Nepali Times
Fourth Estate
Meddling in the media


The influence of the Indian Embassy in the internal affairs of Nepal has always been felt. Now it can be heard and seen as well. Clearly, Lainchaur does not believe in diplomatic niceties in exercising political control in a notionally independent nation.

The pressure exerted on the foreign ministry by the Indian diplomatic mission led to delay of the the Machine Readable Passport (MRP) deal. Though the printing contract was initially awarded to a company owned by the Government of India, the subsequent fiasco finally ended with the cancellation of that contract.

The verity of the accusations that former lawmaker Ram Kumar Sharma levelled against an Indian embassy official has not been established. But the perception is that Sharma may well have been threatened as alleged.

Now the tussle between Kantipur Group and Lainchaur has just got dirtier. In the first part of the drama, the embassy persuaded Indian nationals heading businesses in Nepal to throttle the advertisement pipeline of Kantipur Publications. When this failed to have the desired effect, non-tariff barriers to trade were used to starve the publishing house of newsprint supply.

The third episode began with a terse embassy press release on 27 August charging the Nepali media with using slanderous coverage to elicit commercial advantage. The statement was not only undiplomatic and politically incorrect, but also insulting. Paid news is not unknown to the Indian media; theTimes of India sells its loyalty openly to the highest bidders through what it calls 'private treaties'. Prominent media organisations were justified in demanding an apology from the Indian mission, particularly after a second and even more belligerent statement was released.

The fundamental premise of these press releases is flawed. The Indian joint ventures are legal entities in Nepal. They are expected to approach law enforcement agencies if they have any complaints. The law does not offer them any special privileges just because they are Indian. They have crossed the limits of decency by approaching a foreign embassy for what was essentially a difference of opinion or dispute between some Nepali advertisers and the national media.

Indeed, when approached with such grievances, the embassy should have recommended that the offended party either register complaints with the Press Council, the police, or the courts. The Nepal India Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NICCI) could also have been asked to intervene. The NICCI did place a notice in newspapers calling for restraint on all sides on Wednesday, but it was clearly a case of too little, too late.

Diplomats need to realise that Nepal-India ties are fraught with potential misunderstanding. India may not be the superpower it aspires to be yet, but it is a giant that India-locked Nepal can ill afford to ignore. This helplessness in the face of India's might has rankled every ruler in Kathmandu from the time of Chandra Shamsher. Indian officialdom hasn't yet realised that with great power comes great responsibility, and playing upon the vulnerability of Nepalis is counterproductive.

It is not the responsibility of the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu to foist a code of ethics on Nepali journalists. But the Press Council is embroiled in a controversy with the Ministry of Communication, and is dysfunctional at present. Various other media forums probably realise that whatever is being reported about certain Indian-owned joint ventures may not be above board. But meddlesome statements from the Indian mission have made their task, of monitoring the activities of their colleagues, almost impossible.

The centre cannot hold, PUBLISHER'S NOTE
Nitty-gritty politicking, PRASHANT JHA
Singing of sorrow, INDU NEPAL
If the cap fits, ASHUTOSH TIWARI

1. nepalison
I salute you, Mr. Lal, for your courage to speak out. No other so-called Nepali intellecutals have dared to question the wrong.

2. K. K. Sharma
So  why is the Nepali media sacrosant only now, that India cannot do what it does with evey entity in Nepal ?

 Ever since India could not make Nepal cower with their economic blockade of 1989/1990, they had used the Nepali parties, intellectuals and the media to achieve their goal. And all had welcomed this, so why is this called meddling in stead of directing, or guiding. or supervising.? 

3. Budabaaje

After all the king and royalists were right. All this crap about "peaceful solution" and "new Nepal" was nothing but India's game to completely control Nepal.

Yes, being India-locked on 3 sides has always made it difficult for us to be fully independent. But never before in our history has India so blatantly interfered with out internal matters as now.

Lal, you are also responsible for this humiliating situation we are in. When king and Army tried to warn us all about this, you went out of your way to undermine them. Now let's see you go and bring Excellency Sood in line!

