Colombo, November 11 (The New Indian Express): Sri Lanka’s private TV channels are worried over the financial impact of the government’s proposal to increase the levy on imported and dubbed TV programs and films from LKR 90,000 (US$ 610) to LKR 300,000 (US$ 2032) for every 30 minutes of running time.
The proposed hike is part of several economic revival packages proposed by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in his annual national budget speech on November 10.
Sri Lanka’s ten TV stations, barring those in the state-sector, fear that they may be starved of income generating programs if the levy comes into force. Most of the private TV channels depend heavily on Hindi, Tamil and English films and tele-dramas (dubbed into Sinhalese and Tamil ) for their revenue from advertizing as these are very popular.
It is no surprise that these imported and dubbed versions are gobbling up prime time in the evenings. Sources in the TV stations say that the island’s electronic media will be financially crippled by the savage hike. Some will have to close down or cut their staff, they said.
A top official of Maharaja TV, which runs popular channels in all the three languages in the country, said that if the past is any guide, such levies do not yield the desired results. In 2007, the Mahinda Rajapaka government, at the instance of some leading Sri Lankan TV and film personalities, imposed a levy.
The levy helped government collect money but did not increase the presence of local productions in the telecasts as expected, because local productions did not measure up to the viewing public’s expectations.
The idea in imposing the levy was to help the Sri Lankan film and tele-drama industry to make better quality products and ensure them time in the TV channels. But this did not happen. The ultra-modern film city at Ranmihitenna in South Sri Lanka near Matara, built in 2010 with the money collected from the levy went mostly unused.
But film actor, producer and politician Ravindra Randeniya feels that the hefty hike is a good idea if there is consistent follow up action to improve the quality of Sri Lankan productions. The Ranmihitenna Cine City with boarding and lodging facilities for stars and crew and ample space and modern facilities should be maintained and used as shooting can be done without loss of time there, he said. The Bollywood film Bombay Velvet was shot in Ranmihitenna. But due to political reasons the facility has been allowed to rot.
At present, Sri Lankan TV and film producers are unable to show their productions. According to Randeniya, up to 400 productions are waiting for slots. But these are occupied by imports which, for a small investment, fetch a lot of money for the TV stations, he said.
(The featured image at the top is that of actor, producer and politician Ravindra Randeniya)