bloggers: 3,000+ in Sinhala, Tamil or
English or mixed media
 Blog a...
We need both Mainstream Media
AND Citizen Media!
New media issues for
Sri Lanka media policy & law reforms
 Needed: clear state policy & procedure for
state engaging new ...
Even under current govt,
SLT Broadband still blocks TamilNet!
As at 19 March 2015, www.tamilnet.com still not accessible
f...
Summing up:
Reform Necessary, Not Sufficient
 Enabling policies, laws and regulations can
create better environment for m...
State of media in Sri Lanka today?
Change must begin from within…
Cartoon By
Gihan de
Chickera,
Daily Mirror,
18 June 2014
Ravaya columns online:
http://nalakagunawardene.com/ravaya-column/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/NalakaG
Books: http://nalak...
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Media Reforms in Sri Lanka - Some Big Picture Ideas by Nalaka Gunawardene

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Talk given by science writer and media researcher Nalaka Gunawardene to the Sri Lanka Media Reform Working Goup, at its first meeting held at Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), Colombo, on 20 March 2015. The group will prepare for National Summit on Media Reforms to be held in mid May 2015.

In this talk, Nalaka looks at four facets of Lankan media -- owners, advertisers, practitioners and consumers -- and identifies some reform needs in each.

Published in: News & Politics
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Media Reforms in Sri Lanka - Some Big Picture Ideas by Nalaka Gunawardene

  1. 1. Media Sector Reforms in Sri Lanka: Some ‘Big Picture’ Thoughts By Nalaka Gunawardene Talk to Sri Lanka Media Reform Working Group SLPI, Colombo: 20 March 2015
  2. 2. Where I come from…  A hybrid: raised on ‘old media’, but now active across both old and new media  Once full-time practitioner, now freelancer working with multiple media outlets  Watcher + chronicler of origins and rise of web & web-based media in Lanka: 1995  Occasional media researcher  Media lecturer (UofC, UofSJP) & trainer
  3. 3. Balancing Acts… We need to keep in mind on media reform:  Freedom of Expression ↔ societal stability  Public interest ↔ private enterprise  Public security ↔ privacy of individuals  Official secrets ↔ public’s right to know  Profit making ↔ media industry growth  Media owners ↔ media practitioners  Media industry ↔ media consumers/audience
  4. 4. One vehicle, different sized wheels: A popular Russian children’s story  Apt analogy for Lankan media industry today?  4 wheels = elements of varying size & influence:  Media owners  Advertisers (incl agencies)  Content-makers (journos, producers, technicians)  Consumers: audiences  LKA govt is everywhere! ොොොොොොොොො ොොොොො
  5. 5. What’s to be done?  Until and unless we address ALL FOUR elements, media reform won’t be complete!  Owners  Advertisers  Content-makers  Consumers
  6. 6. How animals in the story resolved it…
  7. 7. Media Owners: Public interest or Vested interests? The largest wheel?
  8. 8. Media owners/Press Barons: Public interest or Vested interests?  Market freedom allows owning & operating media as profit-making enterprises  But media ownership need special scrutiny  In Lanka: Media ownership details are not transparent (real owners often behind scene)  Many media owners have other biz and/or political interests:  Influence peddling  Open to private deals
  9. 9. Sri Lanka’s “Free” Media & Owners: Turning spotlight on the industry… “In the final count isn’t it the raison d’etre of the editors and publishers in Sri Lanka to promote the cause of excellent journalism in this country? Isn’t it their mandate to strengthen and protect journalists from discrimination, threats and harassment? Isn’t it their duty to promote the rule of law and democratic values of which the bedrock is a free Press?” - Frederica Jansz, The Sunday Leader 31 Oct 2010 http://goo.gl/kefWRQ
  10. 10. Broadcasting ownership in Sri Lanka: State + political cronies occupy airwaves  State as sole broadcaster for decades  Radio (1925 to 1992)  TV (1979 to 1992)  ITN started as private co but taken over by govt within 3 months  Partial ‘liberalisation’ of airwaves started in 1992, but…  FM radio & TV broadcasting licenses given selectively to ‘friends’ of various regimes since then = Looting of E-M Spectrum
  11. 11. Sri Lanka: Terrestrial TV channels At least 22 free-to-air terrestrial TV channels (Source: Dirimaga magazine, Jan-March 2015 issue)
  12. 12. Satellite/Cable TV channels in Sri Lanka: as at Jan 2015 (Source: Dirimaga magazine, Jan-March 2015 issue)
  13. 13. A glass quarter full? Partial liberalisation of airwaves…  Better than SLBC & SLRC being only shows in town!  NO due process or transparent procedure for broadcast licensing:  Licenses granted entirely at political discretion  License terms & conditions also vary (from practically none to many)  No regulator governing broadcast sector  Only state and private companies allowed to broadcast: no community broadcasting!  No legal mandate or institutions for public service broadcasting
  14. 14. Scarcity fuels ‘Black market’ in Lankan broadcast licenses?  ALL private radio & TV licenses in use today in Sri Lanka obtained thru the ‘backdoor’  Broadcast licenses: scarce  highly valued  exchange hands reportedly for large sums of money (=a black market!)  Also, private broadcast owners beholden to govt in office (license can be revoked anytime)  Attempts (in 2012/3) to standarise existing licenses resisted by some operators: WHY?
