SRI LANKA: New report on tsunami coverage criticizes local media

A Transparency International report released today says local media outlets spread political party propaganda

By Arthur Rhodes
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Colombo --- The corruption watchdog Transparency International has released a report criticizing the Sri Lankan media's post-tsunami coverage. The forty-five-page study, called Post-Tsunami Media Coverage: The Sri Lankan Experience, was presented today at a press conference held at Colombo's Renuka Hotel.

"We wanted to know if the journalists in this country are reporting the news with an agenda," said J.C. Weliamuna, Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL). "The study found that the media in Sri Lanka, irrespective of policy differences, engages in propaganda for parties which they prefer."

Weliamuna provided a brief introduction before distributing the report. He said that he hoped that the document would help spark a dialogue amongst Sri Lanka's journalists about the priorities and practices of the nation's media.

"We think this can be an opportunity for the media in Sri Lanka to look at itself," said Weliamuna.

The report, which was intended to examine whether the media's coverage of the tsunami and its aftermath gave voice to affected people, was a study of 12 Sinhala, four Tamil, and seven English newspapers and their coverage of post-tsunami issues over a seven day period from Mar. 20 through Mar. 26. It also examined eight Sinhala radio stations and five Sinhala television stations over the same period.

To many of those involved with Sri Lankan media and media issues these findings will not come as a surprise. "These conclusions are not news," said Sasanka Perera, a professor of sociology at the University of Colombo. Perera, who teaches a course on contemporary media issues in Sri Lanka, said the bigger issue is the lack of an institutionalized media watchdog in Sri Lanka. He called on Transparency International, which normally focuses on issues of governmental corruption, to continue calling for media reform.