Cablegate: Who's Watching What: A Snapshot Of

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

181116Z Oct 04




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Who's watching what: A snapshot of
Sri Lankan
television viewing habits

1. (U) SUMMARY. Sri Lankan Media Minister
Samaraweera recently stated that he wished to
see changes
to the state-run media, particularly
improving the quality
of the very popular teledramas (soap operas)
watched by
millions of Sri Lankans. Recent surveys also
indicate that
most Sri Lankans receive their news primarily
through TV.
Following is an analysis of viewer habits
based on surveys
commissioned by the local office of A.C.
Nielson in 2004
and by USAID in 2003. End summary.


2. (U) REGIONAL BREAKDOWN: Data gathered by
Lanka Market Research Bureau (LMRB), a local
polling firm whose clients include the Sri
Lanka office of A.C. Nielsen, indicate that
the majority of viewers in the rural south
and center of the country get their news via
government-owned television broadcasts,
whereas elites in Colombo tend to depend on
Sri Lanka's independent broadcasters or
international channels (via satellite feed or
cable) such as BBC or CNN for their TV news.
Residents in the north and east can receive
either Indian television stations or
Maharajah's Shakthi Tamil broadcasts, but
have no access to the government-owned
stations, as the broadcast "footprint" does
extend to the fullest reaches of that region.
Additionally, a USAID-funded study done in
2003 indicated that overall 57 percent of Sri
Lankans used television as their primary news

3. (U) Sri Lankans of all socioeconomic
classes watched
teledramas - especially in Sinhala or Tamil -
much more than other evening programs. The
LMRB study reported that they watched
religious programming in English the least of
all programs surveyed. While Sinhalese
viewers across all socioeconomic groups had
relatively high percentages of respondents
who regularly watched news programming
(between 50 and 75 percent), among Tamils the
percentages were insignificant in all but the
most affluent class. The research indicated
that Sri Lankans in several age groups
watched between 1.3 and 3 hours of television
a day, a figure that spiked during the
weekend. According to LMRB's research,
individuals in the 15 to 34-year-old
demographic watched the most television in
general, but viewership dropped off later in
life, except for that of news programming.

4. (U) As in many other countries,
stations dominate the Sri Lankan television
scene, but
independent broadcasters have a significant
market share
and are gradually gaining in importance.
stations include Rupavahini and the
Independent Television
Network (ITN), both of which broadcast in
English, Sinhala
and Tamil. Among independent broadcasters,
Broadcasting carries all three languages,
Swarnavahini is Sinhala-only. Estimates
indicate that
approximately 95 percent of Sri Lankans
outside the north
and east (which were not surveyed) have daily
access to at
least one television (Note: That figure would
be somewhat lower if the impoverished and war-
torn north
and east were included in the data. End
note) Many large
companies have television in their break
facilities, for
example, and local restaurants will often
have televisions
that patrons can watch. Prime time for Sri
Lankan viewers
is from seven to eleven p.m., when news
broadcasts and
political talk shows with viewer call-ins are
Evening news broadcasts last twenty minutes
apiece, with
between one and a half to three minutes
devoted to
international news (and up to five for sports


5. (U) The favorite programs in the prime
time slot are
"teledramas" - serialized dramatic programs
in Sinhala or
Tamil usually sponsored by large businesses.
In remarks on
September 14, Media Minister Mangala
Samaraweera decried
the content of teledramas, and stated that a
committee would be set up to regulate and
teledramas and make sure that they were up to
standards." No specific actions have yet
been taken,
however. State-run media rules prohibit
explicit portrayal
of sexual or violent scenes. However, a
local NGO, the
Alcohol and Drug Information Center, recently
claimed there
was a scene featuring alcohol, or an alcohol
every ten minutes on state-run television

6. (U) Teledramas are so prevalent, in fact,
that a recent
survey done by local firm Survey Research
Lanka indicated
that teledramas were the highest-watched
shows on every
network operating in Sri Lanka. Next came
the ubiquitous
broadcasts of various cricket test matches,
which claimed
between 19 to 37 percent of viewers on
average, while the
nightly Sinhala news program ranked dead
last. According to
data from the Media Ministry, approximately
40 percent of
Sri Lankans admit to watching at least one
teledrama per
day, whereas daily news viewership recorded
as high as 70
percent in some areas of the island.
Anecdotal evidence
suggests, however, that many viewers tune
into news
programs to catch the highlights at the
beginning and then
quickly switch to a teledrama, thus skewing
viewership for both news programming and


7. (U) While teledramas lead the ratings
among Sri Lankans
overall, Sri Lankan viewers with an
intellectual bent
aren't left out: three popular talk shows
cater to those
desiring debate over political and social
issues. Viewers
can call into these programs, one of which is
hosted by
former Minister of Economic Reform, Science
and Technology
Milinda Moragoda. One government-run network
weekly debate
show recently had as its theme current views
of the present
political situation, with five MPs who lost
in the April 2
Parliamentary elections. Other topics of
political debate
have included freedom of expression and the
current media
culture, and a review of the current
government after six
months in office.

8. (U) COMMENT: While television news takes
third place
behind teledramas and sports coverage, it is
the dominant source of news for more than
half the general
Sri Lankan public. In contrast, only about 18-
20 percent
obtain their news mainly from newspapers.
exerts a large influence on Sri Lankan public
especially toward international issues.
Given the
importance and influence of television in Sri
Lanka, PD
Colombo will continue to seek opportunities
to place our
material on TV and arrange for TV coverage of
our different
visitors and activities. Such an approach
should help
reach a broader audience than just the
traditional elites.


© Scoop Media

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