Nepali Times Asian Paints
Strictly Business
T’is the season


It's that time of year again when self-appointed vigilantes of the Nepali media sphere don a more-Nepali-than-thou attitude and start bashing supposed foreigners amidst us. Last year around this time, the Nepal Media Society cartel of newspaper publishers ran an incendiary campaign against The Himalayan Times, crying that foreigners (read Indians) should not be allowed to invest in Nepal's "sensitive" print-media.

Fanning the flames of a probable riot a la the Hritik-Roshan-kanda of 2000, column inches were misused to report public burning of THT's copies. But because the agitators used the unsustainable avenue of nationalistic hype to challenge the presence THT in the Nepali market, the campaign ended a damp squib.

This time, the target is the two-year-old Nepal One satellite TV channel, run by the well-connected Indian journalist Nalini Singh. It uplinks from a cramped studio in an office block just outside Connaught Circus in New Delhi. Uplinking from outside a receiving country and market is itself nothing new in the age of satellite televison.

Nepal One has been focussing on innovative entertainment and infotainment programmes at a time when Nepal-based channels have been loathe to invest in programming. Its most recent journalistic coup was to film and broadcast footage of the skirmish in the Malekhu stretch of the Prithbi Rajmarg. This scoop appears to have raised the channel's profile and made it an attractive advertising receptacle for those looking to reach the Nepali-speaking audience in Nepal as well as in the Southasian neighbourhood. The Delhi-based channel is obviously collecting a good section of its revenue outside Nepal and being an Indian-owned channel seems to be attractive for Indian advertisers.

For this reason, Nepal One is obviously a threat to a spectrum of media companies in Nepal, from television to advertising. Unsurprisingly, the Advertisers Association of Nepal (AAN) has decided to raise a ruckus. Unfortunately, the media greats who spoke up in well-publicised events stressed nationalism in their case against Nepal One. What the agitated executives should have done was to try to focus attention on any possible illegality billings and payments, press registration or television 'uplinking' rights. In which case it would have been a simple matter for the station's executives to defend themselves or be exposed.

The Ministry of Information and Communications issued a strange statement: "Nepal One is similar to foreign TV channels such as Aaj Tak, NDTV, BBC and CNN and it should be dealt with accordingly." What is the point? Is Nepal One to be respected as much as those other news channels? If not, what does the Ministry expect to gain by setting itself up as Nepal One's clarification agency?

At best, the Ministry seems to have succumbed to the demands of the 'nationalistic' cabal seeking to highlight for the public's benefit that Nepal One is 'foreign'. If there is a violation of Nepal's laws, then slap the channel with a lawsuit. It is meaningless to point out Channel One's non-Nepali status as if that should matter to viewers and advertisers who pay their own money to either watch or ignore the channel in ways they see fit and not because they take cue from the Ministry.

Whenever a foreigner 'threat' looms, those imbued with Panchayat-era patriorism rush into the fray. What they need to understand is that in today's technology-rich and competitive landscape, Nepal's private media outlets are simply no more than moneymaking or losing ventures and should be treated as such. They compete to collect ads, retain good employees, be a step ahead of competitors, integrate new technology and constantly innovate-all these while nurturing a credible reputation by reporting the verifiable truth. Meanwhile, the Nepali television stations must start with investing in programming beyond music videos and talk programmes, using the inhouse talent and the technology they have aplenty. Being based in Kathmandu rather than New Delhi, it will not be difficult for them to attract the loyalty of viewers based on content, rather than nationalism.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)