Private TV channel seeks to obtain SLRC’s sports visuals

The sale of archival video material from national broadcaster Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) to a private channel has become the subject of controversy. The private channel Carlton Sports Network (CSN) has asked the SLRC for sports material dating back to the past 20 years.

CSN had written to SLRC Deputy Director General Nishantha Obeywansa, requesting sports archive visuals covering sports festivals, including the SAF games, Asian Games, the 1996 Sri Lanka Cricket world cup win, milestones of cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan’s career and Susanthika Jayasinghe’s Olympic medal-winning run.

Dayasiri Jayasekera, UNP MP

“I wish to forward a list of visuals we expect to have from SLRC to support CSN’s future non commercial programming,” CSN Director Sports Gehan Samaranayake said in the letter to the SLRC DDG. No mention has been made about any payment to the SLRC for the material.

The visuals sought by CSN also include material related to traditional local sports during the national New Year, visuals of sports venues in Sri Lanka, portions of match winning moments and award ceremonies, the 1998 India cricket tour of Sri Lanka including the first wicket partnership between Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama and Commonwealth games including Susanthika Jayasinghe's events.

SLRC Chairman Mohan Samaranayaka said no visuals of sporting events from the corporation’s archives have been given to the CNS despite a request for such footage.

“We get many requests for our visuals and they are decided on a case by case basis. Footage of sensitive nature that affects the nation’s security for example is never released. With regard to this request (by CSN), I can say we have not given any visuals,” Mr.Samaranayaka told the Sunday Times.

He said that footage was given in payment and free of charge if the request came from places of religious worship but he refused to speculate if the visuals sought by CSN would be sold to it later on.
However the Sunday Times is in possession of the letter sent to SLRC DDG Obeywansa on August 4, 2011 in which senior Corporation officials have sanctioned the sale of the visuals to CNS. “They are ready to pay.

You may give them what exactly they need,” a DDG of SLRC had remarked in the letter. CSN’s move to get the visuals came to light after UNP Kurunegala District MP Dayasiri Jayasekera wrote to the SLRC Chairman last Thursday threatening legal action if any of the material in the archives of the SLRC was handed over to CNS.

Mr Jayasekera said that as the three director of the CSN were former employees of SLRC, it was possible that they were using their contacts in the corporation to obtain the material they needed.
The UNP MP in his letter said the material sought by CSN was the property of the SLRC and considering their value, these items were a national treasure held in trust by the corporation.

“As a state owned entity funded by public money, you are prohibited and cannot give these national treasure in any form or any basis to any outside person or organization, least of all to a private organization, which is operating a television situation in direct competition with you,” the UNP MP said.
He stated Gehan Samaranayaka, Nishantha Ranatunga and Prasanna Jayasundera who are presently employed with CSN were earlier employees of the SLRC and hence there was a clear conflict of interest between them and the corporation.

Mr. Jayasekera said the SLRC material fell within the definition of ‘public priority” as set out in the Offences Against Public Property Act No 12 of 1982 and as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the SLRC, Mr. Samaranayaka would be held directly responsible if these properties were given to any outside person or organization.

He said he would be compelled to seek appropriate legal remedies against the SLRC if it went ahead and released the material from the SLRC archives.

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