Wijayananda Jayaweera, institution builder, 2017 Awardee – AMIC Citation

In his career of about 50 years in the communication media sector—starting as a production assistant in 1969 at Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation up to his distinguished career as UNESCO Director of Communication Development Division and the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)—Wijayananda Jayaweera has either initiated or introduced “revolutionary” programs that are redefining communication policies, standards, and programs.

The Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) 2017 Asia Communication Award recognizes Wijayananda Jayaweera for being an innovator in media development.

Jayaweera’s initial major contribution to media development was the establishment in 1984 of Mahaweli Community Radio, a pioneering Asian community based radio project. This facilitated the relocation of nearly 60,000 families under one of the most ambitious resettlement projects implemented by the Government of Sri Lanka. Throughout his career, he has played various significant roles in institutionalizing community based radio in many other countries including Bhutan, India, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. These initiatives were under the aegis of UNESCO and the Asia-Pacific Institute of Broadcasting Development (AIBD), among others.

As an institution builder, Jayaweera led the reform process for the Paris-based International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), successfully reinvigorating it with renewed donor confidence as the main multilateral instrument to support the development of free, independent, and pluralistic media in the developing countries.

He was also instrumental in bringing safety of journalists and the issue of impunity to the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme of the Development of Communication (IPDC), and in making the Council a global oversight body on the issue by obliging UNESCO member-states to report on the judicial follow up of the killing of journalists in their respective territories.

During his tenure as Director, he led the crafting and introduction of Media Development Indicators, now regarded as the only set of internationally approved indicators to determine media development needs. It was also under his directorship that UNESCO set the standards for journalism education with UNESCO’s Model Journalism Curricula and criteria for instructional excellence applicable to media training institutions.

Among his other significant initiatives is Media and Information Literacy (MIL), now a major pillar of UNESCO Media Development Programmes. In this age of post-truth, hate speech, and fake news, MIL has evolved as a potent tool in empowering media users to be discerning media consumers and responsible and ethical content producers.

AMIC also acknowledges the strong partnership forged between AMIC and UNESCO during his incumbency as Regional Communication Adviser for Asia and, later, as Director of the UNESCO Communication Development Division and IPDC.

After his retirement from UNESCO in 2011, Jayaweera has remained passionate and active in promoting an enabling environment for free, independent, and pluralistic media in the Asia-Pacific and throughout the world as adviser in several communication programmes and projects.

2017 AMIC Asia Media Award – Acceptance Speech by Wijayananda Jayaweera

I feel that this award was not made to me as a person, but to my conviction that both authenticity and inclusiveness in human communication are fundamental to democratic empowerment, and eventually to our own sustenance as caring human beings in this planet. The only place we and our decedents can live in this vast universe, unless we find some other habitable planet before we become extinct.

 I wouldn’t be able to do any of things mentioned in the citation without many dedicated people who were in the forefront fighting to empower those who wanted to be heard and those who wanted to receive reliably authenticated information, so they can make informed decisions. I was privileged to have worked in UNESCO which provided with me a good network of people who often understood the prevailing communication challenges and wanted to think out of the box to face them. I am indebted to Choy Arnaldo from the Philippines and Martin Hadlow from Australia for introducing me to UNESCO.  Both have had distinguished careers in UNESCO, and Martin eventually became the Secretary General of AMIC for a while.

The key learning, I can share with you today in brief, is that institution building in the media sector cannot be done by focusing solely on the institution itself. You need to have a clear vision as to why this institution is needed and what it is going to achieve in the long run.  Moreover, you cannot build media institutions merely by building capacities of the institutions. You would need an enabling environment for the institutions to achieve its objectives. This would means that you will have to help introduce enabling policies and legal environment. Foremost are the policies to foster freedom of pluralistic expression and safety of those who are authenticating and contextualising information for you.

The other important dimension of the institution building is developing professional skills and capacities of those who run those institutions, such as editors, journalists and broadcasters. There ability to think critically, incorporating skill in comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of unfamiliar material, and a basic understanding of evidence and research methods are essential if we have to make sense of what they report .

The often forgotten aspect of media development is that, the media institutions can better focus on the functions attributed them in a democracy if and when societies are sufficiently media literate. Because, a media literate society can demand high quality services from their media.

Together with many others I contributed to doing certain things which have change the media ecologies in few Asian countries. There were failures as well, particularly in the areas of policy development, because you cannot impose policies unless there is sufficient public pressure to generate a political commitment for changes you wanted.

The focus of my attempt all along was to help local actors to develop and implement , comprehensive strategies to build  communication capacities of their people. Development of media pluralism particularly through introduction of community radio, a set of development indicators to ascertain the level of media development so one can focus on under developed areas, along with developing capacity building tools for journalists to credibly authenticate and contextualise information and tools needed to create media literate societies were all inter connected issues of this comprehensiveness. I am humbly grateful for those who have worked with me including many networking organisations such as AMIC for their numerous contributions which enabled me to shape my convictions and contributions.

Finally, with no uncertain terms I wish to underline the importance of media literate societies in this age of so called alternative facts and post truth. Because our very existence as caring human beings will be threatened if we allow the society to deteriorate its ability think and act rationally. That is why media literacy matters. Ultimately the purpose of our communication including through media should remain to be the same, which we know as human enlightenment.

Thank you so much for awarding me this honour.

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