by Lakshman Wickramasinghe
Sri Lanka is entering the riskiest period in its battle against Covid-19, with the British Covid 19 variant now accepted as responsible for rapid escalation of infection rates and the danger of the Indian variant coming ashore through illicit landings. At this stage the most effective response to the virus is the sustenance of behaviour changes already adopted by the majority of the population, and the promotion of right behaviour among the laggards.
The health sector which is responsible for developing technically appropriate messages for changing behaviour of people has been doing magnificently in formulating such messages. The Health Education Bureau renamed the Health Promotion Bureau did a splendid job in planning and broadcasting TV spots in association with many mass media channels as Covid-19 appeared in Sri Lanka. It was a commendable behaviour change communication initiative made with a low budget but with high creativity with a lady doctor being the main communicator.
I was wondering why such an initiative had not yet started by the Health Promotion Division in response to the New Year infection cluster but was happy to note that a few days ago two new TV spots have been launched through the State TV channels. Rupavahini also started a novel TV spot showing Covid 19 viruses conspiring to invade places where big crowds congregate. With Covid infections assuming dangerous proportions, the Sri Lankan mass media too has a responsibility to increase its support to Covid-19 behaviour change communication activities.
However, health communication initiatives launched against Covid-19 unfortunately has had to face constraints globally. This is why Dr. Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus, the Director General of WHO, was perhaps constrained to declare at the Munich Security Conference on February 15, 2020 that ‘we are just not fighting an epidemic, we are fighting an infodemic’ as reported in the Lancet.
This internationally acclaimed medical journal in its editorial (Vol.395, Issue10224, pg.537) of February 22, 2020 commented: “The ease through which inaccuracies and conspiracies can be repeated and perpetuated via social media and conventional outlets put public health at a constant disadvantage’.
The question to be asked then is should the government health sector, the prime defender against epidemics, be put under ‘a constant disadvantage’ by newly arrived digital media and the conventional mass media, and players connected to power politics. The answer is No.
No country can expect much support from social media in this regard. This is especially so in a country that is multi-cultural, multi-religious and with the presence of a large number of fringe political entities, folk beliefs, superstitions etc. It was only yesterday that the Ministry of Ayurvedic Medicine had to issue a press communique requesting the general public not to use various ‘prescriptions’ of local medicines published in the internet and social media.
Thus it is the main stream mass media (i.e. print, radio, and television) that has the prime responsibility for helping to creating a positive environment for the adoption of recommended behaviour by the public. Despite the cacophony of big and small alternate media, the mainstream media channels are still accepted by the vast majority of Lankans as channels that inform, educate, and entertain. They still enjoy high credibility.
In this respect it is appropriate to examine how mass media could support the government health sector. First and foremost the mainstream mass media should formulate programmes founded on authentic communication principles to genuinely and without any other agendas persuade their readers, listeners and viewers, to behave as recommended by government health authorities.
Trust and credibility of the message and its sender (or the source) is central to this objective. The clarity of message especially with regard to ‘what’ and ‘how to’ behave in the context of the current challenge and the benefits of adoption is also important. The ‘conveying of a sense of unity of messages’ is also vital. The other critical factor is the reduction of what is known as “noise” in communication jargon. This ‘principle’ prevents the main message getting lost among related but discordant messages. In this regard Rupavavhini has done well during the last two to three weeks through its morning discussion programmes.
The media (through all their programmes and features) should help to build trust among the citizenry on the ‘package of key health messages’ disseminated by the health authorities and the government. Trust is key to acceptance of behaviour change messages. So is the credibility of the source of information (the state health authority and the government in this case). They should simultaneously be promoted. These two go hand in hand as one reinforces the other. The primacy of promoting trust and credibility of the messages and the source should be a universal standard cutting across all else. Even if two or three programmes broadcast by a channel create a negative perception in their audiences then the attempts of the rest of the programmes to promote trust and credibility will be devalued.
Therefore in emergency situations such as in combating pandemics, the media through all of its major editorially driven components should support instilling of deep trust in the primacy of the messages and the credibility of the source. This ‘conveying of a sense of unity’ across all of its programmes is a must for promoting high behaviour change rates.
