Nepali Times
Guest Column
The media’s ethnic gap


It was an anguished email from a well-known author and editor, a pahadi janajati, citing a small news item which reported that no journalist turned up for a press conference called by madhesi students. He was agitated by this gross discrimination. This is my response to his fury and distress.

Journalists surely are entitled to decide which press conferences they want to attend or ignore what they want to construct and communicate as news. They have the right to write about the antics of a minor starlet in Kollywood or the news of a diplomat who sang at a private party or about human rights abuses, the activities and wise words of our respected politicians and rulers. We may not agree with their choice, but it is their choice. They exercise press freedom on our behalf.

The media influences public knowledge and opinion both by what it reports and what it leaves out. While many of us pay attention to what is covered, we often overlook what they deliberately exclude due to the media's collective self-censorship. The subject matters that journalists leave out reveal either their ignorance or more ominously, their bias.

It could be argued that the grievances of a handful of madhesi university students being beaten up is hardly worth reporting during a period of very grave political turmoil. Other happenings are more newsworthy and of interest to the public. Or is it one more example of the perhaps unconscious collective effort of the pahadia dominated press to erase madhesis from the media and thus from public knowledge and national discourse?

The press invariably reports on all workshops and conferences held in Kathmandu, even the most insignificant ones, especially if inaugurated by a public figure (the public figure being the news and not the meeting). But the press on the whole did not report on the first ever national conference on the tarai, focusing especially on the madhesis.

The conference was held in a well-known hotel, press releases were faxed and it was attended by several journalists. Two columnists (one a madhesi) wrote about the conference and a popular magazine published a photo of the madhesi musical evening but there was no serious reporting on the discussions of the conference nor even a mention of the dukkha of being a madhesi in Nepal.

Journalists do write or speak about the madhesh or tarai but mainly as a location down south where negative events occur. The madhesis themselves hardly figure in the stories. Or as one madhesi journalist bitterly complained during a conference, the national press usually ignores madhesis except to portray them in bad light. A reputed organisation which has published a series of landmark books on the media's coverage of dalits and janajatis has not yet brought out a publication on the media and madhesis.

We often complain that Nepal is almost totally ignored by the world media except when there are stories about poverty, violence, political instability and natural disasters. In a similar manner, pahadi media gatekeepers are doing injustice to madhesis (and many other groups) by what they cover, more importantly by what they omit. The violence of erasure is perhaps even more painful for the madhesis for they are fellow Nepalis-and they would like their compatriots to know them, to have their voices heard and their dukkha discussed nationally just like other Nepalis.

Madhesis are Nepalis and not just the residents of the southern plains.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)