Memories of Sri Lanka’s First Television Channel ( ITN ) Celebrating its 45th Anniversary – By Dr Gamini Kariyawasam

Memories of Sri Lanka’s First Television Channel ( ITN ) Celebrating its 45th Anniversary – By Dr Gamini Kariyawasam


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Dr.Gamini Kariyawasam.On June 5, 2024, Sri Lanka’s Independent Television Service (ITN), the country’s first television channel, celebrated its 45th anniversary. Reflecting on its beginnings, this article honors the dedicated staff who, despite minimal facilities and great hardships, laid the foundation for the channel.

The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was the home of the Independent Television Service. In 1979, I was working as a sound controller ( OA ) on the staff of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting  Corporation when independent television was about to emerge. The true, unknown information that I heard and saw in that era was very helpful in preparing this article.


Mr.Shan Wickramasingha

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A few years after the beginning of television in developing countries around the world, at a time when no one expected it, the honor of starting a television service in Sri Lanka in 1979 goes to the trio of scholars, namely Shan Wickramasinghe, Anil Wijewardana, and Bob Christ. This service started in a small building in Pannipitiya Mahalwarawa as TV Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is the first country in the history of electronic media to start a color television service among the countries in South Asia.


On April 13, 1979, at 6:35 pm, Sri Lanka’s first television program was aired, opening the door to a new path in the field of electronic media. This was carried out at the experimental level using a 65-foot-tall broadcasting tower with a transmitter capacity of one kilowatt.


 The broadcast was limited to the Colombo area of 15 km. In the same year, Mr. Tudor Perera, a SLBC engineer, demonstrated a short-distance black and white television broadcast at an exhibition held at the Bandaranaike Conference Hall. It should not be forgotten when talking about the history of Sri Lankan television media.

The life of Sri Lanka’s television broadcast, which started as , was limited to a short period of 52 days. In June 1979, a televised speech by Mr. J.R. Jayawardene, who was the head of state at that time, faced a technical error. Based on that event, on June 5, 1979, TV Sri Lanka was taken over by the government and handed over its control to the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. The then Director General of SLBC Mr., Thevis Guruge, and Engineer Sunil Abeysundara were appointed as the competent authorities. It should be remembered here that Mr. Thevis Guruge, who acted as the Director General of SLBC  and the competent authority of Independent Television at that time, is also credited with creating the National Television.

The “TV Sri Lanka” service taken over by the government started broadcasting under the name “Independent Television” or ITN. This institution was taken over by the Government under the Government Takeover of Businesses Act No. 35 of 1971 under the Special Gazette Notice No. 39/5 issued on June 5, 1979. Within a short period of time, Mr. Sunil Abeysundara left the position of co-competent authority. From then until July 23, 1989, Mr. Thevis Guruge performed a great task as the competent authority of the Independent Television Service. The efforts made by the small group of staff who worked at the institution at that time should also be appreciated here. The resources they found themselves were used to improve the service.

Despite having no previous experience, those who led the initial television service accepted the challenge assigned to them with great responsibility. The SLBC’s TR 1 studio was renovated to make it suitable for recording television programs. At that time, the staff consisted of seven people. Nihal Abeysuriya, Vincy Perera, Rohan Perera, Palitha Fernando, Thusitha Munindradasa, Hartley Fernando, and Shanti Fonseka, senior technicians, pioneered the establishment of Independent Television. Engineer K. N. Gunawardena, Engineering Director Ananda Vettasinghe, and Mr. Rukman Wijemanna,, provided proper guidance.. The services of several officers of the Film Corporation were also obtained at that time. Mr. Sanath Liyanage and Wimal Perera of the Film Corporation can be considered as two who performed exceptional service among that group.



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The land adjacent to the Broadcasting  Corporation’s Mahawa Broadcasting Station was assigned to a Japanese company for okra cultivation by the Chairman of the SLBC , Mr. Emon Kariyakarawana. On the date of signing its agreement, a type of small television camera and recorder was received as a donation to the Broadcasting Corporation. Since many people don’t know about the origins of Independent Television, when we remember how lighting, stage design, background design, and music direction were done, we have a metaphorical devotion to the officials of the initial era who shouldered those aspects.

