Credible media culture, a top priority - Mass Media Minister Dr. Keheliya Rambukwella | Sunday Observer

Credible media culture, a top priority - Mass Media Minister Dr. Keheliya Rambukwella

16 August, 2020
Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella. Pic by Sulochana Gamage
Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella. Pic by Sulochana Gamage

Mass Media Minister Dr. Keheliya Rambukwella said that he doesn’t believe in any control of the media, adding that the Government media have to compete with the private media proving their credibility. After assuming office, Minister Rambukwella, in his maiden interview with the Sunday Observer, said the Media Ministry aims to produce competent journalists and create a credible media culture in the country. Media decency should come from journalists, he said.


Q. What are your plans to develop the media and ensure a free media culture?

A. The State media have a huge role to play. We have many programs, such as scholarships, grants and providing ancillary equipment to media persons. We are exploring the possibility of launching a housing program as well. It will take a little time as the country is not in a good stead economically and the whole world is not steady at present.

The Media Ministry is not there just to conduct press briefings. It is there to produce competent journalists and create a credible media culture in the country. Media decency should come from journalists.

We hope to create competitiveness in the state media as well. I hope to move forward with fellow journalist as I did in the past to improve the media sector.

Q. Will you give a free hand to the State media to perform its functions impartially?

A. The State media have already been given full freedom to perform its duties. It is the responsibility of the State media to convey information on Government’s initiatives to the people. I don’t believe in any control of the media. The Government media have to compete with the private media, proving its credibility.

During my tenure as the Media Minister previously, the ITN was number one. We were in a sound financial position to remit dividends to the Treasury.

Q. How do you plan to ensure that social media don’t disseminate fake news?

A. Competition is the best way forward. I intend to have a separate unit at the Ministry or the Information Department to give the real picture of various issues. There must be a team to immediately correct if there is false or fake news and that has to be operated 24 hours. I got used to this 24 hour-business during the battle against terrorism as the Media Spokesman for National Security.

I would like to have the same kind of functional unit with regard to social media. The Government can take responsibility for the correction and credibility will be built within the Ministry.

Q. How do you plan to improve the quality of journalism in Sri Lanka through training programs and journalism colleges?

A. This we did when I was the Media Minister previously. If a journalist has a degree and wants to do his Masters or PhD, we used to fund the course. The Department of Government Information is continuing the program.

That was a project started by me to fund journalists who have a general degree to do their Masters. It was an incentive for journalists to further their ability in the field of media.

Q. How do you intend to work with the rapidly changing face of news and journalism?

A. The media landscape is changing to social media. Many in the print media also pick from social media via telephone and laptop. You need to gear yourself up to it so that it will help you modernise your thinking.

Q. How do you hope to ensure that media organisations respect media ethics while reporting news?

A. It is the competitiveness that needs to be created by the State media. If a private media is carrying false information, there is no point in fighting and crying over it. The State media must be way ahead to ensure credibility.

News should not be biased to ensure credibility. Credibility over time will get people away from false information.

Q. Will the Government introduce a new Constitution or amend the existing one?

A. We have asked for a two-thirds majority to bring in a new Constitution which is necessary. Now, we have the two-thirds majority.

The people have given us an unprecedented and historic mandate to bring in a new Constitution which is also one of the key pledges in the President’s policy manifesto.

Q. What led the UNP to face the biggest ever defeat at the August 5 General Election?

A. The 72-year old UNP and 70-year old SLFP are set aside. Two new parties have emerged. One is the two-year old SLPP and the other, recently formed SJB. The two new parties emerged in 2019 and 2020. The political culture is changing in the country.

There is no slavery in the system now. Earlier, the people used to call “your grandfather and grandmother were in green, blue or red party, we too hung on to that.” That slavery is taken off.

That is something that I have been dreaming of. You should look at the requirements of the country and make your decisions. Now, the people have geared themselves to that situation. That is the best thing that can happen to a country and a society.

Q. How do you view the formation of the Cabinet of Ministers?

A. If you look at the late Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the very much spoken of, his Cabinet of Ministers was restricted to a limited number. The Cabinet portfolios of the SLPP Government are also confined to one word, such as Health and Media.

This means you have other subject Ministers who will be empowered to focus on their subjects in detail. That is not a bad thing.

The future of the country lies on two things. The number one is foreign direct investments and the number two is the export market. We need to create an export market and the entire setting of the State Ministries is focused on promoting the export sector. For example, betel can be exported.

You need to cultivate it scientifically to be competitive in the export market. That is the prime target of the Government.

Q. UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has decided to step down and some party seniors are fighting for the leadership. How do you view this scenario?

A. It is up to them to sort out their issues. We have sorted out our issues and the people have backed us to the maximum. Our concern should be as to how we take the country forward.

Q. What would be the Government’s key priorities in the next five years?

A. Foreign direct investments, export oriented industries and agriculture would be the Government’s top priorities. Sri Lanka is an agriculture-based country. The industries have also to be agriculture-based. Ministers have been assigned for various crop varieties, such as cardamom which has a huge overseas market.

If we can keep the bank interest rate to a single digit and maintain the budget deficit within 3 to 3.5 percent, those are viable indicators. The other important aspect is export development. These are the things considered in the formation of the Cabinet and appointing State Ministers. The people have given us a huge responsibility. I would like to focus on one of the key points highlighted by the President on the political stage.

He said,“You do your duty and I will do my duty.” The people have given us a resounding mandate beyond what we expected to accomplish this task.

The people have given an overwhelming majority and historic victory to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by refuting the claim that a Government cannot secure a two-thirds majority. We can’t shirk this responsibility.