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First of all we need to finalise the composition of the centre. This is the first time in Sri Lanka where such an information centre has been established. There are similar National media centres in several countries such as India, Japan, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the USA

Chairman of the newly formed Government Media Centre and former minister Imthiaz Bakeer Markar says that the establishment of the institution he heads was in line with the government’s policies while claiming that it would ensure the protection of media fundamentals.

In an interview with Nation, Markar said the media centre would function as an apex body which includes representatives of the Media offices of the President and the Prime Minister, and of the Department of Government Information.

Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q:Can you explain why it is necessary to have this media centre in the context of the current political and economic situation of the country?
The country is at a pivotal juncture politically and economically. We have a government where the two major political parties have pledged to work together to move the country forward.

In this context, the media centre consists of representatives of the government. We have the President’s Office, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Information represented in the body.

We hope to work together and enlighten the people on the development programmes and policies of the government. At the same time we also intend to obtain the views of the public, study them and convey them to the President and the Prime Minister.

It is going to be a two-way process where the public will also get the opportunity to convey their ideas and thoughts.

Q: How do you hope to intend to obtain public view points? Would you have a separate platform for the public to place their ideas?
We have commenced discussions on how we could encourage public participation. We will look at all avenues, including web based, mail and telephone hotlines through which the people could share their ideas and opinions with the media centre.

Q:What are the immediate challenges that you expect to face for a start?
First of all we need to finalise the composition of the centre. This is the first time in Sri Lanka where such an information centre has been established. There are similar National media centres in several countries such as India, Japan, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the USA from which we could draw inspiration and ideas to formulate our own centre.
We have chosen a young and vibrant team who do not have any political affiliations. We hope to create an understanding and provide the necessary training for the members in this regard.

Q:There are already spokespersons for the government who disseminate information to the media and to the public. How do you hope to coordinate this process and make sure there is no duplication or contradiction with regard to the views expressed by the spokespersons?
As I mentioned before, we have a ruling council which consists of representatives of the President, Prime Minister and the Media Ministry. The President’s Media is represented by Dharmasiri Bandara while the Prime Minister’s Media is represented by Saman Athaudahetti. The Ministry of Mass Media is represented by the Director General of the Government Information Department, Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya.

Therefore, I firmly believe that there will be no confusion or contradiction once we start working together.

Q:How do you hope to improve the current system where there are already government ministers and officers appointed to disseminate information?
The Cabinet paper says that I would function as the spokesperson of the government. However, as you said there are representatives of the government and of various ministries who divulge information. We have the Cabinet spokesperson, the government spokesperson and media coordinators for various ministries. What we hope to do is to strengthen this network and also provide a solid environment for these representatives to carry out their work properly.

We are not here to protect the government or any individuals, but to protect media fundamentals.

Q:In that case do you have plans of providing them with the necessary training in order to carry out their duties effectively?
We are currently planning out a programme to provide the necessary training which we will implement in due course.

Q:With the Right to Information (RTI) Act in place, how would the government media centre conduct its work in disseminating information?
We will function separately. However, we are in the process of working out a plan where we could also be part of the system.
Pic by Musthaq Thasleem