Colombo Telegraph

Devolution: Media In Provinces

By Lal Keerthie Fernando

Lal Keerthie Fernando

Access to media, its determination for news and information, is an added advantage, a plus more, in promoting progress in the provinces. The ability of its readership to comprehend, divergence in views related to development has to be understood by media owners and the society in general in the provinces. To mention devolution and not understand the validity of media presentation, will only lead to derelict performances of stake holders. The province fails to absorb the message. The burden of responsibility for good governance fails at local level, causing less concern of the province and its legislators. The centre has been awarded legal rights to ignore the province.

The problem remained, as provinces over the years had been run by both partners in power; the centre dominating the province, either through extra budgetary resources for members of the centre and their statements from the “House”, covering national issues. The voice of the parliamentarian hardly was heeded in the province, although, the person was from the province. National interest voiced through a centre orientated media which earmarked a readership at national level and from Colombo, became reality.

Talking of reconciliation, peace etc. for the north and development in all provinces alike, cannot be impacted. It could be done, if only the party and government/s remaining in governance is proved worthy of governance, through the provincial media. The province having the right to be heard through its own media will confirm the authority and strength of the government in power. Of its policies. On the other hand, the national media remains incapable, administratively and financially to divulge a governments’ progress at provincial level. Printing wise, impossible too. National media emerged from colonial rule and continues to remain in that spirit up to now. The society is complex today. It has changed. Languages, tamil and sinhalese, explicitly, sending messages and want much more to be heard from where they are.

We see two good examples. The first example: The northern papers, at provincial level, have remained more nationalistic, pro-tamil and thoroughly politics as such, owing to lack of development in the region. It is development which will able to force a dialogue for the law, culture, arts and projects. Increase in standard of living and poverty relief at that level are leading issues for the media and by the media. It is here one need to address the issue by local papers impacting re-conciliation and not just, talk, talk. Even if such media is to be controlled by vested interest, nothing stops others entering the market for divergent views, changing style and content, in favour of development and dialogue. The core issue will come to be, the owner and editor having the province as their interest. Dissent and extremism have reasons to be diluted, cast aside, through participation and the Jaffna media has already begun that access to the difference via the media. Other provinces have reasons to follow suit. Freedom to own and run a media is not a issue.

Second example: The national media, in Colombo and from Colombo, represents the region Colombo, good or for the bad. That is where their market is; its readers as well as commercial interests. It strongly promotes, events, art, culture, politics, sports and Colombo gossip catering the region, knowing well its aims. It is not bad; certainly it is good alright. But…, cannot the provincial papers do the same for their areas and heard better? 85% of people are in the provinces. Exposure of Colombo politics and ignoring provincial politics and progress, have been the reason, why many governments remained un-steady in governance, over the years. To enhance good governance a disbursed media is vital. Cannot the newspapers in the provinces hold a better position to do the same? There are more newspapers sold in Colombo than in the provinces. Western Province remains as the vanguard of the Colombo newspapers. Isn’t that a fact?

Confined to current rotation of news on the Rajapakses and corruption, many in the provinces remain sceptical and unknown of facts, that such had taken place. News not known within the same country of a grave issue, permits the province to ask the question, whether, the matter was hatched well by the media in Colombo itself? Or, have they the right to question the validity of news, not facts, all these years remaining in silence of the facts? Provincial systems can only observe such mistakes as an example, not related to conformity for wider dissemination of facts. Such promotes contentment for dissent; threatens new concepts for participatory governance.

Previous government, sometime back, decided to start a newspaper “Wayamba”, reflecting what ever there in the province and the tabloid was to be run from Lake House! Remote control media is equally dangerous as isolating provincial governments. Having an editor not knowing the area is even worse. Patch work development is a serious threat to a literate mind. It equally undermines those in power. Switch on, switch off media establishments and internal changes downgrades reader loyalties and values. We are on to a new start. An initiative taken by political elite of the past, drummed up the 19th amendment to success. A 212 majority, very well confirmed that SL systems validity and the recognition of its political dynasties on both sides of the “House”. Winners are not losers!! Such fact and this tabloid too, once again, became a reader’s digest, in “corridors of power”, outside SL.

The presence of provincial media exposing government programmes and successes is vital for the ruling government to ascend to popularity, as others out there, considers its progress continuously, daily. Such commitment by the provincial media reposes strong interest, paving the way for monitoring popular strength of the ruling party. The interaction between the provincial councillor and the member of parliament becomes worthy and their representation of the people. For years council and the counsellor were at a loss; its efforts never received praise, even analysis. This inturn created a devoid in governance, as the fourth pillar in democracy was mute. Provincial media is to activate a dialogue, imposing responsibility and commending fame, of the man/woman, if necessary. Accepting PR as vital for one`s image in public office, the media role in sustaining these inputs, requiring that little “pat on the back”, drives home a point for an already disillusioned representative.

This again confines the mind set for the acceptance as anything normal; the consensus for re-conciliation and mutual respect for healing, becomes a partnership. SL is now well attributed to this understanding at provincial level. Basics are also in place. Digital media or internet, although not available at large, the infrastructure for enhancement of such usage is present in all provinces. Nothing stops news in Sinhalese, until such time, where the link language English, is made knowledgeable and access to computers and internet made easier. These are just follow ups. People are now tuned to it; just need guidance through information. The advertising and marketing stake holders will have no option but to promote the growth of the media at provincial level. It has commercial returns. Its strategies had always been for change. Businesses, small or big saw their visions for start or expansion retarded, being unaware of availability of funds and research, as information needed for furtherance, controlled the reins from elsewhere. Business forums and related links, yet to be spoken of, while charity and care from donors hardly became a talking point. This retarded activities forcing aimless strategies. Cricket is played; strokes are ok. They bat round the wicket. Stars are yet to be known, down, under. It is competition again. It is what they dream of. Why not?

The interaction of the faiths and teachings from the church, the temple, the mosque and kovil scattered, enhances the need for preaching to a wider populous, furthering strength, where a very many now fear losing, for that extra dollar. Creating that platform via a media, promotes far more persons travel within the country in search of places of worship and dignity; their numbers swelling yearly; they, in search of the truth and serenity via the provinces.

Devolution in 13th Amendment to the provinces will have no meaning, if incentives for new media outlets are dormant. Again…, interacting between provinces closer to each other salutes progress, furthers competition, cross pollinating ideas for progress. Again…, links to large numbers of expatriates from such provinces remain very secure, and demanding. Their intentions for coordination to better via media dialogue, becomes of paramount importance; ideas and initiatives forthcoming for better governance, forwarding new visions; they become knowledgeable partners in progress.

On- line papers are coming to be a reality; it is just an addition to what is ongoing, but local. Personnel for such media are already there and in abundance, ready for a different paper, creating confidence. With challenge, people get better, rather remain not dormant. There are enough entrepreneurs in the provinces ready to get off the ground. Digital expansion less cumbersome and costs in distribution of printed matter far cheaper. Compared to other developing countries where literacy rates are either far lower or the land area far larger; it is not the case where SL is concerned. Suitability for provincial media is suited now; and with devolution, anything later; is late indeed.

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