Even the Ranas, for all their other bad things, did a better job of containing Indian influence (read bullying) in Nepal.

4. Battisputali
Quoting from the Indian embassy Press Release that Lal mentions:
" The baseless adverse publicity against the products of such joint ventures will not only hit the Nepalese economy and exports but will also deter new foreign direct investments into Nepal."

It is quite obvious what the embassy is saying,  "If you try to adversely affect the business of our companies in Nepal, we will discourage Indian FDI." It may be wrong to try to defend the interests of one country's private enterprise in another, but it's done anyways. After all, national interests(business being one) are sacrosanct in our international system. But to do so with a threatening press release may be bad policy choice.

Also, there are multiple national interests. If a "manageable" Nepal is in the long-term interest, India will have to sacrifice such short-term diplomatic spats.They will only breed more nationalism and anti-indian perceptions which may make Nepal "unmanageable". The means used could be different. Covert message could be used. The matter could have been put before the foreign ministry (which is run by a pro-India minister anyways).

There is some good public diplomacy (The new TU chair, expansion of Indian Nepalese Cultural exchange etc.) coming out of the Embassy lately but these measures will be worthless (and an unnecessary cost on the Indian taxpayer) if such undiplomatic means become first choice.

Also, India has enough problems at home as it is. Instead of spending manpower and money on interventions and policies  abroad that go nowhere and create no results, it would be appropriate to concentrate at home. Unfortunately, the obsession with being a superpower or the delusion of being one is such that bad policy choices are becoming an unfortunate trend.

5. nidhi
Our own Prashant Jha writes in The Hindu that the Real Juice saga "does have traces of national chauvinism and appears opportunistic, linked to the advertisement embargo". If Kantipur is being targeted for publishing stories of national interest and the Sood letter to Sujata Koirala among others, it should be applauded as being faring for being right. 
Btw, a practical lesson for those 28 recent recruits at MoFA on what not to do as a diplomat. 
So sorry, Mr Sood, you did not get similar episode at home ? sad naa....

6. Sumita
It is good to see CK Lal defend Nepal and Nepali interest against the unprofessional and outright disgusting behavior of the Indian embassy. What he suggests in this write-up is very good: Indian embassy should have referred this case to the appropriate authority instead of acting like a hegemonic "spoiled cry-baby"  or an angry bid daddy.  Now, I wish someone would right about the naked circus India is performing with the CA scandal.. The release of a private  phone conversation  by India (who else) is not playing out well in the international arena...

7. B N Pathak
I agree with the writer.but still all nepali media do not focus on this matter why? 

8. Ranjan
Totally agreed by the points made by Mr Lal about the embassy being dominant player. However, it is a bitter reality for Nepal to remain dependent unless its own mess is not cleared. Maoist blame India and brings anti India slogan but what have the done as a new political force. Killing thousands mostly innocent children, teacher and ordinary people for the only reason to get superior power by handful of their leaders. They brought another dark age for Nepal in terms of economic prosperity and cutting a Nepali generation from education in the name of violence. Indeed it is now or never for Nepal to think of economic recovery, planning. It is a small country and its model of economic development is entirely different and difficult. Think about that. At least India aspires to be a superpower, but what Nepal has done for its survival.

9. Anonymous
Salute to C K Lal for upholding the higher values and taking a critical stance on such a crucial issue. It is not a matter of taking one side or the other. CK indeed defended the professional "dharma" of journalism in this article. It seems the Indian embassy needs to learn the "a" "b" "c" "d" of modern diplomacy. Mr. Sood, don't take Nepal for granted, today's Nepal is not that of 1950s. There are highly educated, knowledgeable and even sophisticated people in Nepal. If India is to earn respect as an emerging 'Regional Superpower', you  must learn how to respect your neighbors.Learn to use the art of diplomacy a bit more diplomatically! With "great power comes great responsibility". Why don't you learn from your own history-- giants of mankind such as Gandhi!!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)