  15. 15. Lankan state is everywhere! A pervasive presence in the media “…It has focussed attention on the role of the Sri Lankan state as regulator, newspaper proprietor, broadcaster and enforcer of last resort, as well as the implications of such a concentration of power for the public interest, the reflection of diverse opinions and the role of the fourth estate in holding government to account…” (Chapter 1, p11) Embattled Media: Democracy, Governance and Reform in Sri Lanka (Sage, Feb 2015)
  16. 16. Inaugurating Rupavahini in Feb 1982, President Jayewardene wished it to be a ‘sathya-vahini’ (dispenser of truth). But it was cartoonist Wijesoma’s prophecy of Party-vahini that happened!
  17. 17. How state-owned media becomes ruling party propaganda outlets… Before and After Presidential Election on 8 January 2015
  18. 18. Print Media Ownership: What Reform potential?  At a minimum: improve transparency in media ownership by better public disclosure  India: mandatory public disclosure (printed in own newspapers, magazines) of publisher, editor and printer details on regular basis  Should the state be involved in newspaper publishing at all? (broadbasing ANCL/Lake House ownership, as per RKW Goonesekere committee recommendations, 1996)
  19. 19. Lake House newspapers, Dec 2014: Do we laugh or cry over these?
  20. 20. Broadcast Media Ownership: What Reform potential?  Currently, Lanka state owns/operates some radio & TV channels + also regulates whole broadcast sector  At a minimum: adopt a law covering all broadcasting  Right now, private owned channels get:  Media License issued by Min of Mass Media (under sect 44 of Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Act No 37 of 1966)  Frequency allocated by Telecom Regulatory Commission under Telecom Act – see: http://www.trc.gov.lk/2014-07- 25-12-05-25/uhf-vhf-tv-broadcasting.html  An independent broadcast regulator?  Or a Media Commission covering all media?
  21. 21. An independent media commission? Analysis by Asanga Welikala, Jan 2015  To be set up on the recommendation of Constitutional Council and representing working journalists, academics, proprietors and new media…  “Its primary role would be to oversee the public service media institutions, but may include other powers and functions, including the regulation of the (new and traditional) media marketplace, and to promote the freedom of expression in all its forms including through new technology.”  http://groundviews.org/2015/01/17/securing-the- freedom-of-expression-in-the-new-sri-lanka- essential-institutional-reforms/
  22. 22. We must also strive for truly community media!  Since 1980s, Lanka has had pseudo ‘community radio’ – fully owned & operated by the state’s SLBC!  Emerging online: some web radios (e.g. Radio Kalutara http://www.radiokalutara.com) – just leave them alone to find their own niches!  Legally set aside some frequencies for genuine community broadcasting – e.g. Thailand has allocated 20% of FM band for community radio  Lower ‘entry barriers’ to broadcasting so universities, civil soc & comm groups can start localised radios?  Concern: Lanka’s FM band is now saturated!
  23. 23. Adapting ‘public service broadcasting’ to suit Lankan realities? “The evidence shows that we in Sri Lanka are incapable of sustaining “independent” public media like the BBC. We should accept that fact and try something else, namely, a fund for public media content. Here, meritorious content that is unlikely to be produced by private producers under commercial considerations would be carefully defined and subsidized…” - Prof Rohan Samarajiva, LBO 14 Jan 2015 http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/news/p ublic-media-or-public-media-organizations-in- sri-lanka/393427886
  24. 24. Advertisers: Necessary - but too influential? After owners, arguably second largest wheel?
