Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation : ‘We are providing a national service’ | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation : ‘We are providing a national service’

20 August, 2017

The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) is one of the oldest radio stations in South Asia. The current Chairman of the SLBC, Sudharshana Gunawardane says, “The main aim of the SLBC is to run an organization where we provide unbiased information to the public according to the policies, and also to promote the government’s agenda on reconciliation, democratization and development.We have been campaigning for these ideals for a long time and this is a time when civil society activism and government agenda is similar.

After I took over, a new board was also appointed and as the Chairman, along with the Director General who is the Chief Executive Officer of the organization we are now focusing on streamlining our programs and to make sure that we get more listenership, and also cater to the listening public with more enriched programs. At the moment we run programs in all three languages.

We have three Sinhala channels, two Tamil channels and the Radio Sri Lanka English Channel. We have regional channels and the community radio, and there are plenty of activities happening.

At the moment, our focus is very much on news and current affairs and the challenge is to make sure that we present a balanced news bulletin while promoting government development activities and government efforts for reconciliation.”

Gunawardane is planning to revamp the SLBC. He says, “My main aim is to get a strong volunteer support-base because this is the oldest media institution as far as the electronic media is concerned.

This has a huge resource base, an immense listenership and we are the only channel that has a regional presence in Anuradhapura, Kandy and Matara. So, with this we thought we can make a difference, but as this is a government institution we are not profit making.

So we can’t really move. Therefore, my intention is to call volunteers who love radio, who are nostalgic about the radio, and who have been associating with the radio since the good old days, to come forward and work with us.

The emphasis is to make sure that all three language streams are treated equally and also to promote gender equality within the organization, to develop our content, present programs, do research and get feedback in whatever way. That is the message I want to convey. I think radio broadcasting has a lot to do with national reconciliation. My belief is that times are changing. We used to be the only broadcaster, but now there are many channels.

We need to develop this media as a greater interactive platform linked to the social media. I see that there is a greater potential; and also we used to cater to the public who stay at home, but now the television has taken this place. But, more people now listen to the radio while travelling, be it a bus, a trishaw, their private vehicle or office transport.

The radio has become a mode of communication and we are aiming at that market. A lot of people now listen to the radio through their phones and other devices. When you are in a gym you can listen to the radio. My intention is to develop a radio which can fit into the needs of the modern citizen.”

At present, the SLBC runs services in three languages. Gunawardane says, “In the Sinhala stream we have the Sinhala National Service, Sinhala Commercial Service and the City FM. The latter focuses more on the youth base while the Sinhala National Service is a classic presentation. The Commercial Service plays contemporary music.

We have the Tamil Service and we run Hindi programs in the Asia Service, but that’s in only short wave at the moment. Radio Sri Lanka is our English channel.

The education service and the children’s service are part of the Sinhala National Service frequencies. We used to have a very good listener base in India when we were transmitting through a medium of short wave. At the moment, we are very much on FM, but still there is a special service which we call the Asia Service for which there is a good response. People still listen to that through the internet.

We have a very resourceful library where we have a collection of English and Hindi records and also Sinhala and Tamil. I think no other institution in the South Asian region has such resources.” Gunawardane says, the future challenges for the SLBC are many fold. “One is to mark our presence in the present day when there is a challenge from television and internet based media. The challenge is how to fit into the current times and how to become relevant. Therefore, we improved our technology and developed our studios and equipped them with modern facilities.

There is a digitalized automation process going on. The other challenge is to come up with more up to date content. Our content has not been up to the mark. So through training and research we are focusing on developing good content, and to make sure to cater to the taste of our listeners. One big challenge is that there are too many radio stations now and all are national.

They all focus on the Island wide coverage. Nobody is looking at the niche area. For example, there is a rating system and the radio has to depend on the advertising. The number of advertisements you get and the frequency will be decided by this system of rating.” Gunawardane has a vision for the SLBC. He says, “I came with a mission. I told the employees when I first assumed duty, I’m from civil society, I’m a lawyer and I represent civil society organizations. My mission is to bring this institution back to the days of glory. When Sir Edmund Hilary climbed Mount Everest he switched on his shortwave radio to see if he got any frequency. He got one frequency and that was Radio Ceylon All Asia Service. My ambition is to bring back the radio to its former glory by developing the research and training, and to make sure that we have good studios and the staff is trained to use modern equipment and develop the content. I’m asking a lot of volunteers to help me and provide their knowledge because this is a national institution.

We are not in competition with anyone else. We are providing a national service. I’m here to facilitate that.”

Pix: Ranjith Asanka