Nepali Times
Fourth Estate
Lohani's legacy


When Indra Lohani passed away in January last year, the movers and shakers of the Kathmandu Valley gathered in full force at the Nepal Bar Association premises to pay their respects. The glitterati grieved and the masses mourned, such was the force of his television presence.

A graduate of the National Law School in India and a practising Supreme Court attorney, Lohani had little time for the niceties of journalism. He ran his show Bahas with the combativeness of a public prosecutor. He didn't interview his guests; rather, they were grilled in penetrating sessions of public interrogation. He made the high and mighty quiver
and squirm.

Journalists abhorred his style, but the audience loved it. Millions would switch channels mid-program to hear his trademark greeting Jai Hos. It's a tribute to his memory that all talkshow hosts try to imitate his style, even if they don't possess his perspicacity.

Context and insight are the main strengths of the print media. Radio encourages conversation and helps create a common ground for a diversity of opinions. Television, however, thrives by focusing on action. It offers video footage of breaking news, erupting conflicts and emerging personalities. In truth, TV is better at creating controversy than clearing confusion. The camera doesn't lie, but it can never quite capture the multi-hued truth.

Innovative television producers try to overcome the inherent weaknesses of the medium through a judicious mix of vox pop, expert analyses, archival materials and journalistic commentary. But Nepal lacks well-grounded television anchors and newsreaders still run most current affairs programs.

TV stations rely upon politicos, NGO-tsars, lawyers, activists and the gatekeepers of the print media to round up the daily panorama. Since the talking heads often lack the skills to engage their audiences, most TV talkshows are banal affairs. It's no wonder market surveys show that comedy serials are more popular than current affair programs. Infotainment is a useful tool to keep viewers tied to the idiot box, but it hardly adds to the credibility of television stations.

Nepal boasts 10 television channels, and at least five more are said to be in the pipeline. But everyone wants to be a better copy of whichever Indian satellite they consider to be the model: India TV, Aaj Tak or Zee News. A serious shortage of trained journalists is the main reason me-too entrants fail to break new ground and have to rely on footage from the daily drama at the Reporters' Club. It has become a vicious circle: salaries are too low to attract talent, which then justifies the decision of owners to pay even less, with obviously detrimental effects on program quality.


Pioneering Nepal Television was created in the mid-eighties to meet the cravings of the Kathmandu middle class for entertainment of some sort under the autocratic Panchayat regime. Unlike the national broadcaster in India, which began by enlisting the services of leading litterateurs and intellectuals, NTV was conceptualised and established by cine artistes. Thus it failed to groom professionals for the future boom in the field.

Private television channels began by buying time for entertainment programs with little inkling of the strengths and weaknesses of the medium. The tradition of innovation failed to take root as every channel wanted to play safe. They invested heavily in hardware, expecting that the software would take care of itself. Their prayers were answered by the likes of Indra Lohani. But wishful thinking isn't always self-fulfilling.

In the competition for eyeballs, TV channels will have to work to secure their niches. News channels need to nurture in-house analysts; those specialising in travel, business or lifestyle have to hire the services of professionals with a proven track record. And everyone will have to invest in the enhancement of the journalistic capabilities of their editorial teams. With some degree of market saturation imminent, the period of complacency in the television industry is now over.

1. anup acharya
i support it although nepal media is increasing nowadays , i think they are still bias any electronic or print although it' s good subject raised but i wanna ask one question doesn't paper media follow on the journalism ? by reading article there's nothing about print media

2. Sargam
"Don't follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail." I hope your new endeavor will for sure come to fruition. It packs a wealth of meaning, such as leading you to hyperbole.

3. Arthur
I have a suggestion for this column analysing the media in Nepal. How about some detailed study of the many spectacular instances of outright fabrication? A good start would be the current incident in which "Spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry Durga Bhattarai, claimed that the government received a letter few days ago from the UN that said the decision to send back Maj. Basnet was done in haste. According to him, the letter has now been forwarded to the Defense Ministry." But the UN announced this never happened and never will happen. It should be possible to find out whether Durga Bhatterai did make that statement and if so why and on whose authority. What letter was forwarded to the Defence Ministry and why did the Nepalese press so easily believe that the UN has the same craven attitude towards the Army defying the authority of the courts as the Defence Ministry, and the Foreign Ministry. What is it about the media in Nepal that makes them go so far beyond merely taking the side of the Army against the Courts as to actually believe the UN has the same mentality and would only take the opposite attitude "by mistake"? (I am assuming they really did believe it, since it ought to have been obvious that the UN would refute the lie once it was published so they would not have published it if they actually knew it was a lie). Who in the Foreign Ministry feels it so important to impress the Army with their subservience that they would invent such a letter and what made them imagine they could get away with it? What does it say about how these people regard the media?

