4-10 December 2015 #785

Invest, include, improve

As with Nepal's politics newsrooms here lack representation
Tsering Dolker Gurung

Newspapers in Nepal have often been accused of practicing lazy journalism, misreporting events, masquerading views as news, and toeing the party line on issues.

Of late the media’s coverage of the Madhes crisis has drawn flak from readers for lacking objectivity and investigation, being one-sided and partisan, and failing to represent the whole truth. Is that the real truth?

“Just as with our politics, the newsrooms here lack representation and this has never been clearer than at present in our reporting,” a journalist who works as a news coordinator for a national daily admitted to me.

There are currently a dozen or so daily broadsheets newspapers in Nepal, and the editors of all of them are men, mostly from the same community that dominates national politics. The case is the same for other online and broadcast media outlets.

While there has been an increase in number of women and people from traditionally excluded communities in the media, they typically occupy entry-level positions and are rarely seen at the top.

“The bias in coverage of the Madhes issue and the unwillingness to view the movement from an alternative perspective stems from this,” explained another journalist who has been covering politics for over ten years. “It is easy to get the media to echo your beliefs when you share common ideology.”

Critics have also noted that the media has been selective in coverage of violence, repeatedly misinterpreted statements issued by the international community in order to reinforce their beliefs, and failed to hold the government accountable for the current crisis.

On social media, the polarisation is more stark. Nepali journalists openly take sides and engage in not-so-dignified status updates. Many have asked India to ‘back off’, others question the authenticity of the Madhes movement, and few in vivid displays of ultra-nationalism have gone as far as to tweet derogatory, racist remarks against Madhesis and janajatis.

What used to be back-handed jokes shared in the confines of the newsrooms are now being transmitted openly in the public sphere. Journalists themselves admit that their newsrooms lack professionalism, are blatantly pro-establishment, unabashedly promote views matching their agenda.

“It’s shocking the kind of things I have heard reporters in my newsroom say,” confides a friend who is the only women in her editorial team, “it is also extremely demoralising.”

Aside from personal bias, reporters attribute the poor quality of journalism to limited resources and the reluctance of their publishers to invest in stories.

“Even if I want to go to Tarai and report on the crisis, I will have to do it at my own expense,” says one political correspondent who admits to spending half his salary on costs that are not reimbursed. “It’s either that or armchair reporting.”

Like everywhere else in the world journalism is one of the lowest paid professions in Nepal. In 2012 the Ministry of Information and Communications renewed the basic salary for working journalists and set it at Rs 10,800. For district-based journalists it is only Rs 7,200. In June the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) proposed demanding the government increase the existing minimum salary to Rs 20,000. For now, that remains just a proposal.  

Very few media houses pay their employees on time, reporters going on strike to demand outstanding salary is rarely news here. The collapse of advertising revenue has made this much worse.

“The truth is almost hundred per cent of reporters have to find alternative sources of income. Some work extra jobs, others compromise on their integrity,” says the news coordinator.

All journalists I spoke to for this article admit poor pay has affected their work performance and given a better opportunity, most said they would leave the profession altogether.

Asked one reporter: “Just take the current blockade. The office doesn’t manage fuel for us, we are forced to buy it at thrice the normal price in the black market and then are expected to produce ground breaking reports. How messed up is that?” 


Read also:

Left, right and centre, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Girls who’ll run the world, Trishna Rana

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