In a recent audit, the Ministry of Mass Media has come under intense scrutiny as the latest Audit General Report unveils a series of financial irregularities and operational failures within the ministry and its associated departments. Despite a parliamentary provision of Rs. 21,262 million allocated for the fulfillment of key responsibilities, only Rs. 20,302 million were utilized by the end of the year, casting a shadow over the effectiveness and transparency of the ministry’s operations.
The audit’s key revelations include setbacks in critical projects such as the digitalization of terrestrial television broadcasting, where a staggering Rs. 111 million remains underutilized. Initiated in 2014 and updated in 2021, the project aimed to establish 16 broadcasting stations nationwide, yet not a single station was operational by June 30, 2023, raising concerns about the ministry’s ability to execute vital initiatives.
Further compounding the challenges, the regulatory mechanisms crucial for ensuring optimal journalism and freedom of speech are notably absent. The Broadcasting Authority Act for Electronic Media, designed to provide a framework for responsible journalism, is yet to be prepared. Additionally, a finalized system for regulating television and radio broadcasting licenses remains elusive, contributing to a lack of clarity in the sector.
Financial mismanagement is evident within the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, with payments made to officers on assignment basis before task completion, totaling Rs. 2 million per month. Funds deposited at a low-interest rate, coupled with interest payments on a substantial bank overdraft, underscore a need for prudent financial practices within the organization.
The Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation is grappling with a crisis, witnessing a deterioration of net assets to a negative value of Rs. 1,112 million. Negative working capital has grown to Rs. 568 million, accompanied by substantial bank overdrafts, raising questions about the sustainability of the corporation’s financial position.
Income tax defaults by Independent Television Network Limited add to the litany of concerns, with a significant value-added tax liability of Rs. 314 million accumulated from 2019 to the closing date of the year under review. The overall situation signals a deteriorating financial health, urging a comprehensive reassessment of financial practices within the organization.
Additionally, the audit report reveals that Selacine Television Institute has not taken any legal action to recover a debt amounting to Rs. 296 million, indicating a lapse in debt recovery procedures. In the case of Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, the report highlights a deviation from normal disciplinary procedures in relation to a financial loss of Rs. 23 million, as the management failed to take action regarding a financial fraud committed to the institution by the former Marketing Head, further exacerbating the challenges faced by the mass media sector.
This audit report serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for corrective action and enhanced transparency within the Ministry of Mass Media. The public demands accountability, and it is incumbent upon the government to address these issues promptly to restore confidence in the functioning of the mass media sector.