Nepali media is in crisis, and the main reason is that it has become financially unviable as a business. There has been a sharp decline in advertising revenue, production costs have shot up, and there is fierce competition for audience and advertising. Journalists haven't been paid for months, and publishers face huge debts.
When a media company becomes financially weak, it soon loses its political independence and is vulnerable to advertising pressure and cash-rich politicians eager to buy influence. This does not bode well for editorial freedom and journalistic integrity in Nepal when the country is at a crossroads and press freedom is needed to defend democracy. The enemies of press freedom don't need to vandalise delivery vans, burn presses or beat up journalists anymore, they just buy off media that is critical of them.¬
Nepal's politics is in limbo, and the transition will probably drag on indefinitely. The media's role at times like these should be to make sense of the confusion, interpret and explain events objectively and offer solutions. Instead, sponsored news and manufactured stories have become the order of the day. A paper or tv station's coverage depends on which party boss just bought shares in it.
The crisis offers us an opportunity for introspection, to rethink our priorities. What is the direction that we want this country to take, what are the core values we want to protect, and what is our vision for society? How has our stance on certain issues shaped the country's present state? Has our unquestioning acceptance of a political ideology clearly averse to economic growth, democratic values and open society made us a part of the problem?
It is the media's obsession with the day-to-day, who-said-what brand of political reporting that lends itself to manipulation of content by political spin masters. The tendency to tar all politicians, ex-CA members, police and the bureaucracy with the same brush has spread cynicism and hopelessness. It is time, perhaps, to profile the honest cop, or second generation politicians who show vision and integrity, or the ministry secretary who sticks to her principles. We would have been much better off investigating and highlighting the political background that leads to the neglect of agriculture, the corruption that keeps us poor, and the exploitation of our migrant workforce by our own.
By now, readers have learnt to take everything with a pinch of salt and don't trust the news, especially tabloid tv and opinionated political op-eds, at face value. Which is why the eye-balls have swung over to social media. Readers are attracted by its dynamic content, interactivity and immediacy.
But new media has its own limitations, its raw content can't yet completely replace conventional media because of the digital divide as well as credibility issues. The internet also has a tendency of locking people in their own little worlds of self-held beliefs and values. People surf pages whose content they approve of, interact with people who hold same opinions and prefer not to engage with opposing views, unless it is to personally, and anonymously, abuse someone they don't agree with. This ghettoisation does little to foster dialogue and debate. Lately, the ethnic polarisation of Nepali society has turned social media into a platform for extreme hate speech.
The onus is on the mainstream media to reclaim its credibility, extend its internet reach through robust online presence, and focus on content that will heal society instead of dividing it. The Nepali media is either event-driven, or opinion-heavy. There is almost no middle ground where we follow-up on events, analyse and investigate economic and development issues. What happened in the aftermath of the Seti flood, or for that matter the Kosi flood? How are those who survived the earthquake in eastern Nepal last year faring?
There has been no follow-up on the bomb blast in Janakpur that killed Ranju Jha. The alleged culprits were caught, but were they really responsible? Who are the big fish who masterminded the attack? Who ordered the killing of Justice Rana Bahadur Bam last week and why? Bam has already dropped off the headlines.
Journalism today needs a paradigm shift to relentlessly pursue such stories, instead of idle and endless speculation over whether or not the Maoists, or the UML or the NC are going to finally split.
The assassin creed
The messenger is to blame, ANURAG ACHARYA
The platform for debating national problems has itself become a part of the problem