For example a TV channel in a ‘Meet the Doctor’ programme shown during non- prime viewing time would advise its audience to desist from going on picnics or pleasure trips during this critical period. Few hours later a popular teledrama episode aired at peak times would show the hero and heroine going on a fun-filled picnic with three four other friends to a popular crowded picnic spot. Such a programming mix would be most harmful as what is important is to drive home the message “don’t go on picnics at this time.” If this is unavoidable as the episode has been filmed before the New Year cluster appeared, then an appropriate explanatory line below the particular picnic shot can support unity of the key message.
Another example is that different TV stations would subtly promote particular political parties or ideologies and I believe that in a democracy this is acceptable. But in a national emergency such as Covid-19, the presentation of key behaviour change messages close to news or features relating to criticism of government programme on Covid 19 management would not convey a sense of unity of the messages. (Of course this may be debatable.) Further, such a mix would also negatively affect the trust of the audience in the key Covid 19 protection message and may also to some extent affect the credibility of the source. This is no easy question to resolve and would be akin to ‘walking on a tight rope’. But these are possible practical examples and the communication programmers must reflect deeply on striking a balanced approach where the national responsibility of promoting behaviour change is sustained while presenting investigative journalism productions.
One way of overcoming these obstacles is for all or most mass media channels to run an identical behaviour change communication campaign so that the key messages in regard to Covid 19 would be promoted by all key channels, thus displaying the concept of unity of messages. An initiative such as this would convey to the general public that irrespective of individual policies, and political sympathies, all media channels are interested in a national campaign to promote behaviour change, thus exponentially enhancing behaviour change persuasion.
Such a media campaign could be developed by one or a group of advertising agencies as their contribution to the national cause in coordination with the Ministry of Health and the media channels can broadcast programmed TV spots free of charge as their own contribution to a national cause. A prime example of such a campaign was the ‘Api Wenuwen Api’ campaign run during Eelam War IV. Currently, if such a common campaign is envisaged rapidity of implementation is critical for controlling the epidemic.
(The writer is a retired Officer of the International Civil Service of the United Nations system attached to UNICEF and a Behaviour Change Communication Practitioner. He also worked as a UNFPA consultant at the Health Education Bureau.)
Govt. actions must be for people’s benefit
By Jehan Perera
The government celebrated the 75th Anniversary of its independence from colonial rule under tight security. President Ranil Wickremesinghe did not even deliver a speech on the occasion. He had an excellent written speech, but chose not to deliver it for reasons not known. The speech was circulated later. The exclusion of the general public from the parade grounds was another notable feature of the Independence Day event. Under normal circumstances, Galle Face green where the celebration took place, is packed with people who come to enjoy the sea, the fresh air and the vast expanse of greenery. The spectacle of a military parade and an air show provided an occasion that people would not have wished to miss if they had been given the chance to attend it. But the government was clearly insecure and wanted to make sure it controlled the situation, which accounted for large security deployments.
The general public were kept away from the celebrations as the government feared that if they were permitted into the area some of them might protest. Indeed, the previous night a sit down public protest (satyagraha) organised by a mostly youthful group of protestors was water cannoned and forcibly broken up. The youth were protesting against the misallocation of resources for celebration at a time when the country’s people have little cause to celebrate. Although there was a large presence of security forces, they stood by when a group of political thugs attacked the peaceful protestors. When the satyagrahis resisted the attack they were chased, beaten and arrested by the security forces. The government was less concerned to win the hearts and minds of its people than to conduct its Independence Day event without disturbance.
Ironically, the manner of the celebration, with the general public not present at the site of celebration, and security forces out in strength on the roads, was reminiscent of the days of war that the country experienced decades past. In those days too, the Independence Day celebrations took place under tight security, with the people preferring to stay in their homes than to brave possible LTTE bombs. This throwback to the past is relevant as those years of war have contributed in no small measure to the economic collapse that has befallen the country and blighted the life of its people. More than 70 percent of the population have reduced their food intake and 40 percent of the population have descended below the poverty line. In recognition of the connection between ethnic conflict and economic underdevelopment, President Wickremesinghe has prioritized a political solution to the ethnic conflict without delay.
