Sri Lankan Media in Canada: Reminiscence

May 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

At a time when Yathra celebrates its 10th year, I consider it a priviledge to have been invited to write an overview of the history of Sri Lankan media accomplishments in Canada during the past 40 years. There is hardly any one source one could go to in order to gather relevant historical information for an article like this. However, I had the opportunity of speaking with several “old timers” of Sri Lankan origin, currently living in Toronto and to recall their memories. One of them is none other than Aloy Stephen Perera who meticulously remembers historical facts. He is also a veteran journalist of the D B Dhanapalaschool of journalism in Sri Lanka.
According to the recorded history, the first ever Sri Lankan publication came out in 1979 from the Canada-Sri Lanka Association of Toronto (CSLA). Their newsletter was catering to the information needs of members as well as other Sri Lankans. It continued to be published until 1995, and AloyPerera functioned as its editor-in-chief. The CSLA also published a souvenir in connection with the Sinhala-Tamil new year. The Toronto Mahavihara began its publication “The Toronto Buddhist” in 1990, and it was published 6 times a year. The West-End Buddhist Temple began its publication “The Dhamma Wheel” and its first editor was Kingsley Rajapakse. Later on, Dr. Swarna Chandrasekere continued this magazine as its editor. The Hindu Temple Society of Toronto joined the march by publishing the “News and Views” in English and Tamil in 1993. In 1993, the Serendipity Inc. launched a new bulletin titled “Shanthi” with a view to promoting peace and harmony. It is quite interesting that the religious institutions of Sri Lankan origin in Toronto have led the march towards information dissemination at these early stages. This is not a unique feature to Sri Lankans. Many ethnic groups in US as well as in Canada had launched ethnic new papers early in their settling down efforts.
In 1995, the “Lanka Mini Links” came in to being as a business directory of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs. In 1994, “Thayagam” was published by the Toronto Tamil Society as the pioneering effort of Tamil news papers which amounts to over 15 monthly Tamil newspapers published in Canada today. The Sri lanka United National Association (SLUNA) was active in releasing media briefs regarding the Sinhala-Tamil ethnic issue, and most of these releases were written in English and Sinhalese languages for the Canadian audience.
At this juncture, we see the dawn of English newspaers written and maintained by people of Sri Lankan origin. The “ Sri Lanka Reporter” which was edited by Srimal Abeywardene and the “Lanka News” was published by the Lanka News Agency. The popular Sinhala news papers such as Dasatha and Yathra joined this scene during the past 10-11 years. The “Sri Lanka Anchorman” and the “Ceylon Express” received wide subscriptions as time went by. Apart from sharing valuable information regarding Sri Lanka as well as happenings in Canada, these news papers have been successful in introducing skillful writers and editors to the Sri Lankan readership in Canada. Among them Kirthi Abeysekere, Upali Obeysekere, NayanaDedunupitiya, WasanthaEdirisinghe, NishanthaDonsiyambalapitiyage, and Dirk Tissera are noteworthy personalities. ChamariAbeysinge, the editor of Dasatha and Chandraratne Bandara, the editor of Yathra have made their commitments to maintain a very high standard in their publications which are known across Canada today. The above mentioned editors and writers had their interests in identifying and promoting Sri Lankan writers who are living in Canada to get involved in their noble endeavours.
In the meantime, a considerable number of social media sites have been opened and functioned in Canada for the purpose promoting specific interests such as alumni associations, temple programs, sports groups and food services etc.
I will not be doing justice to the Sri Lankan media scene if I do not discuss some remarkable accomplishments of radio and television programs of Sri Lanka origin in Canada. Swaminathan stared the first ever radio program in early 1990s. His program highlighted some popular Sinhala, Tamil and English songs. In 1991, Neville Hethawakage produced a weekly radio program on CIAO 530. This was known as “Sravana Ramani” and I had the priviledge in directing this program. Aloy Perera, Renuka Sachiththanadan, and Janaki Ranasinghefunctioned as announcers and we had the blessing of introducing Bandula Ruwanpura who has a golden voice and a free flowing brilliant vocabulary in Sinhala language as the chief host of the program. This program covered interviews with old-time Sri Lankans, music, political reviews as well as news. At one time, “Amarasi Ayya” – a comedy based on Sri Lankan comedy show was re-enacted for the entertainment of the listening public.