  25. 25. Sri Lanka: Total ad spend of LKR 77b in 2014 (mostly in mainstream media) Source: Neilsen Based on monitored activities & rate card cost
  26. 26. Advertising as ‘soft control’  Government as one of the biggest advertisers  Official notices for public information: needed  Ruling party propaganda paid with govt funds???  Election campaigning by incumbent Presidents  Govt ads sustains much of state-owned media  Govt ads also used for pvt media control  Sycophancy rewarded with lots of govt ads  Critical media threatened with govt ad withdrawal  Needless ads created just to reward some media?
  27. 27. Presidential Election Jan 2015: What total advertising spend?  No one really knows: parties not required to declare campaign donations or costs One estimate shortly after election ended:  Rajapaksa: LKR 2.03 billion (USD 15m approx) All came from public funds and budget for president’s office and other ministries  Sirisena: LKR 676 million (USD 5m approx)  Cost of airtime & print space buying only (not covering production costs) Source: The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka): 15 Jan 2015 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150118/business-times/former-president- spent-over-rs-2-bln-in-state-funds-on-election-ads-130623.html
  28. 28. Sri Lanka: Who decides on spending LKR 77 billion/year advertising budget?  Who decides on this ad-spend across different media sectors and outlets?  Using what basis or criteria?  Considering massive financial influence, there is little or no public scrutiny!  Highly secretive, subjective process?  Challenge: How to balance free market enterprise with more evidence-based allocation of ad budgets?
  29. 29. Broadcast media advertising: LMRB domination & high secrecy  Lanka Market Research Bureau (LMRB) radio & TV ratings largely determines ad spend by ad agencies and their clients  Long-standing concerns on LMRB methodology:  People’s Meter (for TV); Diary method (for radio)  Small, unrepresentative sample (500 for whole LKA?)  Open to manipulations? (as alleged by some media)  May 2014: Media Ministry calls for “greater transparency in broadcast media ratings system”
  30. 30. LMRB’s media ratings system questioned & challenged  Dr Charitha Herath (then Secy, Media Min): “…several private and state television channels have lodged complaints with the Ministry of Mass Media…challenging the transparency and trustworthiness of the reports presented by several rating agencies operating in Sri Lanka”  4 June 2014: Media Ministry holds meeting with broadcasters on current rating system: Media minister clarifies: ‘govt will not get involved or fund an alternative system’
  31. 31. LMRB questioned & challenged  14 June: Maharaja Chairman writes to all ad agencies voicing concerns on LMRB’s system  June 2014: Ceylon Newspapers Ltd sues LMRB in Colombo District Court claiming damages on losses from “not conducting proper, independent research” on newspaper circulation  22 June 2014: LMRB press release says: “We believe that the audience data generated from the RapidMeter System have already begun to contribute positively to the needs of all the stakeholders in the TV industry…”
  32. 32. How to improve media ratings and circulation figures in Sri Lanka?  Audited circulation by independent body (not any publisher) as done in USA, Europe, India  Have at least 2 robust broadcast ratings systems, competing yet both using transparent methodologies  In India, ratings companies are monitored by:  Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA),  Indian Broadcast Foundation (IBF),  Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI)
  33. 33. Watch out: Digital marketing & web media advertising growing…  Sri Lanka digital ad spend 4-5% (as estimated by GroupM’s South Asia CEO, Dec 2014)  Developed media economies: 20-25%  Largest medium for advertising in UK: Google (has more advertising than all print publication & TV channels)  What monitoring or regulation possible over a trans-boundary advertising medium like web?  How will this affect LKA media viability?
  34. 34. Media Practitioners: Content creators, curators, moderators Essential - but imperfect – third wheel…
  35. 35. Who is a media practitioner?  Print: Editors, journalists, photojournalists  Broadcast: News journalists, producers, technical staff (camera, sound, edit, etc.)  New media: website content creators, webmasters, bloggers, micro-bloggers, etc.  Demarcations are blurred in this era of media convergence: more multimedia journalists!  Do media managers get counted too?
