Nepali Times
Fourth Estate
The urban bias


JANAKPUR. Physical violence is often the only way for small towns in Nepal to get into the headlines of the metropolitan press. Sure enough, a gun attack on a priest at the Janaki Temple became 'breaking news' for television channels in Kathmandu. Some of the national newspapers carried the story on the front page.

The local press takes its cue from the national media. For local dailies, events from neighbouring villages hardly matter. When there is no news of shootings, abductions or political protests, FM radio channels clamour to interview national leaders rather than farmers or activists of the hinterland.

From Parsa to Siraha, at least eight districts of the central Tarai are in the grip of major to severe drought. In a region known as the rice bowl of the country, trans-plantation of paddy has been adversely affected. Except in select places where irrigation facilities are available – usually the constituencies of influential politicos – farmers have lost all hope in their main crop this year. Rice fields are cracked and dry with shoots ready for transplantation wilting in seedbeds.

The scale and the extent of the rural catastrophe waiting to unfold is frightening. When food production falls, of course, it will influence the political economy of the country in unpredictable ways. However, Nepali audiences have little clue what is happening in the countryside, as they are fed hourly accounts of the parlour games of power politics in the capital city.

The press across the border has shown more consideration for the plight of farmers. Forthcoming assembly elections did play a major role in politicising the drought in India. But at least part of the credit must go to the intensive coverage in the Indian media for getting Bihar declared a crisis zone and securing relief packages from central government for affected villagers.

Government interventions have their own flaws. To depict the corruption and callousness of relief measures, Ramon Magsaysay Awardwinner P. Sainath once compiled a book from his field reports:Why everyone loves a good drought. However, everybody loves a drought in India because the government cares about it, for whatever reasons. In Nepal, drought is a misfortune that does not interest anybody at all; villagers have to endure it all on their own.

In contrast, the devastation wrought by floods is spectacular. Scenes of helicopters rescuing people from their rooftops look good on TV, and earthquakes, too, provide their share of drama. But the effect of drought is less dramatic and more insidious. It is much easier to leave it all to development organisations.

The fascination of the metropolitan press with fashion, food, fun and the fantasies of the middle class is understandable to a certain extent. After all, they are the buyers every advertiser wants to reach and influence. An obsession with politics, too, has its own logic; in a poor country, the government is the biggest business enterprise.

The media, however, needs to prove its relevance by showing it cares about society. Endless footage of Shyam Saran being escorted to the VVIP lounge of Tribhuwan International Airport and honeymoon photographs of Manisha Koirala may tickle as audience's fancy, but do little to enhance the image of the press as the Fourth Estate of a nascent democracy.

What's more, few television channels or newspapers have invested in training journalists for reporting from small towns and the rural hinterland. The neglect of agriculture is a symptom of a deeper malaise; it reflects the urban bias of a national media that cares more about the traffic congestion in Kathmandu than deforestation in the Tarai or the denudation of fragile mountain slopes.

It has been said that what is news on television often depends on where your reporters and camerapersons are. The media manufactures news by reporting it. But it should remember it's not just government that has been guilty of neglecting the pauperised peasantry. Peace building has many dimensions; compassionate coverage of the travails of the marginalised is one of them.

The winner can't take all, PUBLISHER'S NOTE
Twin crises, PRASHANT JHA
Nein Kampf, INDU NEPAL

1. Jhimuk

Well said. I remember a paper of Peter Sandman, a focus and world aclaimed media analyst who said that news of public outrage and outcry especially triggerd by visible and reportable footage makes up the news unlike slowly poisonig yet very devastating events like dought as CK lal pointed out.

I personally feel ashamed about the news media in Nepal in regards of such coverage. They should improve a lot.

2. sushil
In addition to rice paddy and drought situation, the other "headline" missing on Madhes is the activities of the criminal gangs, murders, extortion, ethnic cleansing of the Pahares (do we even know this is happening, in fact many landowners of Madhesi origins are also fleeing), Bihrai cross-border criminal gangs...

3. Kennelworth
When a dog bites a man ,it is no news. But when a man bites a dog ,it is a great news. No doubt a breaking news.
Mark the dogs are more faithful now than the party people in our land at this time of the century.or not? Any comment?

4. Gangalal
@kennelworth, so media =  dogs, or dog owners?


Politicians in Nepal are busy.............

they don't have time to think except for POWER,MONEY,CRIME.

POWER to RULE the country..

MONEY through Corruption

and CRIME to grab POWER and to make money.

Now as CK LAL thinks about the FOURTH PILLAR.

sir, most of the "fourth pillar" are under the influence of money hungry, crime clad and power hungry POLITICIANS of our country.

Thus  most of these MEDIAs are as puppet and rest who are not puppet they are copying the fashion.

The farmer has to bear all. Most of the NEPLESE are able to import GOLBHENRA from Singapore and RICE from CHINA. Don't worry Mr.LAL the producers of FOOD in Nepal were sufferers, is sufferers and remain sufferers. They are second citizen of Nepal. They are of INDIAN origin( not UPADHYA,JOSHI,THAPALIYA,POKHREL-AS THEIR ROOT IS IN UTTARAKHAND OF INDIA) but Mishar,jha,thakur, roy-their origin is said to be in Bihar & UP.

