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Blog of W.G.T.Fernando. A place to write things which take longer than 140 characters. Else see http://twitter.com/gihangamos

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


TEDx - a place for inspiration, not insults - In response to TEDxColombo incident

As some of you know (via my twitter account @gihangamos) I have accused Prof. Rohan Samarajiva of insulting the Sinhala speaking population (my exact words were - Talk by Prof Rohan Samarajiva insults Sinhala speaking population at TEDx event in Colombo).

Since the video proof has yet (as of 20th July 2009) to be approved by TED, I thought it was appropriate to write this blog post so that everyone is clear on why I would say that.

Before we get to the fine details, let me give a small brief on what TED and TEDx is all about.

TED is a platform where people share ideas worth spreading. Initially starting out focusing on Technology, Entertainment and Design, TED increased its scope to a broader focal point. It was an opportunity for one individual to speak and inspire an audience for 18 minutes. A platform for dreams to turn into reality. A plaform for speakers to give the audience a breathtaking prospective on thinking positively. However..... it is not a platform for accusations, nor is it a platform for insulting a race, nor is it a plaform for political viewpoints.

TED started out in 1984 but until April 2007, much of what went on during the TED events were limited to a few. With videos being released since 2007, the concept of TED and its talks spread virally to the point that action was taken to create TEDx.

TED allowed organisers to hold their own TEDx event (not an official TED event, but an independently organised TED event following the guidelines given by TED). So the good people at BeyondBorders initiated the first TEDx event in Sri Lanka on the 19th of July 2009 with TEDxColombo.

TEDxColombo started off at around 10am with the first speaker Prof. Rohan Samarajiva with the topic 'Implementing tri-lingual government services'. Please note it is not the topic that initiated me to write this blog, but the approach he used in his talk.

He started his talk with a book (he said it was the constitution of Sri Lanka) in his hand and showed a page on the projector (it was in Sinhala, note - it is available in Tamil & English as well to those unaware). He looked at the audience and said 'written in a language which most of you here in the audience don't understand' (I wonder how he came to that assumption?).

In a clearly agitated state, he said to the audience that the constitution is written down, but not implemented practically. Him saying that was not the issue, but how he went about insulting the Sinhala speaking population is what was wrong with his talk which clearly goes against the rules of TED and is inappropriate for any platform for that matter. Let me take one example on his approach:

He decided to do a small survey (would have been a good idea if he did the survey and then said about the audience not being able to read Sinhala). He wanted to find out who was bilingual and trilingual.

He firstly asked 'who is biligual - can speak Sinhala/Tamil?'. A few raised their hands.
He thirdly asked 'who is biligual - can speak Tamil/English?' A few raised their hands.
Secondly he asked 'who is bilingual - can speak Sinhala/English?... but wait, he didn't stop his question there. He added 'and I mean proper English and not English to only hail a three wheeler' (maybe, just maybe he must be picturing people in Canada hailing three wheelers in English). He said this while adding a wide smile cheeky look on his face.

If you do get the chance to see the video, you will see that in that instance, it was clearly an insult to the Sinhala speaking population of Sri Lanka as he clearly separated the three and made fun of the Sinhala speaking population.

Wouldn't you (yes you who is reading this blogpost), find it inappropriate for a highly respected individual like Prof. Samarajiva to be a bit more professional in his approach and not insulting one race to give the rights of another?

I am not having any grudge against Prof. Samarajiva, I respect him for all the good service that he has done to this country (I even invited him to give a speech at one of my events as evident in these 3 pictures 1, 2, 3) but he must remember to act appropriately when he wants to make a point. He himself said at the start that he is not a friendly person, we don't care, just don't ruin events with your demeaning attitude.

As action needed to be taken, I informed (via email to tedx@ted.com) the TED organisers about the talk and they were very quick to reply back (thanks Lara) saying that action will be taken. So lets wait and see what happens.

Before I conclude this blogpost, it would be unfair if I didn't also add that the TEDxColombo event was well organised and the team behind beyondborders should continue to organise TEDx events (you can follow them on twitter), but please don't ruin the TED spirit by inviting individuals who have little knowledge on what a TED event is all about.

Also note - If you are interested in holding a TEDx event in a city other than Colombo, do feel free to do so.. TEDxKandy, TEDxGalle, TEDxAnuradhapura, TEDxTrincomalee, where ever you maybe (but make sure you adhere to the guidelines).


p.s - Permission is given to anyone to reproduce the above blogpost (in full) should they wish.

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July 2009  

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