MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
The dramatic murder of media entrepreneur Jamim Shah in broad daylight dominated the news for much of this week. It's not yet clear whether this incident can be characterised as a 'propaganda of the deed' (wherein a symbolic act of violence against a structural target means to evoke a broader meaning) or a revenge killing.
Whatever the case, the incident sent out a chilling message even Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal had to agree with: public security in the capital city is in shambles. But few journalists focused their attention on the security lapses in one of the most security sensitive zones of the country.
Media coverage of Shah's murder revealed that journalists in Nepal continue to put a premium on the oldest function of the profession, which is to provide accurate and detailed information about what really happened. Few Nepali mediapersons have imbibed the dictum of interpretive journalism: "Don't just tell the story; tell the audience what it means."
False leads and high failure rates make both interpretive and investigative journalism an expensive affair. Barring few exceptions, media outlets in Nepal aren't financially robust enough to support such high-risk, exploratory pursuits. Most of what appear as investigative reports in the Nepali media are either expos?s by competitors or planted stories.
The Anglo-American press long worked according to the thesis that every word cut helped publishers save money.Latin American journalists propounded a new genre of reporting, where stories could be extended if it helped make events comprehensible. The basic assumption of so-called imaginative journalism is that facts are often ugly but the truth is invariably beautiful. So if a story can be made more attractive by emphasising lost opportunities and future possibilities, then what could have happened or is likely to unfold is as much 'news' as what has already happened
In the 1960s, the staid Anglo-American press was hit by what came to be called 'New Journalism'. This adopted fictional forms to present facts, and description, narrative and character development often took up more space than cold realities. This later evolved into inspirational journalism, where the grimmest of events were analysed for a glimmer of hope and lessons for the future.
The power elite loves inspirational journalism. When stories appear as fated ? what has happened has already happened ? the question of accountability recedes into the background. Somehow, getting on with life has emerged as the dominant trend of journalism in Nepal. With life and livelihood threatened from all sides, influential mediapersons have learnt to survive by preaching pompously to the Maoists, military, mafia and mercantilists without clamouring for accountability. Even though a compromise, preaching through the press doesn't demean journalism. Prompting on behalf of vested interests, however, devalues the profession.
The consumer base in Nepal isn't large enough to generate enough advertising revenue for the daily newspapers, television channels and FM stations entering the market in hordes. But the interests of some of these media entrepreneurs extend beyond the commercial. Some have political ambitions. Others may just be investing in the media for glamour, influence or stature. At least a few of them seem to be bent upon using the media to promote and protect their business interests, legitimate or not. Such a clash of interests has created the conditions for a small-scale Nepali version of the Pulitzer-Hearst skirmishes of the late nineteenth century.
The Nepali media has made it look as if Jamim Shah, with his supposed Dawood Ibrahim and ISI links, deserved his fate. The government is thereby absolved of its dereliction of duty in ensuring the security of its citizens. Do you hear anybody asking for the resignation of globe-trotting Home Minister Bhim Rawal on moral grounds? When the country is in a whirl, it's not easy for the storytellers to take a position and stand by it.