Wasantha Lankathilaka who introduced a program titled “Savana” with the help of York University radio station in 2006 did a marvelous job of continuing the great tradition of Sri Lankan broadcasting in Canada.
By this time “Kala Kawaya” was being televised monthly with the dedicated sponsorship of late Nimal Perera. The Kala Kawaya provided us with news, music and dancing and current events.
The next noteworthy development was the “Voice of Lanka” television program televised via Rogers in Toronto. Ranjith Wickremasinghe sponsored this program, and I, again had the priviledge of writing the monthly script and directing the show. Initially we televised this show in Sinhala, Tamil and English media and after a few televised shows, the Tamil medium was abandoned due to some political opposition from the LTTE related persons in Toronto. Loganathan was the Tamil host for the Tamil section. Bandula Ruwanpura provided his enchanting voice and editorial assistance to the program. Sheshed Ondatji was our female announcer who made history in Sri Lankan television in Canada. Michael White who edited this show from Rogers Network had absolutely no clue about the Sinhala or Tamil languages but was able to edit our shows with utmost creativity and acumen of television technology.
Dr. Richard Tillekerate was able to run a special TV program for the Sri Lanka audience in the 1990s.
Coming on to the present day scenario, we need to acknowledge the contribution made by the internet based “Rupane” weekly magazine. Bandula Kuruwitaarchchi and Weera Fonseka provided the initial leadership for this timely effort, and AnuruddhaWeligamage and Dinnesh Pieris continue to provide content and technical support for the program to move on. They have already introduced hietherto unknown talents such as Sunumal Balasuriya, Sanjeewa Abeyratne, AnushikaAbeywwrdene, SampathPetthwadu, Anusha de Silva and Abeyratene Sisters. There is immense hope regarding the potential contribution of this program as well as all other currently functioning programs and newspapers.
Finding the talents within Canada to launch and run these newspapers and programs perse is a noteworthy accomplishment. Some of the writers and editors, and announcers do match certain TV or editorial personalities with CBC, CNN and BBC. The Sri Lankans in Canada have about 67 years of history. During this period, what we have accomplished is remarkable by the truest sense of the word. In other provinces such as Nova Scotia, Professor Wimal Rankaduwa took the lead in presenting program via local stations in the 1990s.
Having given the brief history of Sri Lankan media accomplishments in Canada, I am compelled to ask the question: how many Sri Lankan do really read the above mentioned newspapers and watch Tv programs today. Through an informal observation through the food outlets and groceries, we could come to the conclusion that over 90% of the copies are taken by the Sri Lankan readers every month. The Rupane internet program had about 3000 viewers at one time. However, it is of paramount importance that we popularize all Sri Lankan newspaper and program with the purpose of maintaining some Sri Lanka identity within Canada. According to Professor Sev Isajiw, the leading researcher in Canada on ethnic identity, ethnic media plays a very crucial role in maintaining ethnic identity by allowing members of an ethnic group to share information and feel proud of them being part of a distinguished culture. Only they know well about their culture and they need to preserve it while allowing some modifications to take place in the face of globalization threats. Among ethnic groups in Canada, the Italians have shown an unprecedented interest in reading their ethnic newspaper and listening to their radio programs. The Jews are the lowest in ranking in this regard. The Sri Lankan Tamil population too has recorded a high subscription rate.
I consider that it is extremely important for us to keep a record of the historical development of Sri Lankan media in Canada- no matter how incomplete the information provided here may be- today, before it is lost in translation in a few years from now. I kindly request you to provide me with some missing information about this theme for a longer and more in-depth study of this topic in the future.

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