  36. 36. Media Practitioner issues (with potential for improvement)  Guaranteeing personal safety from physical violence, legal harassment  Safeguarding editorial freedom (from govt and/or pvt owners, also from advertisers)  Employment & income security (why do highly profitable media cos pay poor salaries?)  Promoting right to form/belong to trade unions and professional associations  Need for continuing education & training
  37. 37. Most media supports social justice… But it must begin at home! Institutional policies & practices need improvement:  Aspiring for gender equality at media offices  Prevention of sexual harassment  Ethics training and counselling  Trauma counselling for journalists exposed to war, crime, disaster situations  Legal guidance on human rights, libel, defamation AND fairness in reporting  Ending widespread exploitation of provincial corrs + freelancers (very poorly paid by ALL media orgs)
  38. 38. Tweet that resonated with many LKA media practitioners…
  39. 39. Media Consumers: ‘Former Audience’, Now Empowered Smallest wheel – but can no longer be ignored!
  40. 40. Conventional media structures…  Owners, advertisers & paid practitioners manufacture media content   (mostly passive) audiences  Limited opportunity for audience engagement (letters to editor; phone-in shows)  Audience is taken for granted  Notion of all-knowing media ‘informing’ & ‘enlightening’ mass audiences Much of Lankan media still operates on this basis!
  41. 41. Lankan media consumers/audience…  Has little/no voice in shaping media content  Limited choice of real alternatives (despite growth in No of publications & channels)  Those outside Western Province especially disadvantaged: 90% of Lankan media is produced in Greater Colombo  COLOMBO CALLING: still our media’s slogan?  Second media hubs emerging in Jaffna and maybe Kandy – need more nurturing
  42. 42. Wanted, Urgent: Better Media Literacy in Sri Lanka!  Basic literacy high in Lanka, but mass media literacy & new media literacy still very low  Critically assessing media content: not yet a common habit (leaves much room for manipulation of public mind, e.g. done by state media during elections)  Many public myths & fears about new media  Internet as a ‘tool of western domination’  Mobile phones as ‘corrupting youth’  Media reforms need a media literate public!
  43. 43. New media
  44. 44. Who is publishing online now (since late 1990s)? In THEORY, at least:  Anybody can be a reporter, commentator, analyst  Anybody can be an editor or publisher: no gatekeeper!  Only tools needed: web connected PC/smartphone  No longer passive consumers of mainstream media (MSM)! By Dan Gillmor, 2004
  45. 45. Who is a journalist today? It’s the SONG, not the SINGER!
  46. 46. Citizen Journalism (CJ) in 21st Century Sri Lanka…  Bloggers: 3,000+ in Sinhala, Tamil or English or mixed media  Blog aggregators: listing latest blog posts  Twitter users: 25,000+ in Sinhala, Tamil, English or hybrid  Facebook: 2.4 million+ accounts. Only some using it in PUBLIC setting to discuss matters of public interest  Dedicated CJ websites: Groundviews, Vikalpa, Maataram, etc.
  47. 47. We need both Mainstream Media AND Citizen Media!
  48. 48. New media issues for Sri Lanka media policy & law reforms  Needed: clear state policy & procedure for state engaging new media practitioners (or at least for state to keep out of the way!)  Regular bloggers deserve some legal protection & recognition  Media accreditation: should bloggers with a wide following be considered for this?  Clarity on web censoring process: criteria, judicial oversight and public disclosure for exceptional cases of blocking websites
  49. 49. Even under current govt, SLT Broadband still blocks TamilNet! As at 19 March 2015, www.tamilnet.com still not accessible from SLT Broadband but Dialog Broadband allows it. WHY?
  50. 50. Summing up: Reform Necessary, Not Sufficient  Enabling policies, laws and regulations can create better environment for media  But improving our media culture also needs…  More integrity from owners & practitioners  Greater professionalism by practitioners  Unwavering commitment to public interest  Media houses practising what they preach to soc  Everyone of us is part of the ‘media vehicle’ Change begins with each one of us!
  51. 51. State of media in Sri Lanka today? Change must begin from within… Cartoon By Gihan de Chickera, Daily Mirror, 18 June 2014
  52. 52. Ravaya columns online: http://nalakagunawardene.com/ravaya-column/ Twitter: http://twitter.com/NalakaG Books: http://nalakagunawardene.com/books/ http://nalakagunawardene.com

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