Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why Is Nepalese Media Deeply Polarized ?

By Dr Rabin Man Shakya
Former Lecturer of Journalism, Peoples Campus and RR Campus, TU.

Even though there are zealots at either end of the political spectrum in the United States, majority of the people here consider something other than politics their top priority.And polarization of journalism is not a big issue here, not as alarming as in South Asian countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Nepalese media is deeply polarized because of over-politicization, lack of professionalism, parochial perspectives and financial constraints.

Some Nepalese newspapers are cheerleaders of the political parties and politicians to grind their 'selfish' ax. Just as educational sector, sports, health, trade unions, women's movement, human rights organizations etc, Nepalese press was and is still heavily plagued by 'over-politicization'.

In fact, journalism in Nepal is characterized by loyalty to different political stalwarts  and, therefore, the challenges facing the Nepalese press, in this respect, is indeed formidable.

Do the political stalwarts in Nepal have some kind of 'chutzpah' to 'disown' the newspapers to pave the way for de-polarization? The political parties can figure it out and can even make a political breakthrough for de-polarization of media if they all put their cards on the table. But for right now, it will be futile to expect anything from our politicos 'cause they have done nothing for the good of the people, so far.

With the date for election of the Constituent Assembly slated for November 19, the nation is witnessing even more polarization of the press along the political line.Media and social media will be utilized for election purpose by political parties to the full extent.

While some broadsheet Nepalese dailies are doing brisk business, a number of weekly newspapers are facing financial problems. While the need for help to the Nepalese weekly newspaper journalism is palpable, but we must also address the broader professional problems plaguing our journalism: incompetence, irresponsibility, over-sensationalization, lack of credibility etc.

Actually, the branding of the media personnel as the sycophants of the political parties is not a good omen for the development of a truly free press in Nepal. Is party affiliation doing any good to the Nepalese media? Nope. Then why some newspapers are so subservient to the political parties? Why do some journalists publish sycophantic stories and write-ups to curry favor from the political stalwarts and business tycoons? Why are the newspapers not sincere to the people? These newspapers are earning notoriety by becoming the media lapdogs.

Therefore, journalists should be able to rise above their political perspectives, should be able to discard the political parochialism.

However, Nepalese journalists associated with the big daily newspapers think they are more professional, more impartial and more free. They forget one thing (perhaps they know) that all journalists are forced to toe a certain line. Can they use their pen against the respective media tycoons if in case they are found committing some irregularities? Nope.

The umbrella organization of the Nepalese journalists - Federation of Nepalese  Journalists -  which is supposed to play a constructive and epitomizing role in de-polarization of journalism is itself entangled into the political tug-of- war.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Kenyan Journos Come Under Threat From Authorities"

By Dr Rabin Man Shakya

Press freedom is the cornerstone of democracy. It is a hallmark of democracy. Democracy cannot sustain itself without a free press, while press freedom  can be guaranteed only in a democratic dispensation.

Thus press freedom and democracy are symbiosis to each other as one cannot function and flourish in the absence of the other.Speaking of the press freedom, my attention was grabbed  by a news story about Kenya in the New York Times recently.

Kenya is  among a few countries in Africa which can boast of a free media. I have never been to Kenya, but I have come across  a number of Kenyans, both journalists as well as non-journalists. I will write about them in a separate blog story.

Kenya is in the international headlines ever since the last month's Westgate mall attack. But there was a different news story in the New York Times about Kenya on October 25, 2013, though it still was related to the Westgate mall attack.

The New York Times news story under the headline "Kenya assails coverage of an attack on a mall" detailed about how Kenyan journalists came under threat this week from the Kenyan authorities over their coverage of last month's Westgate mall attack, after video suggesting possible looting by Kenyan forces was broadcast on national TV.

