20 November, 2019

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My Supervisor Prof Tissa Kariyawasam

By Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya

Venue: Sri Lanka Press Institute Auditorium

Date: Somewhere in mid-June 2007

Event: Meeting of the panel of Judges, Journalism Awards for Excellence 2006

As the head of the organizing institution I was coordinating the meeting and when it came to the agenda point of selecting a chair for the panel of judges Amal Jayasinghe’s proposal of Prof Tissa Kariyawasam was unanimous. But the response of the university don was humble. “I was the chair for several years now – please let someone else to do the job for this year.” But judges were not flexible. Prof Kariyawasam was their obvious choice as the Chair.

At least a dozen of meeting would follow thereafter and not all the judges would pay equal level of interest after a few initial meetings. But that is not the case with this remarkable character. His commitment and dedication to the task that he took charge of was at the highest standards. With a small black umbrella in hand, Prof Kariyawasam will be at the meeting room at least five minutes before we start the meetings.

If my memory serves me correct, this was the first opportunity that I worked closely with him. From that onwards our relationship grew to a point where he became the supervisor of my Doctoral thesis which was his last completed Ph.D supervision, as far as I am aware of.

Prof.Tissa-Kariyawasam-2He always highlighted the fact that lack of academic discipline within the newsroom which ultimately would result in sub-standard content in the media. Prof had a critical analysis on this issue and continuously encouraged journalists to come up in their academic career. I also became a beneficiary of this non-ending persuasion and perseverance.

Prof Kariyawasam belonged to the epoch of early 70s but his thoughts and vision always by-passed his contemporary era. The multi-disciplinary academic career spanned from Sinhala language to drama, literature, folklore, traditional dancing, journalism and mass communication. Even his academic qualifications speak to themselves – graduated from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya with Honours in Sinhala in 1964, Masters degree in Anthropology in the same University in 1968, Ph D from the University of London in 1973 on Fine Arts and then Diploma in Journalism from the London School of Journalism.

A few weeks ago, I visited him at his home and spent a few hours listening to his old stories. Still piles of documents and books were on his messy table in the living room. Though feeble in the body, his mind was strong and eyes were bright. Fascinating stories as usual of the good old days – mainly when he was heading the national television Rupavahini under President Premadasa.

The name of Prof Kariyawasam would add to the history books for his invaluable contributions to the discipline of mass communication. The introduction of a new discipline to a university system is a struggle by itself and scholars like Prof Sarachchandra, Prof Ariyapala, Prof Wimal Dissanayake initiated this tedious task where Prof Kariyawasam also became a leading figure along with his contemporaries like Prof Sunanda Mahendra and Edwin Ariyadasa. In fact Prof Kariyawasam never gave up this battle, not only introducing and developing a discipline but continuously reforming it suit the present day challenges. Even in his last days, Prof was talking about revising the Mass Com curriculum of the Jayewardenepura University to suit the challenges of the present day era. His involvement in the creation of University of Visual Arts and Performing would also never be forgotten from the academia in this country.

In the newsroom jargon we use to say that nothing is indispensible. Things will move ahead irrespective of people and events. But this logic is not applicable to Prof Kariyawasam. The vacuum created by his demise will never be filled, and it will remain forever.

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