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News in a new age


- CPA

CPA report on consumption and perceptions of mainstream and social media in the Western Province:

Sri Lanka's slow and steady move towards a digital norm came to light in a recent survey, which revealed a majority of Sri Lankans living in the Western Province prefer to access information digitally, rather than the conventional time tested method of listening to the radio, watching television or reading a newspaper.

The top-line survey on the consumption and perceptions of mainstream and social media in the Western Province, carried out by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), revealed that though people rely more on private television channels to keep themselves updated on current affairs, there is a huge trend towards using social media and Internet for the same purpose, specifically among the youth in the age group 18 -24, for who main source of news is often a choice between the private television channels and the entire spectrum of social media.

From Facebook to smartphones, from news on TV to news via SMS, from how information read digitally is spread to others who are offline, the report, which perhaps for the first time takes a look at alternate news sources and changing perceptions, offered insights into how content is produced, disseminated and discussed in Sri Lanka's most densely populated province.

Why do people, especially the youth prefer the new or social media? According to experts in the field, one of the bigger draws is the wider options and great space available within the social media compared to the mainstream media, which always is limited. Greater space enables Social media users to be engaged by commenting, posting different opinions and sharing their concerns on an issue with a wider audience.

The CPA report draws on a survey of 1,743 randomly selected men and women, interviewed in Sinhala or Tamil language during June-July 2015. They were asked about mobile phone use and web access. The survey was conducted by Social Indicator, CPA's survey research unit.

Best access to Internet

Why the Western Province? According to research team member Sanjana Hattotuwa, the Province was selected as it is the most densely populated region in the country and is home to country's administrative and business hubs.

As the team explained during the launch of the report on Wednesday (27), the Western Province house almost all the premier educational institutions of the country and has the largest number of schools in the country, be it national, provincial, private or international. In 2014, the Western Province alone accounted for 43% of the country's GDP. According to the team, the Western Province also features the best access to Internet across wired and wireless connections, and has the widest coverage and deepest penetration of Internet services amongst the Provinces.


Sanjana Hattotuwa

Nalaka Gunawardene

"This survey made us realise that the accusation against the youth, especially for those in the age group of 18 - 24, of not engaging in the current affairs is not totally acceptable," said Hattotuwa. According to him this group wanted to be more engaged with current events, such as direct questions to politicians via social media such as Twitter, whereas the older age group, which is above 65 years, just wanted to know what happened at a particular event, such as what a politician said at a particular meeting.

The survey revealed that peer pressure played an important role in making a person trust the information and news shared in social media. A little bit more than half the respondents of the sample group had said if they see a friend sharing a news article on social media they (the respondent) had previously not trusted completely, they might re-consider their first opinion.

Overall, the number of Sri Lankans accessing and using the multifaceted Internet and Social Media is on the increase. According to 2015 Central Bank data, over 2.7 million Sri Lankans use Facebook and mobile based internet subscriptions have taken a 85.5% rise in the same year. The data also states that Internet penetration, which means accessing the Internet and browsing. is at 16.4%. And according to a data by market research company TNS, Jaffna shows the highest per capita Internet penetration in Sri Lanka. Central Bank data also reveals that for every 100 Sri Lankans there are 107 mobile phones in use.

Greater challenge

The survey also hints at the struggle mainstream media - print, radio and television -might have in the near future for survival in a highly competitive environment, with Social Media posing a greater challenge. The change may not be wanted, but it is likely to happen. The question is, are we ready for it? "Rising to this challenge is not a choice, but an imperative," said senior journalist, Nalaka Gunawardene, who is a new media watcher and experimenter of new and old media in a hybrid environment.

Applauding the new CPA survey report, Gunawardene said despite the social shift to new media, the industry itself has not yet embraced this fact. With inaccessibility to 'secrets' of media organisations such as actual figures of circulation and coverage and their financial viability, it is difficult to establish evidence based true picture on the new social trend Vs mainstream media. "It is always an open question and more research is needed to depict a clear detailed picture," he added.

"Digital content consumption is rising, but what are the key trends? Where are we headed? We need to find answers to these," emphasised Gunawardene.

Sri Lanka, one year after a significant political change is at a very decisive stage with the new government keen on media sector reforms and the mainstream media, telecommunication and digital media sectors converging, we simply cannot keep guessing. "Media and policy makers must know just what information and media content Sri Lankans access and share?" he explained.

As Gunawardene stressed, this is high time to acknowledge, appreciate and understand that information society is rising and leverage digital pathways and channels for social advocacy and public interest.

"Everyone - from government and political parties to civil society groups and corporates - who want to engage the Lankan public must take note of the changing media consumption and creation patterns indicated by this study," he stressed.

 

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