The public protests against the celebration of Independence Day was not only in Colombo but also in other parts of the country, most notably in the north of the country. The main Tamil political party as well as smaller ones also called for a boycott of the Independence Day events and did not participate in them. University students in Jaffna declared a hartal and flew black flags. Most of the people, however, showed no interest either way. There was no display of national flags in a spontaneous manner nor did the government make such an appeal. It seemed as if the government was celebrating Independence Day for itself. Gleaming new vehicles with police escorts drove in assorted governors, ministers and other dignitaries into the stalls where they would seat themselves with all the national television stations focusing on them. However, to the general public watching the celebrations on their television sets, the sight of the luxury vehicles bearing the dignitaries would have been infuriating.
Not even a year ago, these same political leaders were hiding in the face of the protest movement that took to the streets in the aftermath of the collapse of the national economy and declaration of national bankruptcy. The general public, many of whom had never taken part in public protests, came to the streets to protest. They came from near and far, children with their parents, the elderly and the differently abled, to demand the exit of the government leaders who had stolen the wealth of the country and brought the masses of people, including them all, to near penury. These same people who watched the Independence Day events on television would have been greatly angered to see those same political leaders now disembarking from luxury vehicles while they scraped the bottom of the barrel in their homes. What they demand from the government, both in street protests and in their homes, is an end to impunity for corruption, abuse of power and extravagance in public life, which the government appears to be shying away from.
The question arises for whose benefit was Independence Day celebrated in this manner? Independence Day in a situation of economic collapse was celebrated in a most unimaginative manner. The government tried to heed the public opprobrium regarding the cost of the event, and reduced the size of the military parade. It also axed the cultural parades that represent the aesthetic side of life. Independence Day should have been celebrated differently, not for the political leaders and not for the international community, but for the people. This event did not receive much international publicity. It would not have changed the way the world sees us. It did not touch the hearts of the Sri Lankan people either. They were watching on their television sets and conscious of the expenditures that were being incurred for no good reason, and certainly not for their benefit.
The celebration of Independence Day could have been done differently. The government could have recognised the poverty that has ravaged the lives of the people. It could have organised an Independence Day event that demonstrated an ethos of care for the people. It could have brought a thousand schoolchildren from the poorest families around the country, and from all ethnicities, religions and castes, and made them a symbolic presentation of schoolbooks and school clothes that would have reflected the government’s commitment to invest in the country’s children. This was an opportunity lost and would work to the detriment of the government which will be reflected in its electoral performance at the forthcoming local government elections. President Wickremesinghe’s pitch that the country needed a plan to become a developed country in 2048 is to miss people’s concerns to get by the day. In his televised speech to the nation he said “Let us devote ourselves, unite as children of one mother. Let us make our country one of the most developed in the world by 2048, when we will celebrate 100 years of independence.”
Despite all the criticism of the priorities of President WIckremesinghe and the government there are still many who continue to place their hope that the president will succeed in problem solving that is in the national interest. One of President Wickremesinghe’s bold pledges has been to resolve the ethnic conflict that gave rise to three decades of war and to reach a situation of national reconciliation in this 75th year of Independence and “unite as children of one mother”. When he first committed himself to this task three-months ago, there was some anticipation that this ambitious task may even occur prior to Independence Day itself, or “mission accomplished” would be announced on the auspicious day. This has not been the case and it appears that even the first steps are yet to be made. Now the focus of attention will be the president’s policy statement on February 8 when he reconvenes parliament following its prorogation by him a fortnight ago.
National reconciliation in an ethnically divided society is never an easy proposition. It requires the support of multiple actors in multiple sectors. An indication of the president’s determination in this regard was the singing of the national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil languages at the Independence Day event. This was after a lapse of four years and reflects the president’s resolve to overcome the divisions of the past. It must be noted that it was under his leadership as prime minister in the period 2015-19 that the national anthem was sung again in Tamil on Independence Day after the passage of many decades. There are elements in the president and his government that require support from civil society. We need to overcome the legacy of past mistakes and forge ahead to a future in which lessons have been learnt and mistakes not repeated.
Issues in fully implementing the 13th Amendment – Police Powers
By C. A. Chandraprema
While most provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution have been implemented, sticking points have persisted with regard to two matters – the devolution of police and land powers. Appendix I of the Provincial Councils List in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution provides for the devolution of police powers. The implementation of these provisions will entail the division of the Sri Lanka Police Force into a National Police Division which includes special units such as the CID; and a Provincial Police Division for each Province, headed by a DIG.
