ENVIRONMENTAL JOURNALISM IN SRI LANKA – 2008
Sri Lanka is an island situated in the Indian Ocean almost at the southern tip of the Indian Subcontinent. The weather pattern in Sri Lanka is tropical (not humid) which is suitable for any type of vegetation ranging from plantation crops such as tea, rubber and coconuts, as well as rice paddy and other field crops which are systematically cultivated in selected areas of the island.
There are rich tropical rain forests in many parts of the island which have contributed to rich bio-diversity in these forests. The coastal belt is well protected right round the island. This fact too has contributed in no small measure to the presentation of marine resources.Environmental protection in Sri Lanka is more or less guaranteed by law and there are certain agencies entrusted with this task, e.g. the Ministry of Environment, the Department of Wildlife Protection, the Department of Coast Conservation, the Central Environmental Authority and so on. Even local authorities such as Provincial Councils, Municipal Councils and Regional Councils are involved in environmental protection, particularly in the area of waste disposal.
There are several NGOs in Sri Lanka devoted to the cause of environmental protection mainly through awareness creation. Their contribution is commendable. With a high literacy rate (93%), that is considered to be the highest in Asia, Sri Lanka’s reading public is quite extensive. There are many newspapers published in Sri Lanka in English, Sinhala and Tamil (11 dailies and 61 weeklies). In addition to the newspapers there are 41 radio channels and 14 TV channels, both state-controlled and private-owned. All these media are patronized by a large segment of the public. While newspapers contribute the major sources of environmental awareness creation, the radio and the TV have made a start recently in this direction.
The mass media in Sri Lanka plays a role as a channel and means for environment education. The fact that the media plays a very significant role in providing information on environment was confirmed by a recent Environment Awareness Study, where most people cited different organs of the media as their primary source of environmental education. A majority of the sample population in both urban and rural areas cited the print press as the primary source of information on the environment. Television was the next major source of information for the urban population, while radio was for the rural population.
The media plays different and multiple roles in relation to information and commentary on environment and development. In the developing country situations as those that exist in Sri Lanka, the media performs many roles. The media:
Reports/Informs - by bringing latest news and information on developments related to environment and development issues and subjects;
Comments - through editorials, feature articles and other means, practitioners of the media comment on the information they help survey, thus adding perspectives, relating issues to people’s lives, and sometimes even providing value-judgments on issues;
Reflects - when a new development takes place in relation to environment/development, some organs of the media remind their audiences of what had preceded this development through background stories, in depth articles or programs;
Probes - through investigative journalism, the media sometimes probes into suspicious developments, misuse of public funds, scandals involving environmental issues. In this process, the media unearths and reveals information which the official guardians of the environment can then follow-up.
Entertains - through its coverage of the rich diversity of nature, natural wonders and man’s interactions with nature, the media provides recreational benefits to its audiences, helping them appreciate the benefits of a cleaner and healthier environment.
Educates - through a combination of all of the above, the media also educates its audience on pressures, risks and trends related to the environment, the most appropriate responses, the type of individual and community action needed, and the relative costs of such action or inaction. In this sense, the mass media is one of the most potent educators on the environment.Trends in environmental coverage Quantitatively, coverage on the environment in Sri Lanka newspapers (the main source of environmental information) has increased in the past decade. This is evidenced by: A marked increase in the number of items on the environment, as well as the overall amount of column centimeters devoted for environmental items;
More editorials are written on environment and sustainable development issues, and more feature articles on these subjects appear in the leader (editorial) pages;
- Many newspapers have introduced a weekly page devoted to environmental news and feature articles; A number of all-environment newspapers have also appeared.
The following newspapers were covered under the study: 4 daily newspapers (Divaina, Lankadeepa, Dinamina and Lakbima); 10 Sunday newspapers (Sunday Divaina, Sunday Lankadeepa, Silumina, Sunday Lakbima, Ravaya Siyatha, Irudina, Rivira, Lanka, and Heladiva);
Total number of environment related news reports published: 1273, of which 86 per cent covered national issues (including campaigns),11 per cent covered provincial issues and
03 per cent covered International issues
Total number of feature articles: 923(72%)
Total number of news Reports: 350(28%)
Where the author’s name was identified, gender breakdown in reporters covering environment: Female 16 per cent, Male 75 per cent and Not mention 09 per cent.
Three daily newspapers were covered (Daily News, The Island, Daily Mirror) and seven Sunday newspapers (Sunday Observer, Sunday Island, Sunday Times, Sunday Leader, Bottom Line,Lakbima News and The Nation ).
Total number of news reports on environment: 96 per cent covered national issues and 03 per cent provincial issues and 01 per cent covered International issues .
Total number of feature/ articles: 859
Total Newspaper Articles in Categories are
Biodiversity - 18%,
Development - 16%,
Air, Water, Soil - 10%,
Environment Education - 10%,
Pollution - 10%,
Agriculture - 7% ,
Industry - 6% ,
Tourism - 6% ,
Culture - 4% ,
Energy - 4% ,
Health - 4% ,
Climate Change - 3% ,
Natural disasters - 2% and
Children - 0%
Where the author’s name was identified, gender breakdown of reporters covering environment: Female 37 per cent, Male 63 per cent.