Finally, it's official. A legislative committee has concluded that the rate of deforestation over last one year has surpassed the record of last three decades.
In 1979, random forest clearance was allowed to ensure the victory of status quo in a plebiscite held to decide the fate of the Panchayat system. Back then it was the fear of the Nepali Congress that destroyed trees, this time the barbarians at the door are the Maoists that must be stopped in their tracks at all costs.
The UML-led anti-Maoist coalition has used logging profits to buy the loyalty of supporters. The audience of the mainstream media had no inkling of the scale of devastation because national newspapers, radio and television channels were too busy tracking the antics of politicos or preparations being made for yet another Miss Neighbourhood beauty pageant.
Agriculture which employs over two-thirds of Nepalis is also sidelined in the media. Much is made out of the fact that rural electrification, mobile phones and satellite transmission of television channel has reached some of the remotest corners of the country. Few stories explore the angst of those left out of the modernisation and marketisation trend.
Villages need irrigation facilities, credits on easy terms, extension services, educational and health centres, fertilisers, seeds, sanitation and administrative services. All they are being given is a chance to buy DTH services so they can watch commercials of luxury items they can't afford.
The community broadcasters of the FM revolution promised far too much than they could deliver. Most of them ensure their survival by playing popular Hindi and Nepali songs. In the name of news, they relay what donor-funded producers of Kathmandu dish out to them.
It's not just the misery, even survival stories from the countryside could have made the urban consumers of the metropolitan media aware of the harsh realities of the country they live in. In the floodplains of Tarai, an abundance of fish once used to be the mainstay of livelihood of the poor: they sold their goats to traders from the hills as the aquatic catch from rice fields served as savouries with millet bread. The tradition continues to be marked a day before the Jitiya festival. A famine-like situation this year, combined with privatisation of the commons, meant that the poor have nowhere to fish. The compensation the government gave them was announced as a day off for Madhesi women: a group with negligible presence in the formal employment.
The national media can't examine such issues because it hardly has any presence outside of the district capitals. Apparently, the press is even more divorced from the masses than the much-maligned government. Newspapers are awash with advertisements announcing the launch of multiplexes, bumper sale of branded goods and marketing schemes promoting cars, motorcycles, furniture, and household appliances. It's natural that the media downplays reports that can spoil the endless partying in Kathmandu.
Political parties that swear by the poor should have the ability to redirect the attention of the media towards those who have no way to get their stories into television channels. Unfortunately, the only time political parties hit the headlines are when they are collecting donations.
This season's extravaganzas began with the Nepali Congress jamboree. The UML-affiliated student union's carnival is next, to be followed by Maoist revolutionaries feting their party chairman with one-lakh strong general assembly. Newspapers will be publishing cases of threats, intimidation and pressure tactics used by organisers to raise funds. Rest assured, nothing reported would be convincing enough to take the matter to the courts.
If it is any consolation, the degeneration of the fourth estate into stenographers to power is a global phenomenon. Nepal is merely the newest entrant.