In the words of Roel Raymond: “The appeal of social media lies in the opportunity to participate in democratic debate”
Interviewers: Esther Hoole and Alejandra Inés Alvite Pose
Roel Raymond is an independent journalist in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Until April 2023 she was the editor-in-chief of Roar Media, a South Asian multilingual platform. In her more than 15 years as a journalist, she has seen her country’s media landscape transformed by the rise of digital media. As part of the series titled Sri Lankan Women, Digital Space and Revolutions, she shared her thoughts with UN Women.
“Journalists face numerous obstacles in the mainstream media industry in Sri Lanka. … Journalism that aims to hold institutions accountable barely exists, and journalists wanting to break this mould lack institutional and industry support.
Secondly, while mainstream media employs a large female workforce, women journalists are not recognized or rewarded for their achievements the way men are. Women are relegated to secondary roles and are very rarely entrusted with traditionally male-led domains like news, politics or leadership of the entire publication. If I had remained in mainstream media, I would surely never have been made editor-in-chief.
Social media empowered me during the long years I was employed in mainstream media. To me, the appeal of social media lies in the opportunity to participate in democratic debate. It provides independence, the ability to cultivate a wide reach and to express yourself in nearly endless ways. You get to set your own rules of how you want to engage with people without the interference of traditional gatekeepers.
While working in mainstream media, I ensured that I navigated digital spaces on my personal accounts, actively speaking on issues related to governance and politics. If you have something valuable to say, something that people ought to hear, you ought to say it.
While social media has long been held responsible for spreading misinformation, we can see that, even if imperfectly, these platforms are responding to the need to regulate far more robustly now.
I find mainstream media to be a key driver of misinformation in Sri Lanka. One notable incident occurred in 2019, when an organized campaign, led by a prominent newspaper, falsely accused an individual of engaging in unethical medical practices. This incident highlights the urgent need for industry-led regulation, oversight, and accountability in Sri Lanka, with the aim of maintaining independence.
While I have faced strong opposition to my views or how I have conducted myself online, it also demonstrates the public’s right to express their disagreement. … At Roar Media, I was privileged to work for an organization that … was supportive of the work I did on my personal social media platforms. I know this is not the case for most journalists in Sri Lanka, who often censor their views that do not align with the views of the media organization that employs them, as it could jeopardize their prospects and career.
My advice to younger journalists is, to know your rights, as a journalist and as a human being. Express yourself freely and critically on the platforms available to you.”