Depending on how one perceives the profession, the last couple of years have been frustrating for Nepali journalists. Since the excitement of 2005-6, and the shock and awe of the 2008 elections, the Fourth Estate has found little worthy of its attention save approaching and extended deadlines, delayed budgets, and inter and intra-party feuds. As if sensing the sacks of culs that their charges have to deal with, editors have been compelled to back them up with editorials offering the polity a mixture of blandishments and threats to pave the road to peace, prosperity, and gross happiness. But the politicians, fat-clad in duck feather, merely shrug off the well-meaning advice and calmly go about their wheeling and dealing, business as usual.
I have sympathy for those journalists who, even as they tail the occupants of Singha Darbar, Baluwatar, and the Constituent Assembly, cannot be oblivious to the living that goes on in and out of Kathmandu in this not-so-very tiny and not-completely-Himalayan ex-kingdom, more 'Sorry …laaa' than Shangri-La these days. There has been plenty else to report on, including disasters on such scales that they have received (sometimes belated) coverage, such as the Kosi floods of 2008, and the diarrhoea-cholera epidemic of 2009. Un-newsworthy people have made piles of money (and a few headlines) selling their country down the river, as well as their brothers, sisters, and co-species. But good things have happened, too, mostly on very local levels. Newsworthy people are making money (and fewer headlines) through entrepreneurial businesses selling a range of products from dairy to ginger to coffee, and not just in Kathmandu.
Of course, I know of these non-political happenings because someone, somewhere has taken the trouble to report on them. But coverage is scant compared to the column inches devoted to the bilge at the helm of our ship of state, and no self-respecting journalist would dare suggest that agriculture (still accounting for about 40 per cent of GDP and three quarters of the workforce) deserves more attention than politics.
Doubtless these journalists have a very keen sense of how what happens at the top will affect everyone downstream, whether the upstreamers take the initiative to set up a hydropower plant or simply foul the waters. Those at the top control the resources (even if policy does not always follow people into their lives), and what is happening now, it is felt, will determine how those resources will be managed in the new Nepal.
Does this mean the primacy of politics should be taken for granted? That political journalists should continue to chart the ups and downs of what are in most cases not clashes of ideology – which evidently affects policy and practice – but personality clashes? On some level, is not reporting on the Oli/Khanal or Koirala/Deuba feuds (as opposed to the Bhattarai/Dahal/Baidya ménage) akin to gossiping about bickering neighbours?
Even so, you might say, they have no choice but to play the game. And indeed, reportage is not just event coverage à la TGIF. Layers of analysis attribute various significances to this and that meeting, and attempt to divine the implications for the nation. Political journalism in Nepal also plays an important role in uncovering, or underlining, the misdemeanours that political institutions are increasingly associated with. If there were no press monitoring, one can safely assume that whatever is going on pretty much under the public's collective nose would reach ever more grotesque proportions.
If the obsession with politics is set to continue in journalism, then, at least we can hope for more of a bottom-up focus, as well as regional coverage within Nepal. Undoubtedly this would broaden and strengthen our sense of being Nepali. What better platform for a cross-fertilisation of values and ideas, what better preparation for federalism? Such a breed of journalism would give Nepalis a much better sense of what their country consists of, in all its human and natural glory, beyond the dhaka-topi propaganda of the Panchayat era and the ethno-melas in Tundikhel. It would teach us that Gen Next is more about those queueing up for passports than those wondering what's hot and what's not. And it would prime the state to better respond to the needs of Nepalis across the country.
The Nepali dream, SURABHI RAJ BHANDARI
I am the perfect example of someone who will never return to Nepal, but I will