Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
A free, democratic country


It seems unlikely that the horrific events at the Royal on the 1st of June can ever be fogotten or reconciled in the minds of Nepalis. Time heals but scars remain. But lessons can be learned at all levels and I wonder if the most important, especially in the aftermath of the killings, isn't that democracy cannot co-exisit with restirctions on information.The mishandling of the flow of informatoin to the public has produced immense frustration and all sorts of wild conspiracy theories. The rumour mill is working overtime. And the longer that the authorities wait before coming clean on everything they know, and I mean everthing, the worse it will be for this country.

A society that is not trusted enough by its elite to be told the truth will respond with anger and belief in the improbable. The curtain of privacy around the royal family has been ripped aside in the rudest and most tragic manner possible. The full and insensitive glare of the international media has been focused on the drawing rooms and personal lives of Nepal's first family. Many people here don't like it, but that is neither here nor there.

The British tabloid press, Indian satellite television news, gossip magazines, all these have their own dynamic, and a strong notion of what their audience want. They will get their story, no matter who gets hurt or offended in the process and it makes little sense to protest or beat your head against the wall.

The way to cope with the sensation seeking hordes that fly around the world looking for other peoples' miseries is to have an open and comprehensively fair society where hypocrisy or wrongdoing is exposed on a local level, by the local media. Newspapers, radio stations and yes, television, needs to be free to investigate problems at all levels of society, and to publish and be damned, with only libel, slander and truthfulness as parameters.

Potential problems, even in lofty revered institutions, can be headed off
and resolved before they boil over, only if there's information available
and informed public debate. The head-in-the-sand approach doesn't work. Even ostriches don't do it.

Arresting the editor and executives of the country's most popular newspaper at a time of unprecedented crisis was foolhardy and plays straight into the hands of Nepal's enemies. If someone steps over the bounds, the first option of a healthy, self-confident state should be a word in the ear of the offending party, not a policeman's truncheon or a jail cell. Requiring allegedly free and private FM stations to cease all programming for a week only feeds the rumour mill and sense that something grand and evil is being cooked up to conceal the truth. Government ministers who disappear for days at a time, and refuse to take phone calls from the press, do themselves or democracy no favours.

This country will recover from the horror and tragedy at the beginning of this month, though it will never be the same. I am impressed beyond measure by the resilience and perspective I see all around me, in the capital and in the hinterland. People feel the loss of a beloved king and his family at a very personal level. But they cope even as they grieve. They raise their children, get back to work and by doing so, they build the country. These are not frightened, immature, untrustworthy, panic-prone lemmings who must be protected from vicious and unpalatable truths. These are people who are ready for a Freedom of Information act, a lively, private media sector in broadcasting and newspapers that tell them everything that is going wrong, and right, at the moment.

Nepalis should not be getting their news about national tragedy from international broadcasters or the Internet. They should hear it on Nepal Television, Space Time Network, Sagarmatha and K.A.T.H. FM and in the press. To sweep the unsavoury details of this trauma under some notional rug is to dishonour its victims.

Democracy and freedom of information. Ponder those two concepts in the coming days and weeks, and remember, you can't have one without the other.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)