About four months after the start of telecast, the institution received a state-of-the-art camera as a donation from Australia’s AIDB. The first tele-drama produced by Independent Television was “Gajaman Puvata,” created by Dayananda Gunawardena Champion and starring Ranmali Gunasekara. This drama, which was televised at Sudarshi Hall, was performed in the 05th studio of the radio station. “Gajaman Puvata” is also considered the first television drama. The plays were presented to the guests of the International Non-Aligned Conference in Sagrada, Russia. Sri Lanka received special appreciation at this event for making such a creation within a short period of six months after starting local television.


Mr.Dayaananda Gunawardana.

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Even though the institute did not have the necessary equipment, our engineering staff was very competent to cover and publicize the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Chandra Munasinghe and Lawrence Jayasekara were the heads of the Independent Television news department in the early days. Mr. Shirley Perera was responsible for obtaining advertisements. H.M. . Gunasekara was in charge of the program department. . Rudragu, the SLBC driver, efficiently performed the duty of recording in TR 1 studio of English News  and taking it to the Pannipitiya broadcasting station within 15 minutes.

K.D.K. Dharmawardena and Sumana Nellampitiya will join media history as the first television Sinhala anchors. Eric Fernando, Noelyn Hunter, and Martyth Stein were the first English announcers. Among the popular programs at that time, the Sesame Street program had become very popular among the viewers. Until 1982, there were no proper facilities to produce local productions. The lack of building facilities was the main obstacle. By 1982, the construction of a building complex for Independent Television began on a high ground in Wickramasinghapura, Thalawathugoda. The Independent Television, which was being fed by the SLBC staff, was brought to the Wickramasinghapura new building complex on June 5, 1983.


Mrs. Nanda Jayamaanna, Mr.C.R.Silva And Mr Thevis Guruge.

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As the institution entered a new complex, the need to expand the broadcasting area naturally arose. Mr. Thevis Guruge, who worked as a competent authority at that time, should be remembered with gratitude for the mission he accomplished in expanding the broadcasting area and planning new television programs.

We cannot forget the services rendered by Mr. Ravinath Ariyasinghe, who is currently  officer of the Foreign Service, Dhamma Jagoda, Mr. Bandula Withanage, Mr. Lucian Bulathsinhala, and Mrs. Nanda Jayamanna, who contributed services from the program production department in the infancy of Independent Television. To mark the opening of the Wickramasinghapura new studio complex, the musical evening held at its open-air stage will make history as the first ever live telecast on Independent Television. Engineer Shantilal Nanayakkara played a pioneering role in this work. Mr. Michael Peiris and Mr. Gunaratne also assisted in the production of programs. The office work of the institute was carried out under the leadership of Ms. Kanti Gunasekara. The Madhurasanga music program produced by Mr. P L A. Somapala became extremely popular among the listeners in the early period. Amaradeva, Victor Ratnayake, H.R. Jotipala, Milton Perera, Lata Walpola, Mohideen Beg, G.S.B. Rani Perera and others were featured, providing a rare opportunity for the audience to see these artists perform.


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In the early era, Independent Television broadcasting time was limited to five hours. The land belonging to the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation located in Deniyaya  Ensel Estate was selected to transmit the television broadcast to Ruhuna. The land used for sending radar signals during the war in 1942 at the Vavyatala hill peak of Halgolla Estate in Yatianthota was used for the audiences of Colombo District.

To inform future generations about Sri Lanka’s first television channel, which has a proud history of 45 years, I would like to draw the attention of the relevant authorities regarding the appropriateness of establishing an Independent Television Museum. It is advisable to include photographs, video footage, and audio information about the people who pioneered and contributed to the creation of this institution, the first used equipment, buildings, program broadcasts, etc., in the proposed museum.

In the preparation of this article, notes were taken about the technicians, announcers, and all other officers and assistants of Independent Television with the desire to add to the history of the media as their contributions greatly impacted television broadcasting and television advancement in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Gamini Kariyawasam

(Former General Manager of Independent Television Network)


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