According to Section 6 of Appendix 1, the IGP shall appoint a DIG for each Province with the concurrence of the Chief Minister of the Province. If there is no agreement between the IGP and the Chief Minister, the matter will be referred to the National Police Commission, which after due consultations with the Chief Minister shall make the appointment. Thus, the effective appointing authority of the provincial DIG is the Chief Minister. Section 11 stipulates that all Police Officers, serving in units of the National Division and Provincial Divisions, in any Province, shall function under the direction and control of the provincial DIG who, in turn, will ‘be responsible to’ and ‘under the control of’ the Chief Minister in respect of the maintenance of public order and the exercise of police powers in the Province.
According to section 12.1, it is the Provincial police forces that will maintain law and order and be responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of all offences in the Province except for the 11 specified offences allocated to the National Police Division which are as follows: international crimes, offences against the State, offences relating to the armed services, offences relating to elections, currency and government stamps, offences against the President, Ministers, MPs public officials, judges, etc., offences relating to state property, offences prejudicial to national security, offences under any law relating to any matter in the national government list and offences in respect of which courts in more than one province have jurisdiction. Most of these offences are not really a part of day to day police functions and occur infrequently. Thus, under the 13A, it is the Provincial Divisions which will handle the bulk of actual day to day police work.
Provincial Police to the forefront
Signifying the extent to which the National Police Division will be expected take a back seat, Section 10.1 of Appendix 1 requires members of the National Police Division to ordinarily be in plain clothes, except when performing duties in respect of the maintenance of public order. For all practical purposes, the only uniformed police force, visible to the public, will be the Provincial Police. Recruitment to the National Police Division is to be done by the National Police Commission and to the Provincial Police Divisions by the respective Provincial Police Commissions. According to Section 4, the Provincial Police Commissions will be made up of a) the Provincial DIG, b) a person nominated by the Public Service Commission, in consultation with the President; and c) a nominee of the Chief Minister of the Province. Thus the Chief Minister has complete control over both the Provincial Police Chief as well as the Provincial Police Commission.
In addition to the above, according to Sections 7 and 8 of Appendix 1, the Provincial Police Commissions, which are completely under the sway of the Chief Minister, will have a say in deciding on the cadre and salaries and even the type and quantity of firearms and ammunition used by the Provincial Police forces. However, the potentially horrendous implications of Sections 7 and 8 are mitigated to some extent by the proviso that ‘uniform standards and principles’ shall be applied across the board with regard to these matters for all Provincial Police Divisions.
When recruitment for the Provincial Police Forces are to be carried out by Provincial Police Commissions which are completely under the sway of the Chief Ministers of the Province, the politics of the Province will become the politics of the Provincial Police force, as well. The most obvious foreseeable result of recruiting, within the Province for the Provincial Police force, is that the Northern Province Police force will be predominantly Tamil, the Eastern Province police force largely Tamil and Muslim, and the police forces of all other Provinces, predominantly Sinhala. The implications of politicians, elected on communalistic political platforms, having armed police forces under their control, to further their political objectives, should be clear to anybody. For a country like Sri Lanka which has experienced protracted conflict between ethnic and religious groups, the police powers provisions in the 13A are a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
An equally important consideration is the fact that crime prevention, detection and investigation is very much an inter-provincial, countrywide activity in this country. The creation of nine separate Provincial Police Divisions, answering to nine different lines of command, will seriously hamper the crime fighting capacity of the police which we now take for granted. Today, the IGP and the police force, under him, acts on the imprimatur of the national government, and its outreach extends to every nook and corner of the country. If the 13th Amendment is fully implemented, and the principle day to day police functions, such as maintaining law and order, and crime fighting, becomes the exclusive preserve of the various Provincial Police forces, whose authority does not extend beyond the borders of their Provinces, even pursuing a criminal across Provincial borders will become a tedious, process heavy with bureaucratic procedures and the entire country is going to suffer as a result. (The Colombo and Kotte city limits will not belong to the Western provincial police division but to a Metropolitan police under the National Division according to Item 1 on the Provincial Councils List.)
Readers may recall the 2005 incident during the ceasefire where some policemen, attached to the National Child Protection Authority went into an LTTE held area in search of a fugitive European pedophile and were arrested by the LTTE police. If the police powers in the 13A are fully implemented, in a context where some Provincial administrations are going to be openly hostile to the national government, as well as to other Provincial administrations, similar incidents will become day to day occurrences. The sheer practical impossibility of effectively carrying out police work in a small, densely populated country divided into nine separate police jurisdictions, manned by police forces under nine different lines of command was one of the main reasons why the police powers in the 13A have remained unimplemented for the past 37 years.