6. Arthur
Good article! But the situation C K Lal has noticed in the districts of central Terai from Parsa to Siraha may just be rural Nepal's "traditional hunger season" from July to September.

As WFP describes it:

"The period July to September is the traditional hunger
season across Nepal. In food insecure areas household
food stock will be depleted, income generating
opportunities are limited and physical access to market
will be hampered during monsoon. Traditional coping
strategies during the period include: seasonal outmigration
and sale of livestock."

Perhaps the author is simply becoming more aware of this "tradition"?

According to WFP Food Security Bulletin 28 for August 2010 the current level of food security throughout Terai is "normal". As usual about 16% of rural population are food insecure (so half of children under 5 malnourished and stunted etc).

July map shows "green" (generally food secure) for the districts mentioned except for a small part of northern Sirahi (and Saptari) listed as "moderately food insecure"). Same for rest of Terai (except for northern Kailali).

Current food insecurity is much more serious outside Terai:

The food security situation in the Mid and Far Western Hill and Mountain (M&FWHM) districts remains of major concern: winter crop production of wheat and barley were severely affected by localized natural disasters during the pre-harvesting period in late March-April. Production losses of above 50 percent were reported in the following districts: Bajura, Achham,
Humla, Mugu, and Kalikot (drought); Rukum (heavy snowfall) and Dailekh (hailstorm).

� Six VDCs in upper Dolpa became highly food insecure as households depleted their food stock and could not replenish their food supply. Households in this area were particularly affected by the death of more than 200 yaks in a snow avalanche in February 2010. In addition, the
Yarchagumba (medicinal herb) collection was reportedly reduced by 40 percent in the district. An improved food security situation was reported in Doti and Darchula due to a normal to moderate winter crop production, collection of herbs (Yarchagumba) and support from development aid agencies such as WFP, FAO, PAF and Practical Action.

� The rest of the country is in general food secure due to: normal level of winter crop production of wheat, barley and potatoes; income from sale of livestock and livestock products as well as sale of cash crops including vegetables and fruits (e.g. mango, babio, banana, lichi); wage labour opportunities through government and/or non-government schemes; and income from tourism industry especially in high altitude areas of Mustang, Gorkha and Rasuwa.

� Major summer crops of paddy and maize are in the growing stage and the production outlook is overall normal across the
country except pockets in Eastern, Mid� and Far-Western Hill and Mountain regions where plantation and early growing stage of summer crops have been severely affected by late and insufficient rainfall.

� Flood and landslide disasters have affected a significant number of population across the country. Emergency assistance for the affected population has been provided through local institutions. Impact of the floods on summer crop production is yet to be assessed.

7. Anonymous

Mr. Lal has once again given voice to the millions of voiceless- his comments are down to the earth. I agree with his genuine concern. I wonder when will the Nepali politicians, bureaucrats, policy-makers and the so-called the media will listen to the cause of the local people. Time to open our eyes! Listen to the farmer's cry!

8. Another LAL
People from cities don't know anything about the problems that are affecting the rural parts of our country. And they get the blame for being apathetic and ignorant about these problems. But, how is he gonna know about those things when nobody tells him in the first place? And who's the one responsible to do that? THE MEDIA, of course. When the media starts to cover these ground level news, be it from the villages or from the cities, then the people elsewhere will know what's going on in the real world. For me, I think the media should concentrate on ground level news, whether it is business, agriculture, medicine, etc. And then compare that news with others. For instance, if there's a problem of drought, inform people how it is being tackled in other places of the world. If there are crimes taking place, compare it next month and inform people whether the crime rate has gone up or gone down. If there is news of a road being repaired, compare it to how it's done in other countries and what the required standards are. Give people all the facts & figures as much as possible. Then the people will know whether the concerned authorities are doing their job properly. That will put pressure on them. I remember back in school days, when we would not dare to do any misdeeds because the class captain might report us to the teacher? Well, the media should be like a class captain. They should report to the people. That's it.

9. Anonymous
If Mr. Lal had spent his energies in this kind of reportage in the 2005-06 period he might have done Nepal a lot of good. Instead he was focussed on highly biased political commentary against the monarchy (and Army) then. He led the way for media to misinform the people against the one force that was close to resolving the Maoist problem in our country. Now that he has achieved his political goal of eliminating the monarchy, how easy to tell media to focus on other things besides politics!

10. sashi
#9:  Your observation about CK Lal is right on the money.  This anti-army, pro-Sujata/Girija journalist pretty much managed to botch the whole Nepali-situation hoping to ride high.  Instead, after creating this mess, he wants us to forget about it?  No way.  I like your idea: "we should ask him to clean up the mess he helped create."  He should not be allowed to run away from it.  I would have liked him to take some responsibility and write about the crime-riden Madhes, and expose the situation.  At least do some good instead of being a perpetually negative guy 24/7.

11. Rajeev
yes, now you are doing what you want others to do too: report on malaise touching layman, rather that power, money and politics combo. I like it.

At times I thought that you would be a great leader given the depth of understanding you have on geography, history and current state of affairs in Nepal.  Any considerations????

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)