The untold tale of Channel Eye | Sunday Observer

The untold tale of Channel Eye

27 August, 2023

In recent times, discussions within social media and political circles have revolved around the purported efforts of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) to either sell or lease out Channel Eye, an entity under its ownership. Amidst the proliferation of diverse narratives circulating within the media landscape, there arises a pressing need to discern the factual accuracy of these accounts.

The truth regarding this matter was brought to light on September 22 when Member of Parliament Anura Kumara Dissanayake raised a question under Standing Orders 27/2. The question pertained to Channel Eye, clarifying the situation surrounding the ongoing discussions.

Minister of Transport, Highways, and Mass Media Dr. Bandula Gunawardena provided the response during which he mentioned that the SLRC would not exist today if the airtime for Channel Eye had not been provided on a rental basis.

Upon delving into the financial difficulties faced by the SLRC, he said it came to light that a significant power disruption had occurred due to an outstanding electricity bill of Rs. 5.2 million.

He added that given the severity of the financial crisis experienced by the SLRC, proactive measures were imperative for recovery. In Parliament, Minister Dr. Gunawardena affirmed that if any instances of fraud or corruption were substantiated, he was willing to face legal proceedings. He pledged that should such allegations be proven, he would step down from his Ministerial position.

Following the Minister’s statement, the Minister of State for Media, Shantha Bandara, clarified that the decision to rent out airtime on Channel Eye was based on an agreement involving all employees.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer the State Minister highlighted that certain trade unions had advocated that airtime on Channel Eye be rented out. He firmly repudiated any allegations or insinuations regarding financial malfeasance against the Cabinet Minister overseeing the matter.

The State Minister underscored that the choice to lease out the airtime on Channel Eye was made with the intention of mitigating losses to the SLRC and upholding its duty to the nation. He emphasised that the authority to make decisions in this matter rests with the Chairman and the Board of Directors of the SLRC.

The State Minister said that Cabinet approval was not required for this decision. Additionally, he clarified that the agreement included a stipulation allowing for its termination within 30 days. However, cancelling the agreement with a prior notice of 30 days would result in the loss of income. The State Minister affirmed that the actions taken by the institution were the best course of action under the circumstances.

We sought the perspectives of various trade unions affiliated with the SLRC on this matter.

“Channel Eye is currently operating at a substantial deficit. In comparison to the 90s when the channel generated an income of Rs.300 to 400 million, its present earnings have dwindled to around Rs.75 to 80 million.

During earlier times, Channel Eye possessed the capacity to secure broadcasting rights for sports events. However, the landscape has evolved, and nowadays securing rights for matches entails substantial costs. For instance, broadcasting the Lanka Premier League (LPL) necessitates a hefty payment of Rs. 750 million.

In this scenario, the creation of new products is challenging. I duly notified the management about these issues. Subsequently, a suggestion was made to allocate airtime for broadcasting foreign programs, but unfortunately, this approach proved ineffective. Subsequently, a proposal emerged to engage in airtime leasing, primarily within a short-term framework. This avenue stands as our sole recourse to rebuild SLRC.”

“The SLRC boasts an employee roster of nearly 800 individuals. Despite the prevailing economic crisis within the company, salaries have been consistently disbursed. However, a significant predicament has arisen concerning the institute’s operations. To address the company’s financial challenges, a Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) has been implemented. It’s important to note that our focus is not on party affiliations; rather, we are dedicated to addressing the shared concerns of our employees,”

When the Chairman approached us regarding this matter, the trade unions collectively consented. This decision was reached after receiving information that the channel would be exclusively dedicated to broadcasting sporting events. Preserving the integrity of the institution is a paramount concern for us. The resolution put forth by the Chairman entails our endorsement of leasing airtime on the Channel Eye for sports activities. This approach is deemed the most viable means of safeguarding both the institution and the livelihoods of its employees in the present circumstances.”

“The SLRC is currently grappling with a substantial financial crisis that demands an effective solution. This situation has been evolving since 2013, with the gradual loss of revenue streams. Unfortunately, we have experienced setbacks such as the forfeiture of games we previously held. In light of this dire crisis, the employees are facing considerable challenges.

Hence, we stand behind any solution that safeguards the institution as a means to address this situation.

However, a concern has arisen. Is Channel Eye indeed being leased, or is another approach being pursued? The agreement was executed on a Sunday, which prompts questions. It’s now the Chairman’s responsibility to convene the employees and provide a comprehensive explanation. Doing so will help mitigate any uncertainties or issues that might arise.

“Several individuals who have assumed the position of Chairman at the SLRC in recent times have departed within a mere two months. Their lack of a concrete long-term strategy has contributed to the company accumulating a debt ranging from Rs 1,500 to 2,000 million thus far.”

When our household is burdened with insurmountable debt, the necessity arises to liquidate our possessions and sustain ourselves. This analogy holds true for our current situation. We find ourselves pressed against a wall, with no fallback options available. The crisis has reached such a critical point.

Nonetheless, the predicament we face is our inability to provide satisfactory answers to the inquiries posed by our members. Even well-intentioned actions taken by the Chairman are being disseminated in an unfavourable manner.

Consequently, the most appropriate course of action at this juncture is for the chairman to provide a transparent and unequivocal statement regarding the current situation to all employees and stakeholders.

“This predicament did not surface overnight; its roots extend into the past. We must examine the present manifestation of this issue in light of its historical context. The act of leasing, in our perception, serves as a solution to this ongoing challenge.

Amid the clamour within Parliament, it begs the question: who is genuinely interested in understanding our situation? Who will assume responsibility for settling the corporation’s massive electricity bills? Even the medical insurance coverage for employees has suffered a setback. Who has taken the initiative to address these issues?”

We comprehend that this arrangement does not entail a sale. The current Chairman personally reached out to us, seeking our inputs, and after deliberation, a decision was made to proceed with leasing airtime on Channel Eye. We have resolved to extend our support towards this decision.

In line with this, the company has entered into a 6-month lease agreement for channel Eye.

Unfortunately, it is not feasible to disburse employees’ gratuities at this juncture. The situation is dire, and the risk of disconnection from various aspects looms. While debates and disagreements might arise, the overarching priority remains safeguarding the institution above all else.”