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Best Practices and Potential for Improved Information Flows in Media and Civil Society

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Publication Date

November 1, 2009

This Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) report looks at the conditions that are favourable and unfavourable to information flows in support of peace, human rights, and democratic governance within and between civil society and mainstream media in Sri Lanka. The report intends to analyse the situation created by, as stated here, an adversarial stance between the government and the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) military organisation. The report is written to build upon initiatives and conversations with civil society and media on the development of communications and media strategies to meet the challenges of peace building.

As stated here, Sri Lanka is ranked as the third most dangerous country for working journalists. Producing and disseminating content (by media and civil society) is a challenge met increasingly by turning print content into web-based e-books, e-publications, and online video/audio. This analysis is designed to look at how successfully media content has been able to shape public discourse. The report also highlights a number of recommendations aimed at increasing understanding and engagement of donors in media development in Sri Lanka. This includes the support of nascent and innovative processes, ideas, and social change makers concentrating on media development, including grassroots (street) theatre, performance artists, painters, poets, and regional/local cultural practices, in addition to traditional media.

In short, objectives of the analysis include;

  1. Assessing practices of and identifying potentials for an effective voicing of aspirations, messages, and demands of civil society.
  2. Assessing practices of and identifying potentials for the creations and improvement of local/community systems of information flow and exchange.

 

 

The document reviews evidence pertaining to the suppression of journalism and media, as well as safety issues, and brings into question the possibility of independence of the media. It suggests that a lack of professionalism and an ethical code among journalists affects media impartiality and needs to be addressed, along with under-qualification of journalists, migration of experienced journalists, low salaries due to non-unionisation, threats to job security from media management, and threats to safety by political leaders.

The analysis suggests that positive change is being supported by the following groups:

  • Stages Theatre Group works through Forum theatre which involves the audiences in ethical decisions throughout the performances.
  • Janakaraliya Mobile Theatre travels to villages to conduct theatre education programmes including involving communities in staging dramas and involving young people in writing dramas. It works specifically on improving relations between ethnic groups that are estranged by violence, through welcoming their participation, producing plays in the languages Sinhala and Tamil, and using Forum theatre for conflict transformation.
  • The Third Eye creates dialogue on local issues through workshops, seminars, and informal discussion groups, as well as theatre.

"Media Houses", which are physical locations providing media with support sponsored by a technical assistance board including Internews and CPA, are part of a programme providing resources, training, and facilities to local journalists. Structured short courses, access to computers, publications, internet, equipped radio recording studios, and facilitation or commissioning of story and programme production on local issues, along with archiving, are part of Media House programming. Internews initiated a small grants scheme (SGS) called "Regional Voices" to encourage innovation in media. Strategies explored included village level broadcasts with broad participation, radio/podcast format of local issues, expansion of stories affecting women and inclusion of women's voices, and capacity building for grantees. Another Internews initiated project is called LifeLine, aiming to provide humanitarian information and assistance to vulnerable communities, improved access to information for internally displaced persons (IDPs), and media information in Sinhala and Tamil. Lifeline is an island-wide radio broadcast and is distributed as a print newspaper to IDP camps and as an insert in a Sunday newspaper.

The document describes and analyses online initiatives. The website Groundviews was launched as an online location for citizen journalists to air voices and views on federalism, democracy, and peace, intending to open the possibility for a social movement focused on peace initiatives. This document also lists popular websites and news media and reports on its survey results of trusted forms of media. Web media was found to be more trusted than print or electronic (television and radio) media. Technology access, particular in rural areas, affects both web-based media and email campaigns. Those with technology access were shown to access web-based news frequently. Equal numbers of respondents found email campaigns informative or biased.

Charts included on pages 28 and 29 list donor funding activities related to media from 2006 through 2008 and ongoing after 2008. The analysis of donor funding suggests that most funding continues to be channelled through non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs), resulting in channels for independent media and media freedom, but drawing significant amounts of threat to these organisations. The document describes the following funded initiatives: print media that is supporting women's issues; organisations increasing community radio; and the eTUKTUK initiative to send technologically outfitted 3-wheeled transport vehicles called tuktuks to villages to provide computer/internet connectivity, radio broadcasting ability, loudspeakers, and an electrical generator, so that local bipartisan voices can be broadcast in their communities.

The document describes possibilities of linking NGOs and citizen based organisations (CBOs) with the mainstream media. Research for the document found a need to build CBO capacity in media literacy, awareness of linking with media to promote their work, use of media in disasters, and development of community media. It found a need to train CBOs to interact with provincial and national media through fora, journalist study tours, accurate articulation of their work to journalists, and leveraging of public infrastructure for meetings promoting journalist and civil society interaction. Survey results are presented detailing these recommendations, among others.

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