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When violence went in search of the media

By Ranee Mohamed

Violence on TV they say  is bad for society,  but what happens when  violence, devastation and destruction come in search of the TV station?

Three days, 27 finger prints and a solitary suspect is the sequel to the attack on the country's award winning  entertainment giant MTV/MBC broadcasting station in Depanama, Pannipitiya.

If no one is going to do it for the love of Sirasa, they have to do it for the love of money. Yet with a couple of fans too chipping in and increasing the reward to Rs. 75 lakhs, the information is not even trickling.

So who did it?  That is exactly the question that is asked by many people not only on the Sirasa issue, but also on many other issues. Having given us superstars, dancing stars and beauty queens, MTV/MBC is now trying to pick up the pieces to put the pictures back on our screens, and the colour into the lives of the masses who depend on Sirasa, MTV and Shakthi for their entertainment needs.

With a ticket to see a film at a local cinema costing around Rs.250 plus tax (plus transport expenses, cost of snacks, and the hassle of security checkpoints), Sirasa, MTV and Shakthi have became the sole saviours of an oppressed nation.

Sought after with a passion

A multi ethnic, multi cultural entertainment giant, MTV/MBC after approximately 16 years of service, three television channels, and four radio channels in three languages, remains the award winning market leader that is sought after with a passion.

Yet for MTV/MBC  the devastation is too vast, the heartache too deep and the pieces too charred and strewn too far, to gather.

For the employees the heartache continues as the puzzle fails to fall into place, despite a heavy reward being offered for information relating to the attack.

"It was around 2.30 a.m on January 6  that about  20 people came in a white vehicle and destroyed everything in the main control room at the  MTV/MBC broadcasting station.  The gang was heavily armed with T 56 assault rifles,  pistols, iron bars and hand grenades. They overpowered the  security personnel and then entered the studio," said an employee who shuddered at the memory of the real life scene of horror at the television station.

Using explosives, the gang had exploded the nerve centre of the station - the main control room and had thereafter proceeded to destroy every piece of equipment including glass doors and windows.

For the creators behind MTV/MBC, the news had come home.

Bled the  hearts

Sixteen years, seven channels, three languages and one network is the reason why the attack on MTV/MBC has bled the  hearts of the entire nation. Loved and heralded by the whole country as the No. 1 station, the market leader, the people's channel, MTV/MBC is literally 'first' with their news,  entertainment,  sports and weather.

In addition, they have  also been the first to make a change in the lives of those sans the opportunity. Among them are Sirasa Superstar of Season One, Ajith Bandara and Superstar of Season Two Pradeep Rangana. It was Sirasa that gave us entertainment personality  Shihan Mihiranga, a youth who remained hidden in his home.

With Sirasa Dancing Star, Sirasa showcased the talent in our country.

Sirasa Kumari showed us the  talent that lies within Sirasa - in fact all of Sirasa's shows are choc-a-bloc with glamour, planning excellence and a glitz that we thought existed only in the developed world.

There are a handful of people behind the scenes who are responsible for the professionalism and perfection at MTV/MBC. Among them is  Channel Head Shevaan Daniel. "We have had very humble beginnings dating back to 1992 when we began operations with just the very basic equipment; and over the years, through sheer hard work we have grown to become a media segment loved by the people," observed Daniel.

Source of inspiration

MTV/MBC Channel Head, Shevaan Daniel went on to say that their greatest source of inspiration and the driving force is the Chairman/Managing Director of MTV/MBC Raj Rajamahendran.

"Our Chairman Raj Rajamahendran is right here with us. He is not a chairman who operates with remote control. In fact he takes the hit 100% of the time and does not let any of the pressure or harm come on us. We are truly blessed to be led by him," said Daniel.

"And we will continue under his relentless leadership. He has continuously invested in upgrading our systems. Until the horrendous attack, we had the most modern broadcasting studio in the region, not merely in  terms of technical equipment. Our channels are more than mere television programmes. We focus strongly on touching the people and helping them reach their potential," said Daniel citing programmes such as Sirasa Superstar, Dancing Star, Sirasa Kumariya and most importantly Sirasa's news broadcasts which reach out to every nook and corner of the country.