4. Subodh Pal
So, what did Lohani really leave behind? Just two short paragraphs for the guy, which hardly says anything about his legacy - if indeed there is one worth talking about. The rest of the space is taken up with a rambling lecture on what media is all about. Come on, Mr. Lal, you can do better than that!!??

5. Harish
Kudos to Lal for venturing into a new phase of column-writing that deals with burning issues pertaining to Nepali media. However, I request you to not abandon political or social issues which you have already proved your talent at. Of late, you had been focusing on social issues, which was quite appealing and though-provoking. I wish you keep on writing simultanously on media an and socio-political issues.

6. ss
I second Harish. My week does not pass by without reading CK Lal- he is the best. I am a computer scientist by training, but ever since I started reading CK Lal, I have started loving journalism as a profession. If Mr. CK Lal opens a school of journalism in Nepal in future, I will surely be part of it. How about that ?

7. Singapore
Salaries are low in journalism for a reason . . . because of demand-supply. The supply of young and willing journalists or the supply of those willing to work as journalists in various forms (i.e. as reporters, anchors, radio DJs, etc) is much higher in Nepal than the demand for them. And that is actually good in that the low wages will make those with talents to seek out fields other than journalism which reward their talents better. The rest, well, they are stuck in low-paying jobs with too many substitutable colleagues. As for Lohani's legacy, the fact that CK Lal could not name one single episode of Lohani's program that deepened our understanding of Nepali society in a remarkable way tells us that perhaps Lohani's brand of journalism was more style than substance. And that's OK too.

8. Mahadev
So what's new about Nepalese media in this column? Where is inside knowledge? An article without purpose or meaning as usual from Mr. know-all of Nepali Times.

9. Nabina
@ To all the Idiots who criticise Mr Lal. Can you write better than him? Just shut your trap, we are not interested in hearing one liners from pea brain twits.

10. sandman
I beg to differ with Mr .lal in that ,his insight into the nepali media seems to be heavily influeneced by his comparison of it to the indian media .I believe the nepali television channels are quite crude ,but thats becauset hey are unseasoned and not because its not being invested upon .besides ,what would expect it to be in a country like nepal ?infact i think nepali tevelsion channels have burgeoned more than any other sector in the last decade .also,his argument that its because of the fact that nepali journalists are paid less is completely unfounded ,considering the ever-growing investment upon and the increasing number of channels .

11. Just Saying!
This article is a joke. The title is Lohani's Legacy , which the first few paragraphs explore but then the author takes a complete different turn to bash the TV media. By the end it gives me the feeling that the author is justifying his medium, the print media, and how it is better in "clearing confusion" than "creating controversy". I had read some of his articles some years back and most of them as far as I remember had the same style. He would start with something and then go on to make his point about something completely different. And hence had stopped reading them until today. But still the same. Agreed that its his column as he can make any point he(or editor) likes but the point he makes in the end sometimes comes out of the blue. Back then it used to about Madhesis. Most article would end up having a Madhesis twist no matter what the subject matter purported to be through the title. So I do in that sense consider you articles as creating controversy and thus thriving on action than on context and insight.

12. Bal
I am not a communist, nor do I have an inclination towards it. I am also not a communist basher. However, I did not like Lohani's tradmark greeting "jaihos". The word is associated with the feudal system of khaisyos and laisyos that are far away from the happenings of a common Nepali. There should be a clear distinction between a journalist and an interviewer. Everyone who appears to interview on the TV should not be labelled as journalists. If he had a prosecutorial skills, that is not journalism. In the similar vein, I would never call Vijay Kumar a journalist. Every media person is not a journalist or vice versa. A photographer is a media person. The style with which Vijay Kumar interviews is undermining the interviewee. Vijay Kumar has not learned the lessons decades ago when he was virtually made to shut up by Amitabh Bachhan. You don't prey on your interviewees to dig things up. Also, there is too much of a yellow journalism going on. Just everybody who can write is not a journalist. Why was there no hue and cry from the journalists when the Home Ministry recently annouced that they will hire journalists as the spies? Isn't it an insulting blow to the dignified profession also regarded as the fourth state? Why do our journalists not do an investigative write up and almost all things do not get followed up. Why do our journalists craze for foreign trips through the establishments and make a beeline up in the foreign embassies for a favour? Examples are so many and many of the journalists or so called journalists are aware of it --having been beneficiers of such hand out or requests. I find that there are only a few journists who adhere to the journalistic dharma or at least appear to be. We do have some good journalists, vernacular and English, but the environment is polluted by the "dahi chiure" ones. Isn't the Dhamala amnesty a shame to all journalists? If you can write when an injustice is done, then you should be protesting it, condemning it and rejecting it with all your hearts. CK Lalji, I read all your articles whenever I can, and I hope you will take up some of these issues in the future. Those turn coats and establishment journalists should be exposed. They are shame to journalism.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)