Mobiles and media freedoms

Posted on October 22, 2008  /  3 Comments

In 1998, the principal journalist organizations of Sri Lanka agreed on the Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility. That served as a roadmap for some interesting and innovative reforms including the creation of a self-regulatory mechanism for print media in 2003. Of course, the reforms were not completed.

In the hope of revising the text and energizing the reform effort, the Sri Lanka Press Institute organized a workshop, at which I was asked to speak. In light of the 15 minutes I was assigned, I decided to focus on SMS and cell broadcasting within the larger context of mobiles, a subject we are deeply interested in, rather try to cover the waterfront.

In my presentation, I contrasted the connectivity and new media availability in 1998 when the Declaration was worked up, and now. I showed how significant mobiles were, and discussed two (or three) applications that had media-like qualities (allowed for one-to-many communication). This included customer-requested SMS and cell broadcasting.

Unfortunately, not enough time was available for discussion. Some of the questions/comments (including from the panel) assumed that the state in Sri Lanka was like that in Sweden (not that they made this comparison): asking for explicit statements of policy and thinking that appropriate selection of metaphor and frame would change the outcome. This is an issue I have to come back to over and over again, that all policy design must begin from a realistic analysis of the state, its fundamental incentive structures and capabilities. Just because we wish we had rational government processes, we will not get them.


  1. I meant to ask, what’s preventing the implementation of cell broadcasting in SL?

  2. No government action is required for commercial applications of CB. The ITU-T Study Group 2 is working on standardizing the addressing system for CB, but that shouldn’t stop anyone.

    Public warning applications are another story. Here, government action is required to set the channel that will be used for public warning.

  3. According to what Sherille Ismail told me, mobile operators in USA are reluctant to activate CB, because they have already invested heavily on alternative (and more sophisticated) technologies. They think CB might kill that investment. Hope we are not that late.