Nepali Times
By The Way
Telling truth to power


One of the indicators of an ailing democracy in any society is the dumbing down of the media and the suppression of the views of the other side.

In the last two decades, the Nepali media has exercised greater freedom than those in other South Asian countries, deregulating radio and unshackling the press. However, the Nepali media faces threats to freedom from over-commercialisation, politicisation, state pressure, and self-censorship. The nexus of crime and politics has made it dangerous for journalists to use their constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms.

Beyond the stereotype of flag-waving journalists and away from the glamour of celebrity media, there are hundreds of young reporters who are struggling to be heard. While the decision to quit media and apply for a manual job in South Korea may be driven by financial needs, when journalists are forced to put their pen down it can only mean one thing: the costs are getting higher in this society of telling truth to power.

A dejected Madhesi journalist told me this week, "The mainstream press in Nepal is still only paying lip service to inclusion and identity, and our voices are getting drowned out."

One of the greatest achievements of the 1990 movement was the opening of the Nepali media space and the democratisation of the radio spectrum. Fearless reporting and critical commentaries through the difficult years of war and during the Gyanendra era 2001-2006 often came at a heavy price. Uma Singh, Dekendra Thapa, Birendra Shah, Krishna Sen, Gyanendra Khadka, and Ambika Timilsina were killed during the conflict and transition. They contributed to strengthening Nepal's democracy and upholding the free press, and lost their lives doing so.

It may be difficult for a self-proclaimed, free-thinking journalist to admit that the Nepali media has become an extension of the political war in which contending editorials and op-eds are perennially engulfed in a bitter war of ideas, each seeking to establish itself by attacking the other. When civil society itself is polarised, it is unrealistic to expect the media to behave differently. But it is when dissenting voices are stifled by political infiltration of the media or political figures buying into press holdings that there is concern for the well-being of the free press. We in the media often forget that it is not our freedom that needs protecting, it is the citizen's right to independent information that we uphold.

A local reporter in Panchthar who works for a mainstream daily told me recently that he had no say in the way his reports are edited by his parent paper in Kathmandu. "Sometimes they get published in a way that compromises our professional integrity," he lamented.

Recently the Information and Communication Minister ostensibly sacked the editor of the state-controlled NTV for broadcasting live an opposition rally. The misuse of state media by the government of the day is not new, all previous governments did it to varying degrees, but it does point to the continued erosion of the public service role of the broadcast media.

More worrying still, professional associations and journalist unions which claim to work in the interest of media practitioners, function as sister organisations of political parties which float their own panels during their elections.
Today, Nepali politics is at a juncture where the old democratic forces led by the NC and UML have allowed their fear of the authoritarian left to uphold the status quo, while the Madhesis and Janajatis allying with the ruling Maoists are siding against the opposition. The lack of mutual trust between these partners of the peace process is at an all-time high.

In such a situation, the role of the media is to moderate the debate and create a positive environment for dialogue and agreement between the two sides. Instead, overtly biased cover stories and editorials make matters worse, polarising the national debate further. Dissenting voices are edited, toned down, or even censored.

The political and economic stakes in media houses are increasingly dictating the agendas they set. But tumbling circulations and the dipping popularity of their products should remind the bosses that there is a difference between selling news and selling detergent.

Read also:
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1. Rai
Thought provoking piece...

Your integrity as a journalist is unparalleled and I certainly enjoy reading your op-ed every week.

2. Sabina
Thank you for remembering Uma Singh. Thanks also for the first critique of the increasingly shallow English-language press we have in Nepal I've seen in a long time. We hope for much more.

3. Mexx Nepali
Brillant observation n bitter fact that the journalism of our nation is also as polarized as the political parties of this country. It's so sad to see that even journalism in our country don't seem to have consensual voice regarding national interest and interigity. Media houses and political parties are akin in Nepal or we can say they are best complement to each other because they serve to their masters not to the national interest of the country .Political parties can never come to consensus concerning national interest ditto with the media houses and sems like they are all set to put the house in fire together. They are brothers in arms with common agenda .It is a big tragedy for the nation when partisian interest over rules the national interest in public institution!!!

4. K. K. Sharma

Nice and realistic article. 

But as long as  our journalists ( like our intellectuals ) prefer to be  sheep in one partisan flock or the other, your dream of independent media remains a dream, not reality.

5. Anonymous
Knowlingly or unknowlingly, indepedenty or forcibly Nepeli medias spending much more time on politics. It seems to have; Nepelase medias are not able to run without political surroundings. They are catching specially political issues unnesscerily.

6. anonymous
It's a bitter reality of Nepali media and political parities that has not hold national issues as much as other countries rather media has been covering minor political subjects. They are derailed regarding national intrests like intrigrity, prosperity.

7. marjolaineHohberger
Ethics is everything, one cannot play computer games without being influenced, simultaneously we can not be a little bit corrupt. The independent press is a dream and the pressure of religious, political organizations is tremendous. People deserve the best. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

8. Flexible 1
Every ocean is made of small drops. "The Media" is a collection of newspapers and radio/tv stations, in turn made up of individuals. Each and every individual must have courage, must stand up and be counted, and create a tidal wave of such fury that the netas actually leave the country in fear.

9. Dinesh
The media bias in Nepal has a co-relation with - 1) threats and murder from cowardly politician devoid of ethics and power of ideas, 2) lack of financial resources and support, 3) clash of egos and not ideas that result in killing without discrimination, 4) fear of death for honest journalist for their own lives and their families, 5) lack of rule of law and disrespect for law and order, 6) idiotic political leaders that want to media barons as well so they can control the press and public opinion, 7) disinformation and yellow journalism from the corrupted leaders that dictate what is fit to print.... this is long, BUT, even then there are many honest and fearless journalist in Nepal today that risk everything they have to tell the truth. So we must salute these brave men and women for we owe them a debt that cannot be repaid. The people in power today are cowards with criminal intent so they must be exposed and driven out of still a beautiful Nepal.               

10. Tashi Lama
Thank you Anurag Acharya for writing this wonderful article. Yes, journalism and media houses are indeed a keepers of conscience in humanity, if they starts getting polluted, and when their strength and purity to stand for truth gets weaker, this means a very serious consequences for the freedom and justice for everyone in Nepal. Medias and journalism indeed plays a great role to bring the truth and make people aware of what is wrong and right happening in Nepal, as to bring these truth, many brave journalist sacrificed their precious lives. Keeping these sacrifices in mind, media people shouldn't be playing with the sentiments of people by being biased reporter and by acting as puppets of certain powers. Journalism should be honest, they should be the voice of  voiceless, they should be the torch bearer to shed light on the darker side of everything which harms Nepal and Nepalese!    

11. Soni
Have you heard of the phrase "The pot calling the kettle black"? No? I thought so.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)