e Sri Lanka fostering discussion on ICTs and society?

Posted on August 17, 2010  /  5 Comments

Sri Lanka has a peculiar media structure. The government has its own TV stations (2), radio (2) and also an entire newspaper publishing company. These have no similarity to the BBC and CBC, on which they were modeled. These are out and out propaganda operations. I cut my media teeth at the government radio station in 1978-79 (it was a monopoly back then, so I had no choice) and have done many programs there since. But I had not been invited since around 2003 when I was working in government.

So I was more than a little surprised to receive an invitation for a live talk show during drive time from the government channel. I accepted, mostly out of curiosity as to why I had ceased to be persona non grata. I was even more surprised when I found the show was sponsored by the ICT Agency and that my introduction mentioned my role in setting up the agency. The moderator was well prepared and even tried to set up controversy by playing a segment from a previous show where a post modernist had said that I have no understanding of the cultural aspects of ICTs.

What I was most surprised by was the fact that they let through a caller who wanted me to make a critical evaluation of the progress made by e Sri Lanka since 2003, or the lack thereof.

I responded saying that good things had been done, but that more should be done. That the 1919 government information center that they kept advertising through the show was a great innovation, but that it did not attract enough calls and give enough information. That Sri Lanka had made absolute progress on the composite indices such as the ICT Development Index, but that we were falling behind in relative terms because others were running harder. The usual things that I say.

That is what I have to say to ICTA about the commendable effort to spark public discourse about ICTs and their social, economic and cultural effects. You’re doing good work, but you can do much better.

Good that you invite people like me and the postmodernist, both people who speak their minds. But surely, you can do better in terms of media channels. I do not know the exact ratings position of the government channel, but I suspect it is not the channel of choice in public transport during drive time. If you want to communicate, you need to use the channels that have large audiences. You need to go outside the frame of government money being given to other government agencies, to getting the most bang for the buck.


  1. I am glad that finally you have decided to participate in the programme. I listened to it from the beginning. It was very interesting and thought-provoking.

    I want to write this reply just to make you correct about the audio-ratings of SLBC Sinhala National service. According to the audio research, still SLBC National Service is the most popular channel in rural Sri Lanka. Specially the morning airtime from 6 a.m. (Just after their morning news bulletin) to 8.30 a.m. is very popular among public servants, students, religious groups and other academics. Obviously, this the only radio channel you have, to use to cater to the stated audiences.

    Technically, the SLBC channels (excluding its commercial service and CITY FM) cover the whole island despite its low- programme popularity. This has something to do with SLBC’s programme content quality and credibility which I do not wish to explain.

    So-called private commercial channels, which you refer to in your comment, deliberately refused to accommodate one-hour radio talk show like these. ICTA approached these channels many time and are yet to receive very favorable response . Unfortunately, these channels are not ready to facilitate more in-depth analysis on any subject in their media. They do play popular music and host comedy talk-shows during the prime time targeting their commercial revenue.

    In this context, the only option available is none other than SLBC. This is not giving government money to another government institute like you mentioned in your comment. It’s all about working with good-available options.

    Despite all the difficulties ICTA will continuously facilitate ICT public discourse in the Sri Lankan media.

    Thank you very much for supporting that dialogue.

    “If you want to go fast, go alone.
    If you want to go far, go together”


  2. @Athula Pushpakumara

    Thank you for the prompt clarification. My statement was the “I suspect it is not the channel of choice in public transport during drive time.” That has not been refuted. But good to see the audience prioritization of ICTA.

    In the same spirit of clarification, I wish to clarify that I have never been invited to any discussion on any medium by ICTA prior to this. Some may interpret the sentence “I am glad that finally you have decided to participate in the programme” to mean that until now I have been busily turning down invitations from ICTA since I was asked to resign from the Board in 2005. That is not the case.

  3. Samarajiva, you don’t follow what Athula Pushpakumara says. He wants to reach “public servants, students, religious groups and other academics”. Why? That is the vote base of SLFP. His duty as a political appointed media manager at ICTA is to sustain it. So he selects state radio. Simple straightforward logic.

  4. Impersonating Beyond Frame.

    As some people have used the name and the URL of this blog to insert certain comments in other blogs. please note that from today (07-02-2009) onwards beyondframe will not comment on any other blog sites using its name or URL. so whats appear in other blog sites in the name of beyondframe is not beyondframe’s, but who wants to throw mud at it.