Political control over Provincial Police forces
While the IGP will nominally remain the head of the Sri Lanka Police force, even under the 13A, actual day to day police work will become the preserve of the provincial DIGs, acting under the direction and control of the respective Chief Ministers. Under Section 12.4(b) of Appendix 1, the IGP’s discretion in matters related to crime fighting will largely be centered on assigning investigations to units of the national division, like the CID, if he believes that is required in the public interest. But even to do that, he will need to ‘consult’ the Chief Minister of the Province and to have the approval of the Attorney General. Appendix 1 does not have provisions for any mechanism to enable the Provincial Police forces to work in unison in crime fighting or indeed any mechanism that can respond expeditiously to crime fighting requirements throughout the country.
The 13A was passed into law nearly four decades ago, in a different era. In the new millennium, the dominant trend has been to prevent politicians from influencing the police force but the provisions in the 13A seeks to do exactly the opposite.
Even though the new millennium has seen three Constitutional Amendments, (the 17th, 19th and 21st) promulgated for (among other things) the depoliticisation of the police force, Appendix 1 of the Provincial Councils List in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, was left largely untouched. I use the word ‘largely’, because the 17th Amendment did make a few changes in Appendix 1, but that was only to reduce the powers of the President. The Chief Minister’s powers over the Provincial Police remained untouched.
The total and complete politicisation of the police force, envisaged in the 13A, renders it out of step with the times. It was just a few months ago that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and under its provisions, the President cannot appoint the IGP unless the Constitutional Council approves his recommended candidate and the President cannot appoint the Chairman and Members of the National Police Commission except on the recommendations of the Constitutional Council.
How will the people of this country react if the police powers, envisaged in the 13A, are implemented, and they wake up one morning to find that the Chief Ministers have been given effective control over the appointment of the provincial DIGs and complete control of the Provincial Police Commissions?
How will the people react when they find that the country has been rendered ungovernable overnight because the police force has been fragmented into nine separate police forces, under nine different chains of command? The gestation period for the fallout resulting from a wrong decision with regard to the police powers laid out in the 13A will not be years or months but weeks and days. Hence this is an area where the government will have to proceed with great caution.
Valentine’s Day gig in Kolkata
Yes, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching…one week from today, and there’s going to be lots of action on Tuesday, February 14th.
The showbiz scene will have plenty to offer those who celebrate this day.
Our very own Yohani, who is now a mega star in India, will be in Kolkata, on Valentine’s Day.
And this is what she has to say:
“See you all on 14th February, 2023, as I would be coming for my maiden gig in the city of joy. Super excited, thrilled to meet you all.”
However, a Valentine’s Gala will be celebrated, four days ahead – on February 10th – at the Claireport Place Banwuet and Convention Centre, in Toronto, Canada.
This event, they say, has been put together to support a very talented young band (youths of Sri Lankan origin), called BluPrint, whose passion for Sri Lankan music has thrilled Toronto audiences for the last seven years.
The members have been a part of a series of sold out concerts, starting from API concert series, in 2016, to BluPrint’s Roots, in 2022.
BP sees biggest profit in 114-year history after oil and gas prices soar
Employees’ Trust Fund Act No. 46 of 1980 to be amended
Cabinet nod for MOU between the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives on Cultural Cooperation
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
News6 days ago
NPP for implementation of 13A, says Harini
News7 days ago
Ex-diplomat alleges Australian aid project sabotaged, points finger at Medical Supplies Division
Midweek Review7 days ago
GR’s exit and developing crisis: Different interpretations
Breaking News5 days ago
President Ranil Wickremasinghe calls upon chief prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters
News6 days ago
Nuland accuses China of failing to help SL with ‘credible and specific assurances’ acceptable to IMF
News7 days ago
Full implementation of 13A: NFF vows to torpedo Ranil’s move, asks Dinesh, Mahinda to disclose their stance
Business5 days ago
Dialog Enterprise partners with Fortinet to launch Next-Generation Firewall as a Service in Sri Lanka
Editorial6 days ago
When ambition overtakes reality