Colombo, Gender, Media and Communications

Celebrating sexist, lewd live television in Sri Lanka

When I overhead someone talking about the dramatic finale of Swarnavahini’s Megastar reality show I wanted to know what had happened since I had seen a few episodes of this bizarre show – where arguments and insults that fly freely between the judges and contestants is as much the draw as the singing skills of participants.

I checked to see what footage was available online and when browsing websites, and was horrified to come across a video of a comment by Minister Mervyn Silva about fellow MP and contestant Upeksha Swarnamali’s performance. Mervyn Silva expressly notes that he was so charmed by Upeksha’s attire he wished he was an infant and could be breastfed by her. The host of the show, Kamal Addararachchi, is seen to giggle at this outrageously derogatory comment. This, to be clear, is a programme broadcast live on public television.

I’m not a fan of Upeksha’s, but I was embarrassed for her and offended. I won’t comment on Kamal Addarachchi’s lewd behavior on stage because pandering to Mervyn Silva’s antics and comments is par for the course on this show. The video clip shows Rosy Senanayake, also a judge, noting that the comment really wasn’t funny and was uncalled for. Just watching the way Mervyn reacted to her demonstrated again that he does not have an iota of respect for women, or for that matter common decency.

After watching the video I ended up reading quite a few reviews and articles about the show and the comments made by viewers. What appalled me was that not in a single place, except in an article in the Daily FT which said that the Minister had made a rude remark at Upeksha, could I find anyone referring to this horrendous incident and saying it was offensive or wrong. In fact from the little I did manage to find, people found it funny.

This for me is a new low for mainstream journalism in Sri Lanka. When did sexist, lewd and offensive behavior broadcast live on public television be accepted as normal? Why is such behaviour condoned and promoted by the media just for the sake of popularity and ratings? More importantly, why hasn’t anyone taken up this issue with the TV station or sought to flag it for public debate? What Mervyn said was downright revolting. There is something tragically depraved about the way people perceive this incident, and by extension, it scares me that this is a reflection of the true mentality and regard the majority have for women in this country. Men and women are equally to blame for this, and as a woman I’m ashamed that we have let this sort of behavior slide over and over again, to a point where we don’t even see anything out of the ordinary when incidents like this occur.

This particular incident and people’s reaction to it, in my opinion, is exemplary of the state of the country today. We can’t stop the likes of Mervyn Silva expressing his true colors, but why give a platform for and condone repeatedly incidents where people can be publicly humiliated for the sake of a twisted notion of entertainment?