Hope to be  world class

"The  belief that drives us forward is our hope to be  world class. We can also give Sri Lanka talent the opportunity to be world class and that has been proven by the amazing talent that has come out through our channels. The youth who are able to showcase their abilities and reach dizzying heights came from the most rural areas of the country. They might not have had the basic requirements in life, but with one Sirasa opportunity they became the world's best.

MTV/MBC goes deeper than glamour when it comes to social responsibility. Their Sahana Yathra during the drought in Hambantota and  the tsunami of 2004, are just two examples of the great leaning that this people's channel has towards the common man  especially in times of distress and needs.

Director Stations, Asoka Dias, speaking to The Sunday Leader said the attack caused more than a momentary disruption though MTV/MBC staff went through great pain and turmoil to operate a single channel for their everyday viewers.

 "The outcome of the attack was that all our stations stopped functioning at 2.30 a.m. With the assistance of our engineering  and other staff we were able to salvage the radio, and by about 6.30 a.m. we began a single operation for all the channels.

State-of- the-art equipment

"The attackers had shot at and also burnt down our facilities. Our broadcasting equipment is expensive and sophisticated and not those that one can buy over the counter. They are customised, sophisticated,  state-of- the-art equipment. We installed digital delivery systems two years ago and we are always improving our systems to deliver better. It is not easy to get down the equipment," lamented Dias.

"We are the market leaders with the most listened to and best watched channels" said Dias.

He went on to say that MTV/MBC is touched by the overall response of the viewers. "The text messages and the telephone calls we receive, and the viewers who call over all showed us how much we are appreciated. I want to say that we will bounce back," said Dias.

It is times of adversity at the MTV/MBC - but this adversity has made them stronger. Having gone through the mill in terms of attacks, they have time and again come out with a desire to be the best again. Surrounded by devastation and debris, the morale and sense of unity is at its highest.

This is the greatest strength of a people's channel that knows that the people are with them.

"MTV/MBC changed my life"

Ajith Bandara, Sirasa Superstar Season One when contacted by The Sunday Leader said that he was an unimportant person doing an insignificant job till he took part in Sirasa Superstar competition. "The change in my life is unbelievable," said Bandara.

"I started singing when I was a little boy, but then there are hundreds of little boys in Sri Lanka who can sing. The difference is that I took part in Sirasa Superstar and watched the fans flock around me. Today I am celebrity in my village in Mawathagama and I am recognised wherever I go in Colombo.

It was Sirasa that gave me superstar status long before I was adjudged a superstar. It is an experience that I will remember for as long as I live because my life has changed so much because of Sirasa.

"The attack on Sirasa is a great tragedy. I don't know who did it and why it was done. It breaks my heart to see the devastation. I cannot bear to look at it, I cannot bear to think of it," said Ajith Bandara.


Celebrity status and a million rupees from
Sirasa for Season Two superstar

Sirasa Superstar Season Two saw Pradeep Rangana a medical student  from Ratnapura being crowned and brought to celebrity status.  After  year long predictions and expectations, the grand finale of the second season was held at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium which was packed with happy youth from different parts of the country.

 Pradeep emerged the acclaimed super star after a neck and neck competition with Surendra Perera from Chilaw.

MTV/MBC's appreciation of Pradeep talent saw him  bag Rs. 1 million  and a Honda City car while runner up Surendra Perera from Chilaw walked away with Rs.500,000 and a motor cycle.

Shihan Mihirange,  Amila Perera, Surendra Perera, Amila Nadeeshani, Nadini Premadasa, Dushantha Weeraman, Hashini Gonagala are but a handful of youth who enjoy celebrity status in the country due to their own talent being nurtured, groomed and relayed to the nation.

Over 50,000 men and women from different parts of Sri Lanka took part in the Sirasa Superstar contest and over 24 youth with exceptional dancing talent were featured in the Sirasa Dancing Star competition.

 

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