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Stuck on repeat

Thursday, December 13th, 2012
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Nepal’s English press seems to have run out of things to say, and is making no effort to break out of its funk

Roman Gautam

Reading Kathmandu’s English-language dailies is a thankless experience. For a while in the noughties, things seemed to be getting better: the launch of The Himalayan Times sparked welcome competition in the market, forcing The Kathmandu Post out of its complacent domination and deservedly slashing the readership of the stale, government-run The Rising Nepal, before Republica added still more competition.

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During the emergency period some of these papers produced brave journalism that Nepalis could be justifiably proud of. Since then, however, the most enduring improvement has been in presentation — more pretty, colourful pictures — and not in the quality of journalism. Increasingly, our English language dailies are less newspapers than they are advertising circulars, a charge that applies equally to this paper.

Besides a tiny handful of perceptive columnists and the barest reporting, there is little journalism in our English papers that deserves the name. The Nepali papers, sadly, are not much better. The front pages are customarily full of stories mindlessly parroting the latest political rant uttered by our netas.

Everyday comes with fresh accusations and counter-accusations that reporters are happy to file and editors are happy to print with little attempt to dig beneath the surface, to corroborate assertions or to ask difficult questions. Repeatedly reporting various ministers’ vapid calls for ‘national unity’ is, sadly, thought to be news.

Investigative journalism is essentially non-existent, and stories on corruption or mismanagement usually only come out when the scoop is handed to the papers readymade (and anecdotal evidence suggests that even those stories are sometimes then botched). The opinion pages are again filled with limp, bloated prose extolling the virtues of an inclusive constitution and ‘national unity’, from writers who have precious little original insight to offer.

Our opinionators have run out of things to say, and are now mouthing the exact mindless rhetoric of our politicians. Yet these self-appointed experts keep repeating themselves, week in and week out, in an effort to stoke their egos. And, for the benefit of anyone for whom all of this should prove too intellectually taxing, the back pages offer welcome tips on how to care for you kitten, lifted verbatim from the internet.

It is tempting to blame it all on the people writing and editing the news, but the problem is more widespread. It stems from the lack of a culture of rigorous journalism at every level – reportorial editorial, managerial, and even societal. At the top, all papers are run by people whose driving motives are profit and power, not inquiry. Rising advertising revenue, for instance, have not translated to significant increases in salaries or staffing in the newsroom, meaning that by and large reporters, columnists and editors remain overworked and pathetically underpaid, with no time of incentive to pursue daring stories.

Newspaper owners and editors are too cosy with our politicians, meaning that each paper is happy to fling dirt at some political party, but tiptoes around criticism of certain other individuals and institutions. Even the façade of impartiality is falling apart, and there is certainly no daily that offers a broad, independent critique of an entire political system that has consistently failed.

This plays into the hands of the self-serving politicians and government bureaucrats, who are confident that the promise of favour can always win them sympathy in at least some papers. Reporters and editors asking tough questions are likely to be stifled – or worse – by supervisors who also fear for their jobs. This culture perpetuates itself as the lack of proper media education in Nepal means that our journalists rarely strive for ethical and professional standards that challenge the current complacency.

Some see hope in the Nepali language press which, though it has its own share of politicisation and problems, offers more critical perspectives from a wider political spectrum. But the Nepali language papers can only seem good in comparison to a dismal English language press, and the reality is that both are in dire need of improvement.

But why should we invest in improving English language journalism in Nepal? Because an increasing number of Kathmandu’s foreign-educated elites depend on it, and because the army of development bureaucrats posted here on two-year contracts know little about Nepali politics and society, and have nowhere but the English language press to turn to.

Many influential opinions continue to be formed on a base of shoddy journalism, and this will continue until we start demanding better from our newspapers and those who run them, regardless of what language they are published in.

Roman Gautam is desk editor at Himal Southasian magazine

Read also Telling truth to power by Anurag Acharya

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3 Responses to “Stuck on repeat”

  1. Arpan Shrestha on Says:

    Nepali Journalism is largely Churnalism – press release lifts, badly reported event news & ass licking favors. Irony, that Nepal’s newspapers spread rumors rather than replacing them. Largely, the content of Nepali media offends the majority class & doesn’t come an inch close to representing the voices of the oppressed. It’s sad that journalists who can’t represent themselves have the burden to represent the voice of a nation. Bhutro Journalism! Churnalists.


  2. dinesh on Says:

    Ha! another arm-chair journalist’s rant. go on bro…keep shouting


  3. rahul on Says:

    Excellent! join one of the English dailies in Nepal and please improve the quality, it seems you are the only person who can save English journalism in Nepal…


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