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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

How Sri Lankans consume and perceive media

Sri Lanka Press Council’s first islandwide survey shines a light on the media and the masses

Despite the increasing popularity of the internet, television is the most commonly used media in Sri Lanka, and it can be observed in almost all provinces. While the popularity of social media platforms, official news websites, and unofficial news websites is on the rise, other traditional media such as radio and print media are still preferred by many.

This was revealed in a survey which the Sri Lanka Press Council (SLPC) said is the first islandwide survey conducted in the country to evaluate the public’s opinion about the use, regulation, and behaviour of media. The survey was conducted earlier this year, and it was conducted by Venturis Solutions (Pvt.) Ltd. for the SLPC. The survey looked into the public’s knowledge and opinions with regard to six forms of media, namely, print media, television, radio, social media platforms, official news websites, and gossip websites (unofficial news websites).

In terms of popularity, television, radio, social media platforms, and print media had ranked first, second, third, and fourth, respectively, the survey findings showed, even though different provinces showed different levels of popularity/usage. Overall, 67% of the people (survey respondents) had stated that television is their first choice of media with regard to obtaining everyday information, while 17% of the respondents had stated that their first choice of media is social media platforms. In addition, 9% of the respondents had chosen print media, while 6% of the respondents had chosen radio.

The survey report also explained the responses of the people of each province concerning their first choice of media. Television had been rated as the first choice of media in all provinces except in the Northern Province, and the respondents of the Northern Province had named social media platforms as their first choice of media. Print media had ranked second most popular media in the Western and North Western Provinces, while radio had ranked second most popular choice of media in the rest of the country.

In terms of the type of media, the survey report showed that the highest number of respondents who prefer print media was reported from the Western Province. The highest number of people who prefer television and radio was reported from the Uva Province. Social media platforms were more popular in the Eastern Province than in any other province. Official news websites and gossip websites were more popular in the North Western Province and in the Eastern Province, respectively, than in any other province. In addition, a segment of respondents also chose cable television, and they were significantly more prevalent in the Northern Province compared to other provinces.

Speaking of these findings, SLPC Chairman Mahinda Pathirana said that it is notable that some communities, especially those living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, receive information/news from sources other than commonly used local media institutions, and that this should receive attention. He also noted the importance of addressing the issues prevailing in such areas, and also the importance of addressing “mental barriers”.

The findings of the survey results were extensively discussed and were officially revealed last week, during a webinar organised by the SLPC. Speaking about the findings during the discussion, Venturis Solutions (Pvt.) Ltd. Head of Research Sanjeewa Dayaratne further said that with regard to what the public consider to be the most trusted media, a majority of the respondents (68%) had said that they trust the information they receive via television. Meanwhile, print media and radio had been ranked the second (12%) and third (9%) most trusted media, respectively. In addition, both social media platforms and official websites had ranked fifth with an equal number of respondents (5%) choosing them as the most trusted media.

Dayaratne explained that the survey also looked into what the public thinks about the impartiality of the media. According to survey results, 77% of the respondents believed that television provides impartial information and 61% believed that print media provides impartial information. In addition, around 68% of the respondents believed that radio is a media that provides impartial information. Only 25% of the respondents thought that they can receive impartial information via social media platforms.

With regard to the level of impartiality, around 45% of the respondents had stated that they believe that what they see on television is most likely to be impartial, while 32% had said that it could be completely impartial.

With regard to print media, 19% had stated that print media is completely impartial, 42% had stated that it is most likely to be impartial, and 29% had stated that it is 50% impartial. However, 3% had stated that print media does not provide balanced information.

Of those who commented about the impartiality of radio, 45% had stated that it is most likely to be impartial, while 13% had stated that it is completely impartial. Those who opined that it could be 50% impartial constituted 34% of the respondents who spoke about radio’s impartiality.

However, with regard to social media platforms, 31% had said that it does not adequately provide balanced information, while 29% had rated impartiality 50%. Around 27% of the respondents had stated that official websites’ impartiality is 50%, and 26% had stated that information they receive via websites are most likely to be impartial. Around 32% had said that gossip websites are not impartial.

During the discussion, survey results pertaining to the public’s opinion about the quality of content delivered by each type of media were also discussed. According to the findings, 76% of television viewers believe that they receive quality content via television, while 64% of those who had rated print media had stated that it provides quality publications. Moreover, 59% of radio listeners believe that it broadcasts quality programmes. Only 20% of social media users believe that the quality of content shared on social media platforms meet their expectations pertaining to quality.

The survey also looked into the public’s perception about the relationship between media and fake news. Based on the responses it received, the survey stated that 77% of the respondents believe that fake news on media is a result of various political reasons, while 45% believe that fake news is caused by personal reasons (of media personnel). Other reasons include, attempts to gain publicity, intention to destroy a character or religions harmony, and business-related reasons. A majority of the respondents (85%) believe that they are entitled to a civil right to question media institutions with regard to fake news.