NYT news story went on to say: "Kenya's criminal-investigations police unit on Thursday summoned three senior Kenyan media figures involved with a popular investigative TV news program. It ran an hour long special last week, and again this week, raising questions about the government's response to the siege, with footage of Kenyan security agents seemingly looking through mall merchandise while searching for th attackers who stormed the mall and killed more than 60 people."

According to the NYT story, Kenya's inspector general, David Kimaiyo, lashed out more broadly at news coverage of the investigation into the Westgate attack, claiming that the news reports were meant to provoke and incite negative opinions of the country's security forces.

The New York Times story added: " The Committee to Protect Journalists described Wednesday's police statement and Thursday's summoning of the media figures as the kind of 'forced patriotism' that was  'potentially a sign of downward spiral of press freedom' in Kenya."

Oh, well, what can I say, except that, threats and intimidation to journalists, wherever in the world, is outrageous and unacceptable.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Social Media: A Tool To Grind Ax?

By Rabin Man Shakya

I am more than sure social media will explode with comments, reactions and photos about the second election of Nepal for the Constituent Assembly slated for November 19.

Use of social media for politician-people contacts is very high in advanced countries like US, UK, Canada, Germany etc. However, for reasons best known to our politicians, the use of information technology for reaching out to the people is very low in Nepal.

In US, for example, use of Twitters and Facebook by lawmakers for establishing a close rapport with the people is ever on the rise. 60 percent of Oregon's House Republicans and 43 percent of Oregon's House Democrats have Twitter accounts.

Speaking of the forthcoming Nepal vote, on the one hand, activists have begun to use social media to agitate against the dishonest and opportunistic politicians. On the other, the liberal-minded users of the information technology have started to campaign for the effective use of social media for creating election awareness.

Meanwhile, Nepalese political parties and their stalwarts have very well understood the importance of media as well as social media and their effects and impact on voters.

It has been reported that, for the purpose of election publicity and propaganda, a number of Nepalese political parties have officially endorsed the policy of using social media to the maximum extent. However, analysts say the political parties have an ax to grind for using social media for or against the political nemesis or allies.

It has also been reported that different kinds of web sites have been created for election publicity and propaganda. Therefore, there is no doubt about the 'ubiquitous' use as well as misuse of social media for election purpose. However, politicos should not wash their dirty linen in public by using the social media.

However, with social media deeply embedded with the educated-urban people, it is hoped the social media will enable to increase the election awareness, to reduce the election-related violence, election irregularities and gerrymandering.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dashain Party in Portland

By Rabin Man Shakya
Advisor, Nepa Chhen

A potluck reception was organized at Nekusing Memorial Theater, West Coast Hollywood Taekwondo  in Portland, Oregon to celebrate Happy Bijaya Dashami or Mohani Nakha. About 100 people from different walks of life from among the Nepali diaspora attended the reception.

In fact, Nepal is a land of festivals. Festivals are the important factors that enliven the Nepalese culture. They have added to the cultural richness of Nepal. Nepal possesses diverse and rich cultural contents.

Dashain, Mohani Nakha or Bijaya Dashami, whatever we call it, is the most important  cultural event for the Nepalese, more so for the Nepalese living abroad.  This is the solemn occasion for the Nepalese community across the world to have a gathering or reception.

The culture of any country is reflected in the way of living and lifestyle of the people. Actually, culture is the identity of a nation and its people.

In today's age of globalization, the Nepalese have reached virtually each and every country of the world for different purposes. But wherever they go, they strive to preserve and safeguard their culture by celebrating the cultural events in different ways.

Taking a trip down memory lane, I remember celebrating the Dashain as a student in the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. That was in Minsk, the capital of Belorussia. The Dashain reception organized by the Nepalese Students Association in Minsk usually was  followed by a cultural program by a Nepalese students rock group "Ranko".

