USAID funds political puppet show in Sri Lanka TV

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 11:32 GMT]
Key decision makers in the Sri Lanka Government will interact with a Puppet cast representing "a socio-politically diverse cross-section of Sri Lanka, and contributes varied perspectives into a weekly discussion of prominent political issues," in the USAID funded "Janathalaya" in the Telshan Network Limited (TNL), said a US Embassy press release issued from Colombo Wednesday.

Full text of the press release follows:

Puppets and Politics Take Center Stage
U.S.-sponsored program debuts on Thursday

Colombo, March 22, 2006: Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and the Ministry of Justice Dilan Perara is the first in a series of prominent decision makers, public officials, and political analysts to interact with puppet characters on key issues facing Sri Lanka in a new television series supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The program, titled Janathalaya, debuts tonight at 9:10 p.m., immediately following the English news on the Telshan Network Limited (TNL). It features eight fictional characters represented by silicon puppets who inhabit a set designed as a Post Office. The puppet cast represents a socio-politically diverse cross-section of Sri Lanka, and contributes varied perspectives into a weekly discussion of prominent political issues.

The public also participates in the program by submitting discussion topics and expressing opinions through letters collected in an on-set Post Box. The program's producers develop these ideas into dialogue between the puppets and weekly guests, who include politicians, policy makers, pundits, and specialists in human rights, law, education, diplomacy, gender, and religion. The producers and dubbing artists all have a wide range of experience in political history and law as well as media presentation. Through editing, the puppets appear in place of interviewers when the program airs.

"For thousands of years and in countless cultures people have brought important issues to the public through the use of puppets," USAID Mission Director Dr. Carol Becker said. "Discussing these ideas in this context puts guests at ease and fosters frank and candid exchange that will help educate thousands of Sri Lankans about topics crucial to resolving the country's conflict."

Janathalaya is scheduled for an initial run of 26 episodes on TNL.

The show is produced by the Multi-Diversity Community (MDC). Headed by popular television personality Vasantha Moragoda, MDC has extensive experience in developing activities incorporating innovative use of theatre, movies, street drama, and media campaigns to generate public discussion and facilitate inter-ethnic relationship building. After the tsunami, MDC worked with USAID to provide psychological and social support skills to unemployed tsunami-affected youth through drama and the arts. They have since incorporated some of these young people into their production team.

The program is supported by USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). The OTI program was established within USAID in March 2003. It aims to generate greater support for a negotiated peace settlement to end the Sri Lankan conflict by creating awareness and increasing understanding on key issues, and by promoting community-level collaboration to identify and address priority needs. Through its flexible small-grants program, OTI has awarded 494 grants worth more than $14 million.


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