Big Step Backward

Just when we thought we had solved the problem of reading government press releases on the air… here we go again.
The president’s tour is now in Sri Lanka, and ten minutes before the prime newscast at 8 pm, there is a 15 minute video feed and about 11 pages of press release which the TV station is instructed to air on the news in its entiretly.
Rameez, the news director, is a true journalist and understands the importance of making editorial judgments to air the newsworthy part of the press release. He was able to trim down the first part of the feed and edit two packages with narration, each a whopping three minutes long. But then, someone who has not even bothered to attend our training sessions made the decision to read the rest of the last-minute press release word for word. We sat in shock, watching the newscast run over by more than ten minutes, in addition to the six minutes of coverage Rameez had already edited. It was the usual home movie of the president walking on red carpets, shaking hands and sitting at banquet tables. The English version of the press release was only half a page, two paragraphs on the only actual news here: the fact that the president received a Sri Lankan medal of honor that has never been given to a non-Sri Lankan until now. Somehow I think the president’s PR people have figured out that I can rewrite the English one (see earlier post Airtime for Terry) but not the version in Dhiveli. Also, they must think that if they send the material at the last minute, it will air in its entirety because there will be no time for the editing process.
We met with the person who made the decision and let her know that this was BAD JOURNALISM and if there is no breaking news in these last minute releases they should be held and edited for the next newscast. We’ll see. Rameez can’t do everything. He needs a strong EP to help guide the troops through issues like this, especially as we get closer to the country’s first election.