Tussle over Buddhist radio, TV in Sri Lanka

by Janaka Perera, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 9, 2006

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Despite approval by Sri Lanka’s telecommunication authorities for a Buddhist radio and television channel planned four years ago, it has still received no green light.   Despite President Mahinda Rajapaksa approving the project, the State’s Information and Media Ministry is stubbornly opposing it, according to R. M. Navaratne, Editor of the Sinhala Buddhist Publication, Dhamsara.

He told the Buddhist Channel that the Most Venerable Inamaluwe Sumangala, Chief Prelate (Maha Nayake) of Rangiri Dambulu Chapter of the Shyamopali Sect had sought permission from the government in 2002 to operate the radio and TV station. The broadcasts and telecasts were to be made from the premises of the historic Buddhist Temple, Rangiri Dambulu Raja Maha Vihara in Dambulla. This temple, famous for its ancient frescoes, is located North of the islandís central province.

The request for launching the radio and TV channel had been made to the government with the approval of the Chief Prelates of the countryís three main Buddhist Sects. Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC)ís Chairman Kanchana Ratwatte too had recommended it and allocated the necessary radio frequency after which the broadcasting studio was setup.

According to the Ven. Sumangala, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga too approved launching of the Buddhist radio and TV channel. On her instructions the then Secretary to the Media Ministry, Tilak Ranaviraja, had telephoned the Maha Nayaka to inform him that written permission would be given in a few days.

But now things had regrettably taken a different turn, laments the Ven. Sumangala, who accuses the Information and Media Ministry of obstructing the TV and radio channel. Under the Sri Lankan law the ministry is the final authority on establishing radio and television stations.

Media Ministry Secretary W.B. Ganegala argues that it is not government policy to permit radio and television stations to propagate religion. In his view, giving licences to them would create a precedent resulting in Hindus, Christians and Muslims making similar requests.

However, Ganegala could not respond effectively to a question that Dhamsara reporter Mudiyanse Ratnayaka posed on Radio Veritas, which is already broadcasting Christian news in Sinhala from the Philippines. But Ganegala admitted there were thousands of religious-oriented radio and TV channels worldwide.

The Ven. Sumangala laments that the Media Ministryís decision is preposterous in view of the fact that Sri Lanka is considered the repository of Theravada Buddhism. If one person is permitted to make decisions on Buddhist-related issues, it is highly unacceptable and unjust concludes the Maha Nayaka.