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AMIC – from Singapore to Manila

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 30 September 2017 00:00

I felt so happy to read that one-time journalist colleague of mine, Shelton Gunaratne along with another media man from Sri Lanka, Wijayananda Jayaweera have won awards  from the  prestigious Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) in Manila. 

My mind went back to the days in the 1960s when Shelton joined the Dinamina news desk straight from university – yet another Peradeniya campus product. Having joined the Dinamina in mid 1950s, I was heading the news desk at the time and guided the newcomers on gathering news and writing news stories.

Shelton was eager to find his way to brighter pastures once he had a good grounding in journalism. He succeeded in his effort and was away in USA to do his post-graduate studies ending as Professor Emeritus of the Minnesota University, Moorhead, USA. Prior to that he was lecturer in mass communication in Malaysia and Australia.

In the meantime I had moved out of Lake House by the end of 1969 having got a break at Lever Brothers (now Unilever). Just as I finished my familiarisation in the marketing division and settling down in my job as Promotions Manager, one day I had a call from Sarath Amunugama, then Director of Information. 

“Would you like to go to Singapore and come?” he asked me. Having been good friends with common interest mainly in the field of Sinhala arts, I asked him not to pull my leg. He told me a friend of mine was with him with an invitation from a new organisation on mass communication. They had sent an invitation and an air ticket for a representative from Sri Lanka. 

The friend he referred to was Shelton G who, I think was then in Malaysia. Though he knew many journalists he thought it best to go through official channels and met the Director of Information.  The occasion was the launch of AMIC – Asian Mass Communications Information & Research Centre.

At a time when foreign travel was virtually banned, I was thrilled with the offer but I told Sarath A that I was no longer a journalist and suggested he should pick someone else. He insisted I should go having been in the field of journalism for over 10 years and would be able to make a useful contribution at the inauguration. 

I agreed and prepared a paper on the history of mass com (though the word was virtually unheard of in our country at that time!) to be presented at the conference. They had also asked for any relevant publications and for my luck, the latest ABC – Audit Bureau of Circulation – statistics on newspaper readership had just been released. Levers assisted in the research project and ABC released the figures periodically in two volumes. I paid Rs. 500 and bought the two latest volumes. My Marketing Director, L.S. Jayawardena approved my leave. 

That was the era when one was allowed £3 sh10 – equivalent of 50 rupees – to go abroad if one had an air ticket sent from abroad or bought here after obtaining Exchange Control clearance. Since accommodation was free (delegates were booked up at Ming Court Hotel – the venue of the conference) and there were going to be evening parties during our stay, I needed money only to buy a few clothes mainly for my two daughters who were quite young and for lunch. 

I got Singapore dollars for the value of the two ABC volumes and I managed to skip lunch since there was enough food from a German food festival on the same hotel floor we had the conference, during the mid-morning tea break. A friend from Sri Lanka happened to be in Singapore at the time and he helped me in the shopping during the evenings.

The event helped to make contact with a host of media men from the Asia and AMIC got off to a flying start. AMIC’s livewire was Lakshmana Rao, the first Secretary-General, an extremely amiable person. He told me a regional conference would have to be organised in Colombo and I gladly agreed. 

Once I was back in Colombo, I thought it best to get someone interested in the subject to be a more active AMIC representative. I discussed with Sarath A and decided on Anura Gunasekera, then Assistant Director of Information. He and I got together and planned the regional conference at Galle Face Hotel. We got Media Minister R.S. Perera to open the conference and I spoke to Dr. Arthur C. Clarke through my friend, Nalaka Gunawardena to deliver the keynote address. The conference delegates were delighted to listen to him and to chat with him after his presentation.

AMIC paid for all the expenses but neither Anura nor I were paid for our effort. Instead, they invited us to the next conference in Seoul. I made use of the trip to break journey in Hog Kong and stay with my fellow news editor of Daily News, Gerald Delilkhan and meet with Denzil Peiris, my editor in the Observer where I had a stint after the Dinamina.  I also did a quick visit to Japan.

Shelton and I continued our friendship. We last met about five years back when he visited Colombo. He gave me his book covering his life story which I reviewed in the Sunday Times. I must confess I have not read the books on mass education or any of the large amount of papers he had presented and articles he had contributed to numerous journals. 

Obviously his work should be really class for him to be recognised “for his theoretical contributions in mass communication and for his path breaking book that seeks to de-Westernise communication theory, with Eastern philosophical thinking. His book ‘The Dao of the Press: A Humanocentric Theory’ (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2005) is considered the best contribution to such theories.”

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