News in a new age
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
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.