By Easwaran Rutnam
An investigation launched by the Ministry of Mass Media and Parliamentary Affairs has revealed that the State owned Independent Television Network (ITN) had violated regulations in place when accepting advertisements for the last Presidential election under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
ITN Chairman, Prof. Dhammika Ganganath Dissanayake told The Sunday Leader that three separate committees had been appointed to investigate the allegations against the former management of ITN.
He said that a committee appointed by the Media Ministry, a committee appointed by ITN and a Presidential Commission had been tasked to investigate claims that irregularities had taken place when accepting advertisements to be telecasted and the cost for those political advertisements.
Apart from ITN, State owned Rupavahini, Vasantham TV, Lakhanda and Vasantham FM have been subjected to the investigation.
Prof. Dissanayake said that investigations by the Ministry of Mass Media and Parliamentary Affairs had revealed that candidates who contested the last Presidential election were not given equal air-time.
He also said that it was found that there were discrepancies in the cost where it was double the marked price for some candidates.
The investigation by the Ministry of Mass Media and Parliamentary Affairs found that some degree of corruption and fraud had taken place at the four media institutions and that they had misused their air-time.
In addition, it has been recommended that the authorities take legal action against those who have had a hand in violating the regulations.
Based on these initial recommendations, steps have now been taken to carry out a further independent investigation into these allegations.
The initial reports on preliminary investigation show that even though Rs. 21.4 million has been charged for telecasting and broadcasting 140 propaganda programmes of 30 minutes duration, only 84 slots of airtime had been provided for the then common opposition Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena on ITN.
The TV and Radio programmes of the common candidate had been charged the double the amount granted to the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. For instance, at the time the average fee for 30-second election ad was Rs. 76,500. However, Rs. 152,000 had been charged from the common candidate for the same duration.
Furthermore, the total revenue of the advertisements received from media agents and direct advertisements and programmes amounted to about Rs. 75 million. But only Rs. 62 million had been spent on such programmes. The advertisements and propangada programmes to the value of Rs. 13 million had not been telecasted or broadcasted. None of these media institution had succeeded in providing any reason for this reduction from the original payments.
ITN had telecast a range of propanganda snippets for free and their total value is Rs. 102 million. The entire amount and airtime had been spent on telecasting election propaganda of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
According to the Election Commissioner’s regulation every presidential election candidate should have been granted airtime of not more than 30 minutes duration and not less than 15 minutes. However, ITN had granted this opportunity only to the former president.
Preliminary investigation had also revealed that the chairman of ITN and other Directors had misused ITN staff as well as resources of the institution, forcing it to face financial losses. There were two powerful stakeholders among the main players of this operation. They were Deputy General Manager (News) Sudarman Radilyagoda and another official, both who have since been suspended from work.
According to ITN sources, Deputy General Manager of Marketing at ITN Upali Ranjitha is also responsible for the alleged irregularities that had taken place at the institution during the previous government.
Meanwhile, the Working Director of ITN Dhanushka Ramanayake has issued instructions to the Deputy General Manager of Marketing at ITN Upali Ranjitha, based on the recommendations of the Ministry of Mass Media and Parliamentary, to ensure that all advertisements telecast in ITN, Vasantham TV, Lakhanda Radio and Vasantham FM, should be handed over to the Marketing Division which is located at Torrington Place, Colombo 07 headed by Deputy General Manager (Marketing).
The circular also notes that pricing for advertisements based on the rate card and the discounts and credit for advertisements should be approved by the Deputy General Manager of Marketing.
It has also been noted in the circular that after approving advertisements by the Deputy General Manager of Marketing, they should be sent to the Scheduling Division which is headed by Accountant (Credit Control) and Deputy General Manager (Finance). After scheduling the said advertisements by the said division, they shall be e-mailed to the Presentation Division which is headed by the Deputy General Manager (Programme).
All data must be included to the schedules by the Presentation Division and they shall be sent to the Main Control Room. Advertisements are telecasted by the Main Control Room. The orders and instructions regarding the telecast of advertisements in its channel are given by the Chairman, General Manager and Deputy General Manager (Marketing).
The orders and instructions regarding the telecast of advertisements in Vasantham channel and Vasantham FM are given by the Chairman, General Manager, Deputy General Manager (Marketing) and Manager (Vasantham). The orders and instructions regarding the telecast of advertisements in Lakhanda Radio are given by the Chairman, General Manager, Deputy General Manager (Marketing) and Deputy General Manager (Lakhanda).
Ramanayake also notes that air time should be allocated by the Deputy General Manager (Programme) on the instructions and orders of General Manager and Chairman as directed by the Commissioner of Elections.
He also notes that while former Working Director P.G. Dassanayake had obtained an allowance of Rs.40,000.00 for his vehicle, Rs.15,000.00 for a driver and Rs. 22,680.00 for petrol, he had used the vehicle numbered KV-3530 owned by the institution with the driver for his private and official purposes. The allowances had been approved by the previous Board of Directors at ITN. The said board paper had been drafted by the Deputy General Manager (Administration) and it has been signed by Deputy General Manager (Administration) and forwarded to the meeting of the Board of Directors by the General Manager. Directives issued by the current administration at ITN also note that payment vouchers must be approved by the General Manager or Deputy General Manager (Administration) and must be certified by the Deputy General Manager (Finance).
Vehicles are not permitted to be taken out of the premises without the oral or written approval of the Deputy General Manager (Administration) or General Manager.
Every employee who goes out on official duty must put a transport form to the divisional head which consists of three copies. Out of Colombo transport forms should be approved by the General Manager along with the divisional head.
One copy shall be sent to transport division, one for main gate (Security staff) and another for the driver who assigned for the vehicle.
Meter reading of each and every vehicle is recorded when passing main gate to both sides.
Ramanayake has said that the former Working Director had committed a financial fraud by accepting money from the institution unlawfully while using the office vehicle, driver and fuel for his private and official duties.