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.