My career in TV news ended before it started.
Back in university, a broadcast journalism class was a required course for my degree, and it took about 3 seconds into my first TV story (complete with a frightened, stunned stare and slight drool) to know that this was not my calling. (At graduation, the j-school played a blooper reel using our assignments and everyone of my TV stories found their way into the piece to great guffaws from the crowd.)
After passing the broadcast course with the agreement to never go in front of the camera again, my time in TV was mercifully over – until I came to Sri Lanka.
A couple months back at a meeting with the national broadcaster about mental health training for their journalists, we were able to secure a weekly, 15-minute mental health segment on an afternoon talk show. We were given control over the topics and guests – and the best part – it was completely free.
This seemed like a ‘no shit it’s free’ thing to me, but apparently in Sri Lanka, getting time on talk shows (no matter what the topic), costs thousands of dollars. With no budget, obviously that wouldn’t have worked for my project. Needless to say, this was a coup and one of those unexpected things that seem to happen here, which have nothing to do with me, but all to do with pure, dumb luck.
One hitch about the segment is that the channel, the show (and everyone who works on it) is all spoken in Sinhala, so even though I’m arranging the guests and topics, I have no idea what anyone is saying during the interviews. It’s completely bizarre. With four episodes already under our belt, it appears to be going fine, but really I have no idea. So far (I think), we’ve addressed mental health as it relates to families, communities and service providers trying to balance useful information with real life stories from Sri Lankans.
The people appearing on the show have all been positive afterwards and we’ve received good feedback from the audience. With four weeks left in our agreement with the station, we hope to continue the segment as long as possible. Anything that raises the public’s mental health literacy is a good thing – even though I can’t understand a word.
If you get Sri Lankan TV and understand Sinhala, watch Rupavahini every Monday at 3 p.m. to get your weekly dose of mental health. Thankfully for you and the rest of the audience, I will be seated safely behind the camera where I belong.