‘Media play an important role in reconciliation’
Niroshan Kahawatte is the Director of ‘London Star’, a reality musical show similar to American Idol. He is the youngest South Asian television director in UK. He was the Operations Manager at the TNT Entertainment UK and ABC Solution Incorporated UK, Assistant Media Executive at the National Health Service UK, Assistant Producer and Coordinator at the ABC Solution Incorporated UK and BBC Radio Sheffield UK.
He is trained in producing and directing at the New York Film Academy in US, TV reporting and solid journalism at Reuters USA, investigation news reporting and conflict management and problem solving at Danida Fellowship Centre Denmark, journalism in conflict settings at the Asia pacific institute for broadcasting development in Malaysia and TV news script writing at Fojo Media Institute, Sweden.
Niroshan Kahawatte posing in front of the ever famous UN pistol with its barrel twisted into a not
Q: What made you join the media field?
A: I was introduced to media by chance while schooling at Kandy Vidyartha College. But I took up the Assistant Producer and News Presenter positions at Rupavahini for a purpose.
Q: Which was?
A: Having lived in Kandy and worked in Colombo I was very much a part of a multi ethnic community. But the comradeship I shared with my Tamil and Muslim friends in the village was not present among many I encountered later in life. They behaved very differently. I found them to be scared of the Sinhala people. Later on I found that this was so because they assumed who the ‘Sinhala’ people are, by the stories they heard rather than actually associating them, to genuinely get to know them.
I wanted to help bridge this gap by taking the information to ‘my multi ethnic friends’ who are not aware of the ‘truth’. Even by just disseminating information, media plays a huge role in reconciling a nation. Sri Lankans should make maximum use of it.
Q: And this ‘truth’ is?
A: Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people have lived and worked side by side for many generations. The British colonialism applied the divide and rule theory and most of the English speaking elite Tamils were given high positions in society which was not agreeable to the majority of Sinhala people. When they started fighting for their own rights, things were portrayed as the Sinhala people going against the minority, which fired up things between the Tamil and Sinhala.
The majority of Tamil citizens in the North and East were cut off from the rest of the island and brain washed by the LTTE to make them believe that they, the terrorist group, were their only hope! The lack of media access to the peninsula before and during the conflict kept the innocent citizens in the dark.
Simple questions like why LTTE assassinated Tamil leaders and intellectuals such as Neelan Thiruchelvam, Lakshman Kadiragamar and Thiranagama, their very own, they pledged to protect were never asked. And those stuck within the peninsula was never exposed to the outer world, which made them even more vulnerable and easy victims for brain wash.
Q: Is this why most of your productions have a humanitarian angle and address the Sri Lankan conflict?
A: Yes, but I also have a personal reasons. My father was a Major in the Sri Lankan Army. Ever since I can remember my mother, brother and I used to live in constant fear for his life. We expected bad news from every phone call, message we received from his duty station. Growing up like that was extremely stressful. I never wanted anything else more in my life than for the conflict to end, purely for this reason.
I wanted my father home where I could see and speak to him like my friends did with their fathers who were in different professions. He passed away in 2000 while in active duty in Chavakachcheri, couple of weeks after I sat for my A-Ls. From then on the fear and hatred I harboured for the conflict turned into one of the sole purposes of my life. I wanted to do whatever I could to minimize the pain of those who suffered like me due to the ruthless conflict.
Q: What were the major projects you were responsible for?
A: The most memorable and the humblest experience was the production I did with Thilak Ranawiraja in the immediate after math of Tsunami. Starting from December 28, 2004 we travelled all over the island for three weeks capturing the horrific reality for the Rupavahini News and Current Affairs division.
I directed programs on Shelter homes, street children, children suffering from Cancer and on communities living in railway stations. My investigative reporting was based on beggars, child abuse, activities in mortuaries and the fisheries sector.
I also carried out programmes on rural development, export and import, tourism and transportation.
I wanted to open up markets for the farmers in the rural agricultural sector and provide education to children. The series of Sisu Denuma workshops I conducted together with Lal Hemantha and Edwin Ariyadasa to disseminate media and general knowledge to students in the most under privileged areas in Sri Lanka ran for almost one and a half years.
Talented students among them were given the chance to be educated in Colombo and further their career aspirations in the field of media. Another project I enjoyed most was the documentary I directed on the ‘Meemure Villagers’. During that one month I spent with the villagers I witnessed a most amazing conflict resolution method they use to conduct a peaceful life style.
Q: What was the method of conflict resolution?
A: They mediate. The parties to the conflict and the majority of the rest of the community gather at the village headman’s house. Once all the sides of the story is heard the headman taking into consideration the views of the members of the community decides on a restorative action to be taken by the wrong doer which focuses more on putting the wrong to right, than punishing and inflicting pain on the wrong doer.
Q: Mediation was widely used soon after Tsunami to release the huge backlog of cases from the traditional court system and these days there is again an attempt to help restore the juvenile legal system through it. What is your comment on these latest methods of using mediation?
A: Yes I’ve heard but I haven’t witnessed it. While I was working at the TNT Entertainment, ABC Solution Incorporated, National Health Service UK and BBC Radio Sheffield UK, mediation was a very successful method used to resolve disputes among staff members. The transformation which takes place during mediation among the parties to a better and longer lasting relationship is truly amazing!
All the training I have received from the various institutions always emphasized on a humanitarian oriented journalism that involved bringing cultures, values and people together to build understanding and mutual respect. The Independence Day celebrations I coordinated for the Sri Lankan Mission to the United Nations in February was one such good example of bringing fragmented diaspora communities together for the betterment of our nation.
Q: What do you do in your spare time or don’t you have any?
A: (He smiles) I played soccer for Sri Lanka in 1999 but since I’ve left Sri Lanka I’ve played Cricket for Surrey County. Currently I’m looking into innovative methods of bringing documentaries to capture a wider audience world wide. If time permits I also model, especially for charity galas with a purpose and have since recently begun to direct musical videos for new comers. Who knows at this rate I might produce my own music video in the months to come. (This he adds with a cheeky grin and yes I’ve heard him sing. He has a nice voice.)
Q: What plans for tomorrow?
A: I launched my TV and Film production house NP Innovative Productions & Entertainment last year in New York and am looking forward to launching the web TV on Buddhism, Environment and Children before the end of the year. In 2008 I started my freelance Media consultancy in Europe. The expansion to US and the Asian markets have given me the chance to serve my country which awarded me a Presidential scholarship to study for the MA in International Broadcast Journalism at the Sheffield Hallam University UK.
While producing news coverage to President Mahinda Rajapakse from 2003 to 2007 I was also the Director of Professional Development to Rotaract Colombo Mid Town Sri Lanka 2000 to 2007 and was the Rehabilitation Project Manager SANTA Sri Lanka 2006. These positions paved way for me to work with the Sri Lankan youth. Once I return to Sri Lanka, I’m looking forward to launching a series of workshops to empower our youth and direct them to enter the international forum to showcase their talents.
Niroshan could be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2006 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.
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