Sri Lanka A call to regulate radio matters

3 December 2019 12:04 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}




  • Private media have to keep up with the standards of the state media. We do not have a strong national model
  • The majority Sinhala radio channels mix languages to keep in fashion, but this has been an utter failure


Radio waves of a country are national resources. People with agendas frequently use these national resources to form public opinion. Many developed countries have a proper national plan to regulate telecommunication; with regard to radio and TV. Licensing, renewing and regulation are still done the same way since the inception over here. Therefore, we interviewed some experts to speak on radio regulation in Sri Lanka. 

“Sri Lanka has over 50 radio channels,” - Eng. Upali Arambewale -Former  consultant to Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) 

“There are over 50 radio channels in Sri Lanka. It is a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Only the Frequency Modulation (FM) system is used in radio broadcasting in Sri Lanka. The frequencies start from 87.5 MHz to 108 MHz. 

“According to ITU regulations, it should be 500 kHz between two channels. Yet in Sri Lanka, its only 200 kHz, which breaches  international rules. Overlapping Radio channels creates much disturbance. The volume shouldn’t be increased or decreased while changing radio channels. Even within a programme, commercials are aired louder than the programme,” said Arambewale. 

“Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) is responsible for all the channels and their behaviour. The prime responsibility of radio channels is infotainment (giving information with entertainment), and Edutainment (giving education with entertainment) But Sri Lankan radio channels produce all the entertainment without education,” he explained.   


Commenting on the language used by Sri Lankan Sinhala medium channels, he criticised the mixed language-Singlish (Sinhala + English) pointing to the negativity impact it has on the young generation.  

“The majority Sinhala radio channels mix languages to keep in fashion, but this has been an utter failure. They do not do justice to the listener. It is accepted that one of the prime responsibilities of the radio channel is to educate, and this ‘Singlish language’ is a dis - education; it is against the rules of ITU,” he affirmed. 

Who cares for ethics?

Some radio channels in Sri Lanka are very active in investigative journalism. They have investigative programmes which reveal the wrongdoing of famous personalities or Government officials. It is speculated that some programme presenters blackmail the guilty; demanding hush money. According to a reliable source, a famous FM channel renowned for the so-called investigative programme has engaged in malpractice. 

“Public is still ignorant of its rights” -Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena - 

Speaking about radio regulation and privatization, Dr. Sunil Co-Chairperson of Arts and Cultural Policy Desk (ACPD) said, “We don’t have a strong public broadcasting model like NHK –Japan’s -Government media. Their private media have been obliged to keep up with the standards of the state media. We do not have a strong national model other than competitive private media and their agendas,” he explained.  

While explaining he said; “People should know their rights and responsibilities because this is a democratic country. The Sri Lankan public is still very immature and ignorant of its rights,”


According to the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act, No 25 of 1991, 10. (1) - This is the sole authority on managing the radio frequency spectrum in Sri Lanka and it is capable to withdraw, suspend or to prohibit emissions. As included in the act, no one can have the license without the authority’s  permission. 

“Regulations with some deficiencies can never be as bad as absolute lack of regulation,” –Sanath Panawennage 

Speaking on the issue Director General and CEO of Arthur C Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies/ former engineer in SLBC Sanath Panawennage had this to say.
“There’s a lack of good quality programmes in present radio channels. If we just imagine the 18 hours a day of 40 radio channels, the radio channels in our country broadcast roughly 720 hours a day. But what have we got to listen to?” he questioned. “The airwaves are a public utility, a national resource. Certainly, there must be a handful of programmes that have evolved very well and which are catering to the interest of the listening public,” he said. 

“If we look at the root cause, the problems with radio and TV would simply boil down to the roots of the open economy. But there are countries which are having liberal economies whose quality of media has not deteriorated. Therefore, in a society where there is a market economy, there are a lot of agencies wanting to make money. From a financial perspective that is the whole purpose behind why this private entrepreneurship exists.  

“Some people think regulation is inherently bad. Even regulations with some deficiencies can never be as bad as the absolute lack of regulation. Good regulation is necessary for the media to deliver much-cherished values of a democratic society that can contribute to socio-cultural development and overall human development,” he added. 

“In India, a certain part of the spectrum is reserved for the public and given free coverage throughout the country. Private channels are forming a public opinion and that should not happen at any cost; that’s why we should strike a balance and introduce regulations,” he emphasised. 

“Even positioning the radio broadcasting stations is a mess. Many mountains in the upcountry are encased by radio and TV channel stations. They are freely situated at any point they prefer. What will happen if there is one single location for all broadcasters?” he questions. 

Furthermore, he emphasised the necessity of a united body to regulate telecommunication in Sri Lanka.  

“Employees with poor language ruin language,” - Professor Rathnasiri Arangala

Professor Rathnasiri Arangala of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura speaking on language usage of present radio channels in Sri Lanka said, “Language is a major communication method for humans. The way media use the language makes them responsible for language evolution in the society. Language today has become artificial and forceful hence disturbing it’s natural evolution. This is done by both print and electronic media. 

“The linguists note that the convention is to use the written language for radio and television news broadcasting for diaglossic languages - the languages that use separate written and spoken formats. The language used by Sinhala medium electronic media is grammatically incorrect. But it does not happen with the Tamil language even though it is a diglossic language; they use the written form to broadcast news,” he described. 

“The root cause of this is unskilled employees whose knowledge of the language has not been developed. Some fear to speak in Sinhala in an English background thinking that might damage their status because of the inferiority complex (Heenamaanaya),” he stated. 




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