Speaking of the potluck reception organized in Portland, it was a grand succes as always. There were plenty of food, songs, dances and music. Tika was also offered on the occasion by a senior most and septuagenarian Nepali lady in Portland. As I am, kind of, in a yearly mourning, my family could not accept the Tika, but we enjoyed the Dashain evening. The live performance on the occasion by a Nepali rock group in Portland "Maka" was pretty commendable.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

All the Statuses Are Not Quo

By Rabin Man Shakya, Ph D

In one of my previous blog stories, I had mentioned that I stayed ten years in the former USSR doing my Masters and PhD in Journalism. Although most my years in the former Soviet Union were spent in Minsk, capital of Belorussia, I had the opportunity to travel across the Soviet Union.

As everybody knows the former Communist Super Power consisted of 15 Soviet republics and among them I was able to take trips to eight of 'em: Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Moldavia. But that's not what I am going to write about.

In 1987, I got an opportunity to be in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. I remember I stayed in Makhachkala at one of the hostels of Dagestan State University.

I remember meeting some interesting people on my travel to Makhachkala and visiting some places of interest. I remember meeting the assistant dean of the Philology Faculty of the DSU. Likewise, I remember going to the beach of Caspian Sea and visiting Makhachkala Grand Mosque.

Travelling back to my youthful time, I remember Makhachkala was such a peaceful city during the Soviet period.

Things keep changing. All the statuses are not quo especially after the collapse of the communist empire. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge of river Volga. ( I saw river Volga when I was in the city of Kazan in 1985  and also was in Sochi in 1986.)

Meanwhile, under the headline "A Russian Region neither at War Nor At Peace, But Facing a Crackdown", the New York Times reported  on Oct.10, 2013 from Makhachkala: "The region not exactly at war but never having achieved peace is mired in what resembles a Latin American style dirty war, a conflict that is strung out and low grade, and rife with abuses. Abductions have been a signature, if unacknowledged, element of Russia's anti-insurgency tactics for years."

The New York Times news story detailed the increasing violence, abductions and disappearances of the people. The news story added:"The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are still four months away, but resdents of this city, the capital of Dagestan, say they have been feeling the effects for months. The Russian authorities determined not to have the festivities marred by a terrorist attack, are clamping down on the seething North Caucasus region-- which lies uncomfortably close to the Olympic city--picking up people suspected of being militants and detaining them without charges, HR activists say."

There is no doubt that Dagestan has witnessed a lot of vicissitudes after the fall of the Communist power house.  There was that horrible Dagestan massacre that took place in 1999. On Dec 15, 2011, Gadhimurat Kamalov, an investigative journalist and founder of independent "Chernovik" newspaper shot dead in an apparent assassination. The origin of Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are also from Dagestan.

Oh, well, what can we say? Things have their own way of happening, though precautionary and timely measures can prevent many man-made catastrophies.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

May Some Wisdom Dawn on Our Politicos

By Rabin Man Shakya

So many editorials and op-ed articles have been published in the Nepalese newspapers and so many suggestions have been provided in the social media sites and blogs to our political leaders suggesting: "Hey, pols, enough is enough. Stop blaming each other for the failure to write constitution, to form the national government, for dissolving the Constituent Assembly, for failure to take the peace process to a logical conclusion, for creating chaos and uncertainty."

Do our politicians give a damn about what the newspapers write and about the people speaking out in the social media sites and blogs? The answer obviously will be: Nope.

Now you know and I know, everybody in Nepal knows that the national political trajectory is off the track mainly because of the practice of the pols to play their most favorite game: the blame game.

The journalists and citizen-journalists have pointed out time and again that the important national agendas of peace, constitution and socio-economic transformation have been pushed to the back-burner. But our dear politicians do not give a damn about it.

Now, on the occasion of the Mohani Nakha or Bijaya Dashami, I wish you all good luck, sound health, happiness and prosperity, and let us be optimistic that some kind of wisdom will dawn on our politicos.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why Is Transition Lingering?

By Dr Rabin Man Shakya

Has anybody given any thought as to why the transitional phase is lingering so long in Nepal? How long will it still take to write the constitution of sovereign Nepal? Will the constitution be written at all?

