14-20 March 2014 #698

Thou shall not lie

The media can’t just function as a business, it has to relentlessly pursue the truth so our freedoms are protected
Anurag Acharya
Last month, police caught a man who they said was the key link to solving the mystery of the Janakpur bomb in 2012 that killed five and wounded a dozen other Mithila activists at Ramananda Chok.

Mukesh Chaudhary had provided local journalists with copies of his telephone conversation with the alleged mastermind four months after the bomb. But the mainstream media largely ignored the news. In May last year, a television news channel telecasted a report playing the tape and an interview of Chaudhary taken in an unknown location.

However, the report itself lacked credibility due to clear tampering with the tape in the first few seconds where Chaudhary addresses the second speaker as ‘minister’. After the incident, there was widespread speculation that the blast was intended to intimidate the Mithila movement activists. Even Mukesh claims that to be the real reason behind the explosion in his ‘exclusive’ interview. But the original conversation in the tape reveals that the target was only one man sitting among the protesters at Ramananda Chok that day.

What remains unanswered is: who was the target and who felt threatened by him? After investigating the incident for over a year, we have compelling evidence that behind the political pretext of the Mithila movement, Janakpur is reeling under a turf war between a political strongman and a local businessman, both with criminal backgrounds.

But it is not just Janakpur, the entire Tarai belt of Nepal has become a hotbed for corruption and crime. From illegal sand mining and logging, drug peddling, human trafficking, and smuggling of small arms, most Tarai districts sharing the border with India are de-facto being run by powerful mafia with political protection. There is a dangerous nexus of bureaucrats, politicians, and organised criminals who seize all development contracts and plunder local resources. These are the same resources they use in the long run to elevate themselves to power. It is a shame that those supposed to be behind bars are sitting in the parliament writing the constitution of this country.

Driving through the much touted Postal Highway of Dhanusha, Mahottari, and Sarlahi, filled with crater size pot-holes, it is not difficult to see that the Rs 2.5 billion spent by the Indian government to build eight border roads along three districts have been pocketed by the contractors and their political bosses.

“It’s looting in broad daylight. I drove on the roads they constructed a week ago and there is a big pothole,” a local bus driver told me as we drove along the Janakpur-Jaleshwor road. Neglected by Kathmandu and betrayed by those claiming to be their true leaders, it is the poorest of the poor who are bearing the brunt of underdevelopment and mis-governance in the Madhes.

Reports published by the Centre for Investigative Journalism in the last two years reveal that politically sheltered school committees in several Tarai districts are pocketing grant money by inflating the number of students.

Illegal sand mining companies are operating along the East-West highway causing irreparable damage to Chure hills. There is an organised group of timber smugglers who have bought over the entire local administration in far-western Tarai districts, plundering the community forests for the last three decades.

All this is happening while our mainstream media is busy covering who gets to pose with the copy of the constitution infront of national and international media, but would not dare publish a story that exposes how profit mongering business houses are gambling with public health, putting millions of lives at risk.

British Journalism Review recently published a hard hitting piece by Kim Fletcher where he claims that the once powerful editors in British newspapers are now an ‘endangered species’, slowly but surely being replaced by content managers who look after the ‘business of news reporting’. We already have a democracy modelled after the British, how long before our newsrooms start to follow suit?

Read also:

Paradigm shrift RUBEENA MAHATO

Beware of the future, RUBEENA MAHATO

The assassin creed, EDITORIAL

The messenger is to blame, ANURAG ACHARYA

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