When asked whether the respondents believe that they are entitled to a (civil) right to question the media, 85% had stated yes, 7% had stated no, and 8% had stated that they were not aware of such to respond. Of those who said that they have such a right, the highest number of respondents (97%) was reported from the Southern Province, where not a single person had said that they do not have such a right. In terms of the number/percentage of respondents who said that they believe that they have a right to question the media, the Uva and Western Provinces had ranked second and third, respectively. The highest number of persons who disagreed in that regard was reported from the Central (17%), Sabaragamuwa (14%), and Northern (13%) Provinces.

The survey, which also looked into the education levels of those who responded to the question whether the people have a (civil) right to question the media, said that 94% of the respondents who said that such a right exists/should exist had either graduated or had higher educational qualifications, and that those who had lower educational qualifications tended to disagree with such a statement. In terms of age and gender, the report said that 90% of the people in the 25-39 age category tended to believe that such a right exists/should exist, while older respondents were less likely to share the same opinion. It added that more male respondents (86%) said that such a right exists/should exist than female respondents (84%).

Dayaratne further explained the survey findings pertaining to the respondent’s opinion about the impact of fake news on individuals (who are the subject of fake news). He added that 49% of the respondents believed that fake news can highly affect these individuals, and that 37% had said that the impact is considerable. More respondents had said that the impact would be minimal and that they had no idea about the impact, while around 1% had said that there would be no impact due to fake news. Overall, 95% of the respondents had said that they believe that fake news would cause some kind of impact on these individuals.

With regard to the level of impact on public life caused by fake news, 47% of the respondents had said that the impact would be high, and 44.3% had said that it would be considerable. Around 5% had said that a relatively less impact is likely, and 1.2% had said that there would be no impact. The study had not found any significant correlation between these views and age, gender, and education-related groups.

The respondents had said that some kind of action needs to be taken against fake news, according to the survey. While 46% of them had stated that a complaint should be lodged with a regulatory authority, 28% had said that such matters need to be discussed with the relevant media/news agency. Moreover, 10% had recommended taking legal action, while a similar percentage of respondents had said that they should remain silent.

“Despite all the options available to fight fake news, people may still keep silent against those fake news,” the report said, adding that the majority (29%) of the respondents do not have trust that justice would be delivered.

“Around 24% of the respondents do not expect to take action, as in most of these cases, it is not easy to trace the culprit, and 19% think the individuals who publish fake news are strong (within the society). Also, 15% do not have knowledge as to what to do (in such situations) and 13% claim that there is no regulator to lodge a complaint with,” it added.

This situation was acknowledged by Pathirana as well; he said that the public’s lack of knowledge about where to seek assistance from in the event of an injustice related to the media, is a major issue, and that raising awareness about the existing institutions is vital.

A vast majority (83%) of the respondents believes there should be laws and regulations against publishing of fake news, and 10% of the respondents are of the opinion that even if laws were available, spread of fake news cannot be stopped. However, 3% had stated that no such laws or regulations are necessary.
With regard to social media platforms, 38% of the respondents had stated that there should be strong laws and regulations to regulate social media, while 31% had opined that there should be laws to regulate social media to some extent. However, about 13% think that there is no such need.

The survey had found that people above 55 years of age showed relatively less trust in the law, and had a very weak idea about regulating social media. Those in the 25-55 year age group had expressed that there should be regulations to monitor social media, than those in other age groups did. They also represented all educational qualifications-related groups.

During the discussion, Government Information Department Director General Mohan Samaranayake, said that in a context where Sri Lankans’ media literacy remains very low, educating the public as well as initiating a social discourse about the relationship between the media and the public are extremely important. He added that due to low media literacy, the public tend to believe that the information conveyed by the media is more likely to be true, even though the reality is different.

“The media’s behaviour has a decisive impact on the society’s wellbeing,” Samaranayake added.

He said: “Regardless of the type of media, essentially, what they do is convey a message, news, or an opinion to the public, and the people, depending on how they perceive it, react. However, Sri Lanka has not conducted studies to find out how the people view the media, even though developed countries do so. Researching about such matters, publicising the findings, and initiating a discourse, will be helpful to create a better society and a better use of media.”

Meanwhile, SLPC Press Commissioner Niroshana Thambawita, speaking to The Morning, said: “This islandwide survey is the first of its kind done in Sri Lanka, and the main objective of conducting it was evaluating what the public think of the media and discuss what type of steps need to be taken to address those opinions in future. The public’s opinion will be extremely important when planning the necessary reforms in the media field including ethical, legal, and policy aspects.”

As was highlighted during the discussion, the relationship between the media and the public depends on what is conveyed to the people, and how the public perceives it, and therefore, evaluating what the public thinks of the media, is key to strengthening that relationship.

By Sumudu Chamara/ TM

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