The Sunday Leader

Survival Via The Media

Sri Lanka is supposed to have a high literacy rate — in the 90s at the last count. Yet the so-called educated people keep getting suckered by politicians’ day in and day out and things don’t look like they are about to change any time soon. And the media has much to do with this.

The Weerawansa circus ended just the way it was supposed to; with the hero getting up and walking away when on cue the President visited him, but not before taking the great majority in the country for a good ride with his carefully choreographed show for the benefit of the media.

Wimal Weerawansa, leader of the JVP breakaway National Freedom Front with a miniscule vote base in the island is a non-entity in the eyes of Ban Ki-Moon and the UN. The day the Weerawansas of this world can dictate terms to the Secretary General of the UN, the world’s largest grouping of nations, via hunger strikes will also be the day the cows come home.

And it’s not as if Wimal Weerawansa does not know this — he being the media savvy person that he is more than anyone else knows it. But yet he goes on a hunger strike to compel the UN Chief to revoke a decision he made. Ban didn’t budge from his stand but Weerawansa sure has from his comfortable perch opposite the UN office in Colombo. No surprises there.
But while Weerawansa is back to his epicurean habits the damage he caused to Sri Lanka’s standing in the eyes of the world will take years to mend.

That of course is collateral damage in the greater scheme of things. What really happened was that a show that was purely enacted for local consumption, went horribly off script when international media beamed the drama straight into the living rooms in the West and the government’s damage control machinery, which was kept at the ready for the expected fall out, fell far short of doing its job. No surprises there either. The result — carnage on the diplomatic front, but successful in achieving its domestic intentions — diverting attention from the burning issues of the day, like the cost of living, the empty budget, price increases, GSP+, constitutional reforms, no salary hikes, breakdown in law and order etc.

The government gets away with it primarily because of the stranglehold it has on the state media and much of the private media.

Today, despite the private electronic media in the country enjoying a greater level of success thanks largely to a shift in consumer behaviour where print media is gradually taking its place as the second choice among the news consuming public, yet it is cause for concern that the private networks have failed to expand their reach outside of the main townships due to economic reasons.
For them, it is far more profitable to stick to the city centres than go into the hinterland where broadcast and maintenance costs could eat into the substantial profits being made.

One only needs to go 15 to 20 km out of town centres to be out of reception, except for a handful of radio and TV stations that in any event play it safe in the name of survival.

It is in this scenario that the state media virtually dominates coverage of the rural areas. Hence even the little independence that we see in the private media is only enjoyed by a miniscule percentage of the population living in urban areas.

This is why the regime goes to great lengths to give its spin to every story that hits the air on state media. To the rural masses watching the Weerawansa drama on state TV, it was an act of heroism as it was portrayed as such, but to the more discerning urban population watching the drama on private media sans spin the drama amounted to an act of lunacy.

This is why the collective opposition needs to get its act together in countering this propaganda blitz. This is not happening at the moment. The method resorted to in taking their message across — via press conferences — will just not do the job as the message will rarely go to the intended target, the masses, the majority of whom are in the rural areas. Hence government propaganda that reaches every nook and cranny of the island via the state electronic media wins the day and as we have seen over and over in the recent past wins the elections too.

If the opposition is to make any impact at all at future elections it better start now to get its media strategy sorted out where emphasis should be on influencing the rural hinterland that has no access to private media. Until such time, dramas such as the Weerawansa Reality Show will be regular fare.

1 Comment for “Survival Via The Media”

  1. TRN

    Yes I agree with you on this.

    Reaching the masses is what is lacking. But is the television the only mean to reach out to the masses?

    How many rural house holds have electricity?

    Discernment comew from education and lateral thinking. I’m sure most of the poeple are inteligent enough but lack the oppertunity for education above primary level.

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