‘Meegamuwa’ sets the trend for an investigative provincial press in Sri Lanka
Posted on May 2nd, 2013

By Shelton Gunaratne, professor of mass communications emeritus @ MSUM

 I spent a couple weeks touring Sri Lanka late March and early April after an absence of 13 years. One main purpose was to attend a book debut event organized by the mass communication faculties of the Sri Palee Campus and the Kelaniya University to promote my autobiographical trilogy published in the United States late last year””‚Village Life in the Forties and From Village Boy to Global Citizen (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2).

On our arrival date, three promising journalists visited me at the home of Athula Jayamanne, an eco-engineer in Negombo.  The trio””‚Nandana Perera, Wasantha Kumara and Sugath Senarath””‚told me that they had started publishing a monthly investigative newspaper called Meegamuwa to serve as a voice for the people of Negombo and the vicinity.

Having graduated from the mass communication program at Kelaniya University, they were aware of my writings on the Buddhist approach to journalism. They gave me a copy of the latest issue of Meegamuwa (March 2013) to elicit my feedback. I was glad to oblige.

I told them that Meegamuwa stood to gain much if it were to follow the Buddhist approach to journalism, which, as explained by Douglas McGill, is “a journalism of timely, truthful and helpful speech based on the Noble Eightfold Path.”   This approach would also require de-emphasizing individualism and focusing on investigative stories that would help reduce suffering/ sorrow (dukkha).                

 The Buddhist approach to journalism would also require adherence to a high code of conduct, ethics and morality encompassing right speech (samma vaca), right action (samma kammanta), and right livelihood (samma ajiva).                         The codes developed by mainstream western journalists are vitiated by the capitalist profit-motive, which fosters desire (tanha) and attachment (upadana), two of the main factors that exacerbate suffering. Western journalism is excessively dependent on advertising, commercialism and competition, which breed conspicuous consumption.

 The mainstream media in Sri Lanka has slavishly followed the Western news paradigm blaming it all on globalization and its co-arising corollary, mediatization of society. I told the three tyro journalists that their attempt to start an investigative provincial journalism might engender young journalists to start provincial newspapers in towns such as Galle, Matara, Nuwara Eliya, Kurunegala, Kelaniya, Kotte, and so on.

The capitals of the Northern and Eastern provinces and Kandy have had a sort of provincial press meekly following the mainstream Western model. The Buddhist model I have in mind is one that truly serves the community””‚a non-profit medium distributed at cost or free perhaps funded by the local authority through a small tax on all households. Because most Buddhist principles are common to the Abrahamic religions (see the Ten Commandments minus the faith in God), Buddhist journalism should not be construed as a biased religious journalism.

Buddhist journalism emphasizes the group or collectivity rather than the “individual” as is evident from its concept of asoulity or no soul (anatta). The ingenious paticca samuppada formulation identifies a living being as a namarupa made up of the five aggregates (panca skandha) plus consciousness (vinnana). It is the interaction of these ever-changing (anicca) interdependent aggregates, an ongoing process, that we conventionally identify, incorrectly, as an “individual” and presume “it” to have a self or soul (atta).

Thus, promoting individualism, a hallmark of mainstream Western journalism, goes against the fundamental Buddhist belief that a soul/self does not exist. Ignorance (avijja) of this fact, perpetuated by mainstream journalism that reifies the “individual,” prolongs a namarupa’s ability to end dukkha in cyclic existence (samsara).

Therefore, Buddhist journalism requires an emphasis on the interdependent collectivity, group or community rather than on an “individual.” It should identify a namarupa by name only as a conventional convenience to avoid confusion. It should shun or minimize the dissemination of ego-boosting news.

Moreover, because Buddhism is based on systems thinking, which envisages the universe as a mega-system of a multitude of subsystems where all elements are interdependent, interconnected and interactive, Buddhist journalism should apply systems analysis in its investigative reporting of community problems.

This means adapting Buddha’s method in the dependent co-origination (paticca samuppada) formulation to analyzing problems:

This being, that becomes;

From the arising of this, that arises;

This not being, that becomes not;

From the ceasing of this, that ceases.

The journalist has to take into account that cause-effect processes are never the outcome of a single “independent” variable as the classical Newtonian paradigm permits. On this basis, it is pure poppycock to conclude that Sinhala chauvinism was the cause of the Tamil uprising. The causes and the effects have changed their roles frequently over time creating new nonlinear phases of the ongoing process.

The March 2013 issue of Meegamuwa that the three young journalists handed me confirmed my conviction that Buddhist principles are the most suitable for provincial journalism.

The lead story and the editorial of the March issue correctly focused on a very local matter: the misidentification of Negombo’s historical mahogany tree as an oak when the Archaeological Department gazetted it as a National Heritage Tree. However, the editorial, which also dealt with the dilapidated Portuguese/Dutch Fort encompassing the mahogany, needed simpler language intelligible to people with a grade school education.

I also got the feeling that this issue devoted too much of the newshole to promote ego-boosting individualism with the center pages devoted to two local female politicians. Group interviewing and group reporting would have helped to transform these story ideas into Buddhist journalism.

One Response to “‘Meegamuwa’ sets the trend for an investigative provincial press in Sri Lanka”

  1. douglas Says:

    Dr. Shelton Gunaratne:

    Very “TIMELY & AN APPROPRIATE” presentation.

    In my opinion not only the journalists but to begin with all the Politicians, specially in Sri Lanka , this “PATH” is a MUST to be coultivated and adheared to. They only, after every “ceremony” or “political speech” know to say “Theruwan Saranai” or “Ehemy neda ape hamuduruwane”. Instead of these “unmindfull” “empty” utterances, what if our politicians followed: “Right Understanding; Thought; Speech; Action; livelihood; Effort; Mindfulness; and Concentration”? in their day to day tasks, this country will be a Heaven on planet Earth.

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