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Media freedom upheld, no restrictions – Media Ministry Secretary

There is unprecedented media freedom in Sri Lanka today. The Ministry of Mass Media and Information provides all facilities including training to improve the knowledge and skills of media personnel in the country said Mass Media and Information Ministry Secretary W.B. Ganegala.

Media Ministry Secretary
W.B. Ganegala

The Sunday Observer interviewed the Ministry Secretary recently.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Can you outline the main objectives of the Ministry?

A: The Media Ministry implements various programs and projects to educate and facilitate the electronic and print media personnel to practice their profession effectively. Our main objective is to herald a informative society.

Q: After the defeat of terrorism a major development drive has been launched to make the country the Wonder of Asia. Motivating the people to achieve this goal is important. What are the projects launched to realize this ideal.

A: Although terrorism has been defeated LTTE activists abroad remain unabated. Even during the humanitarian operation several development projects were launched and such project came to fruition after the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. Sri Lanka is the fastest developing country in Asia today.

Media personnel have a vital role to play to ensure the success of this massive development drive.

No country achieved their developmental goals without the active participation and support of the media and media personnel.

We work not only with the government media institutions but also with the huge network of private sector media organisations.

Over 35 FM channels, 15 Television channels and 160 newspapers have been registered in Sri Lanka at present.

Whatever the private agendas they have, private sector media organisations should help implement the national agenda in disseminating information praising each and every government action is not the responsibility of the media. Rather the media should level constructive criticism to put back the authorities on the track.

Mass Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwalle at the training program “Asidishi” for media personnel. Information DG Prof. Ariyaratna Athugala, Ministry Secretary W.B. Ganegala, Divaina Editor in Chief Gamini Sumanasekera and Director Information Wasanthapriya Ramanayaka are also in the picture.

Q: Investigative journalism had revealed wrong doings on the part of the authorities world over such as America’s Watergate incident. Such actions in the interest of transparency and decent public life for an efficient administration. Your comments?

A: It is vital to the media to reveal what has been called the “exact situations” in good faith.

The present government was voted to office with a landslide victory. All sections of the society including media must support the government to reach its developmental goals Mahinda Chintana is not a election manifesto. It is the developmental blueprint of the present government endorsed thrice by the people.

Media too should act in keeping with the Mahinda Chintana

Q: The majority of the TV channels, radio stations and newspapers work to suit their own agendas. One newspaper organisation, Two TV channels and two radio stations have direct dealings with the government. Is this not a too complicated atmosphere to produce quality work.

A: The Mass Media and Information Ministry maintains cordial relations with the media network.

Our projects and programs benefit all media personnel whether they are public or private sector organisations. What is most important is to improve the quality of journalists to suit the present society.

Today we live in the global village. What happens this morning in Colombo will be discussed in a few minutes perhaps at an international symposium held abroad. We only need knowledgeable and competent media men in the existing free media environment.

Q: Could you explain the present media environment in the country.

A: There is media freedom in the country at present. There are no restrictions placed on media organisations or media personnel.

Severe criticisms levelled against the government can be seen in the privately managed newspapers.

The news inflow and outflow and information channels are free to operate.

A few months ago the government wanted the websites to be registered when the aggrieved parties sought a legal remedy the courts upheld the government decision.

A scene from Prof. Sunil Ariyaratna’s Kusa Paba filmed at Ranmihitanne.

Constructive criticism and subscribing to government’s forward march is all that we are interested in.

Q: What are the programs launched to improve the quality of journalism in the country?

A: The budget allocates annually from 2006 a fair amount of funds to develop media industry. Various training programs workshops, seminars have been conducted in Colombo and in outstations for electronic and printed media personnel.

Financial assistance is also provided to follow university degree programs. The media Ministry has a loan scheme launched for journalists to purchase media equipment such as laptops, computers, cameras and fax machines on a very low interest rate.

Q: Mass media is one of the popular subjects in the university curriculum. Is there a program launched by you to improve the skills and knowledge of working journalists or prospective journalists.

A: Over 8,000 media personnel work for media organisations. The Information Department and the Press Council together with the veterans of the media field and university dons have organised various seminars and workshops for them.

A state-of-the-art media centre was opened in the Ministry premises recently. Another educational institute and a centre for journalists in Colombo is in the pipeline.

Q: President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his 2012 Budget speech provided an interest-free loan scheme of Rs.1.2 million for Senior journalists to purchase vehicles and applications have been called for by the media Ministry from journalists. What is the progress of the scheme?

A: Applications are being scrutinized at present.

Q: It is widely believed that media institutions work according to the agenda of the media organisations’ owners.

Could independent media personnel work according to their conscience or in the national interest under such an atmosphere?

A: Owners of Media institutions invest capital to achieve their goals. There are rare instances where media men with a sense of proportion who stand for the interest of the country. There is a progressive media culture in Sri Lanka which is conducive to the development of the country.

The international opinion is that Sri Lanka is in the right track in the media trade.

There are some indices such as Gross National Income rate of growth, and unemployment which is used to measure the progress of any country. China has registered over 10 percent growth while Sri Lanka achieved 8.5 percent growth last quarter compared to other countries to other regions.

In 2005 Sri Lanka’s per capita income was only US $ 800, whereas now it is over US $ 2400. President Mahinda Rajapaksa believes it might reach US $ 4500 within a few years. Sri Lanka is not designated as a poor nation as it is heading towards a prosperous society.

Since President Rajapaksa has transformed the terror-hit country to what it is today, his voice reflects the voice of the nation. It is time for the media together with others to march forward to achieve his vision.

Q: Tourists arrivals have increased sharply during the last few years. The attitude of the developed world to invest in Sri Lanka has positively changed. Your comments?

A: When Sri Lanka experience zero development in the GDP in 2001 no country came forward to invest in Sri Lanka. The situation today is entirely different. Foreign aid on very attractive terms are offered to the country. Massive infrastructure development projects such as ports, roads and airports, Uma Oya and Kotmale schemes, the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery Development, Urban and village development and water supply schemes are some of projects that have been largely facilitated with foreign funds. It is the duty of the media to convey this message to the country.

Q: What is the present progress of the Ranmihitanne Tele Village.

A: There was the practice of screening Indian Mega teledrama series and tele commercials in 2006 which affected the local tele drama industry.

The local artistes made representation to the President against this and the government took steps such as imposing heavy taxes on mega Indian tele dramas to discourage this practice. Such taxes were channelled into a special fund for the benefit of tele field and tele artistes. Ranmihitanne tele village was financed by that fund.

Over 12 local tele dramas have been produced at Ranmihitanne. Prof. Sunil Ariyaratna’s Kusa Paba was produced at Ranmihitanne TV Village. The second phase of Ranmihitanne will be launched next month. A film studio worth over Rs.300 million will be built in the second phase of Ranmihitanne project.

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