Even the clever political analysts do not have a clear cut answer to these questions. The sophistries of clever politicians are never understood by the ordinary people. All they need is: two meals a day, kids go to schools, control in commodity prices, law and order. But sadly enough, the government and political leaders are not paying much attention to these issues.

The political parties are amusing themselves by playing blame games than doing some soul searching and introspection to figure out where, why and how they have failed. That's because majority of the political leaders are irresponsible, corrupt and dishonest.

Global practice and historical experience have demonstrated that the transition period is, more often than not, marked by fluid and fragile situation, like in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and so on. Therefore, the Nepalese people are ready to wait for a reasonable period for a smooth and timely transition. But transition should not be dragged on unnecessarily.

The discrepancy between the rhetoric and action is the main reason for not finding a way to wisely end the transition period. Politicians and media elites have been treating the Nepalese people like they are knuckleheads. Politicians should know that the Nepalese people are sick and tired of their rhetorical tautology. The voters are going to give a fitting reply to the politicians in the coming elections.

Now that the second election for the Constituent Assembly has been slated to take place on November 19, is there any guarantee that this re-elected CA will deliver the constitution? The simple answer will be: Nope.

Given the corrupt nature and dishonesty of the politicos, their habit of playing the blame game, given the lackluster performances of the parties and politicians' lust for power, it looks like the Nepalese people are destined to be cheated and deceived by the politicos.

Friday, October 4, 2013

"Social Media Driving American Youth to Drive Less"

Rabin Man Shakya

Tech juggernauts Google, Facebook, Twitter etc are fast changing the perspectives and lifestyle of the young people. Social media is creating a new audience for news and views, just as TV did a half century ago and radio did more than 90 years ago. But unlike broadcast and print mediums, social media is proving to be more effective and more pervasive. Actually, social media is becoming more ubiquitous.

Print media, radio and TV are, pretty much, channels in which one voice speaks to many, giving same message to many people. However, with social media, it's many voices disseminated to many people.

Meanwhile, social media is driving American youth to drive less. Well, this is a new piece of information provided by a news story published in the "USA Today" on October 2, 2013. Under the headline: "Driven by social media, millenials do less driving." According to the story, more and more American youth are attracted to biking and public transportation, and a photo of biking young women in the New York suburb was also published along with the story.

The news story begins with the lead: "Young Americans whose embrace of new technologies and social networking tools enable them to adopt new ways of getting around, are  beginning to change the nation's transportation landscape."

The USA Today news story went on further,"They don't drive as much as young people once did: while all Americans are driving less since the recession, the average person ages 16-34 drove 23 percent less in 2009 than in 2001, the sharpest reduction for any age group."

"And some of the nation's youths - those known as Millenials, born between 1982 and 2003 - approach travel differently than their parents do," reported the news story adding:" They are 'multimodal', meaning they choose the best mode of transportation, such as driving, transit, biking or walking, based on the trip they are planning. They consider public transportation the best option for digital socializing and one of the most likely ways to connect with the communities they live in."

The news story in the USA Today was based on the findings of two reports released recently at the American Public Transportation Association's meeting in Chicago.

"Social media driving youth to drive less" is, for sure, a very welcome news for a country like the United States where car-culture is highly developed and where people, no matter, rich or poor can't imagine their lives without a car. Be it a husband or a wife, an adult son or a daughter, virtually everybody  has a car and a driving  license in this country.

Naturally, air pollution caused by the emissions of cars and vehicles is alarmingly high in the US, so are the fatalities caused by the vehicle accidents. Therefore, judging by the USA Today news, if the American youth are really driven by the social media to drive less, it can prove to be a real catalyst for better changes on the youth.

It turns out, not all the news about the social media and its impact on the society were bleak. The social media is making some inroads in the people's lives in a positive and optimistic way.