Darshana Offers Asian Attire for the Communication Modality in Sri Lanka
Posted on January 28th, 2018

By Dr. Chandana Jayalath

The book on Asian Perspectives in Communication authored by the journalist and researcher, Darshana Ashoka Kumara is a piece of study that explores possibility of using a mass communication model in Sri Lanka. The modality he refers to is the Asian Communication model which is deemed to be predominately based on the concepts of Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. He attempts to bring the concepts in Quantum Physics to make this model a more meaningful one. The arguments cited for the appropriateness of this model is the multi ethnic and multi linguistic composition itself.  Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus share many commonalities in terms of religion and customs. Using these identical concepts the Author suggests that, if adopted in good faith, it will certainly ensure the ethnic harmony and prevent future conflicts.

A chapter is dedicated to explain how mass media is currently being used as a tool of war and manipulate the general public particularly in reporting national and social issues. Most significantly, the fourth chapter deals with the knitty-gritty of the teachings of the ancient philosophers including Bharathamuni, Nagarjuna and Ashwagosha. Two case studies of ownership issues and poor profesionalism that plague the Sri Lankan media, both in the practice and training are also given. One of which is how media reported on the appointing expert panel by the UN Secretary General to inquire into alleged war crimes.

Darshana accuses that in the modern world, mass media profoundly engage in manipulating the media content, distort the true picture and do not act as a role model to demystify the difficult path towards an informed citizenry. He emphasizes that even though media is meant to promote peace and harmony, people with vested interests and narrow political objectives attempt to use media as a tool of war to fulfill evil purposes. This bad precedence takes over the rectitude once level of sensitivity is alarmingly reducing. If citizens are ill informed about the actions of officials and institutions for example, the way towards harmony will be blatantly blurred. If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

A known fact is that sophisticated psychological operations are a part of parcel of modern warfare. By and large, media politics in the country too has a long term effect on media itself. First, the countries media sector tend to contribute to the establishment of a highly politically partisian media culture. Darshana contends that the island nation has not yet got rid of this phynomina. This partisan character and loyalty to certain political parties is obvious in critical moments such as elections.  In this way, media often becomes an instrument of elite politics, he worries.  One of the chapters that attracted me is the twelve points  where journalism often goes wrong when dealing with violence namely; Decontextualizing violence, Dualism, Manichaeism, Armageddon, Confusion, Focusing on individual acts of violence while avoiding structural causes such as poverty, Excluding and omitting the bereaved, Failure to explore the causes of escalation and the impact of media coverage itself, Failure to explore the goals of outside interventionists, Omitting the reconciliation, Confusing cease-fires and negotiations with actual peace and Failure to explore peace proposals and offer images of peaceful outcome.

In the foregoing study, it had been confirmed that Sri Lankan media has generally resorted to publish manipulated content, mainly due to concentration of media ownership into hands of polarized elements in the society, lack of professionalism of media practitioners, especially journalists. Western concepts too have resulted publishing more insensitive media content that could lead the public more into polarized ends of the social spectrum. Darshana’s argument is that a communication strategy based on real Asian values will more or less demote jumping into such polarized ends and would help towards a moderate society and healthy democracy in Sri Lanka.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, I hardly came across in the Darshana’s search for an Asian perspective of Communication modality, a total rejection of the Western perspective. I hope it is unnecessary. Asian scholars can elicit what is useful from the West and incorporate it such that the Asian perspective becomes relevant and addresses the important communication issues peculiar to Asian nations. If so, why have we, as communication scholars, so far focused our attention and energies solely on exploring Western theories of communication? In that sense, I agree with Darshana who never dispel the argument of understanding of and utilizing the Asian approaches to communication. It will indeed help serving to widen the field of communication and extend its discursive boundaries.  Under circumstances, we have to proceed cautiously and operate on a number of fronts simultaneously.

In this book, Darshana has addressed key important questions related to Asian approaches of communication. First, why is it important to focus on Asian approaches to communication? Second, how will the uncovering of Asian theories change the landscape of communication studies, at least to a degree? Third, what we have achieved so far other than discredit and lack of harmony? Fourth, what are some of the dominant problems we are likely to encounter in our endeavors (for examples the ownership issues)? However, the most importantly, the question of how can we usefully overcome them seems less answered. I wonder whether the latter is out of his research objective.  I strongly believe more work needs to be done in framing out a sensible media landscape. Hence, it should come as no surprise that Darshana must have chosen to focus more on the challenges ahead for scholars of Asian communication than those not accomplished.

In a country where media suffers indiscipline to a greater length due to political interventions, by writing a book on how the media as a ‘social approach’ embraces Asian concepts and teachings is admirable. We have a handful of scholars, to understand communication from an Asian perspective. This is primarily because there are not in academic circulation any Asian theories and models that communication teachers and students can readily use. Moreover, researches are undertaken in a Western scholarly dispensation.  If communication is to become a more meaningful mode of inquiry in Asia, and indeed in the rest of the world, it has to connect with indigenous intellectual roots, local modes of thinking, traditional knowledge and scientific reasoning. Traditional Knowledge generally refers to knowledge systems embedded in the cultural traditions of regional, indigenous, or local communities. These kinds of knowledge, crucial for subsistence and survival, are generally based on accumulations of empirical observation and on interaction with the environment. In times of a crisis, this traditional knowledge will ideally entail. What is called rational” and what popularly acceptable as science” is in fact a by-product of specific historical, cultural, and political circumstances, and has produced a culture of scientism” that is ideological.

One of the interesting discussions is tied to the idea that an object or event arises as a combination or multiplicity of causes, generally referred to as cofactors. No event has one single cause, but invariably the cooperation of a multitude of conditions is involved. What is necessary for an event to occur is that the full complement of the condition must be present. The effect itself, indeed, is nothing but the presence of the totality of causes. These ideas have deep implications for the construction of communication research models. Darshana’s elucidation in page 123 is perhaps in nutshell given to explain the Niyama Dharama in Buddhism.  Five types of factors at work in the cosmos that cause things to happen, called the Five Niyamas. Karma is only one of these factors. Present circumstances are the result of countless factors that are always in flux. There is no single cause that makes everything to be the way it is. What this discussion establishes, I believe, is that various concepts embedded in Asian classical traditions of thought can be productively employed to reshape our models of communication for a social order we badly aspire. Media as scandalmonger means that the end goal is to mobilize citizens for reform.

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