Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rastriya Samachar Samiti: Still Alive and Kicking

Dr Rabin Man Shakya
Former Assistant Editor, RSS

Despite the incessant onslaught of Internet, social media and digital journalism, the luster and relevance of news agencies have not faded out so far in the world. But, at a time when the number of newspapers, radio stations and TV channels are growing by leaps and bounds in Nepal, there is status quo when it comes to the news agency journalism in Nepal.

Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS) - the national news agency of Nepal is the only wire service that has been gathering news stories and selling them to subscribing Nepalese media organizations, such as, newspapers, radio and television broadcasters. For that matter, Nepal's neighboring countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh can boast of, at least, two or three news agencies each.

So, is the RSS  the first news agency of Nepal ?  Nope. Going by the history of Nepalese journalism, the coup d' etat orchestrated by late King Mahendra against the parliamentary government with the Nepali Congress in power in December 1960 and the restrictions imposed on press freedom put the Nepalese press in an awkward as well as vulnerable situation.

The Rastriya Samachar Samiti Act 1962 gave the Panchayat regime the authority to dissolve the two independent news agencies namely Nepal Sambad Samiti and Sagarmatha Sambad Samiti. It is to be noted that Nepal Sambad Samiti, the first news agency of Nepal was created on Poush 1, 2016 BS with the objective to enrich the Nepalese newspapers with a wide variety of news events happening across Kathmandu Valley and beyond. Sagarmatha Sambad Samiti - the second news agency of Nepal - was established on Baisakh 30, 2017 BS.

These two news agencies of Nepal were short-lived and were replaced by Rastriya Samachar Samiti in 1962. Late King Mahendra's press secretary Renu Lal Singh was appointed the chairman of the RSS, and was made directly responsible to the King.

More often than not, the small-scale newspapers have to rely on the news stories distributed by the news agencies. Even, reputed American newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today which have extensive news gathering resources of their own, also sometimes use the stories disseminated by the news agencies like the AP and the Reuters.

Speaking of my association with the news agency journalism, I was involved with the RSS as an assistant editor at the English Desk for five months in 1992. I still remember Mohan Bir Singh Bajracharya, Jaya Shumsher Rana, Indra Bahadur Shrestha and late Ram Pradhan who were the senior editors at the RSS English Desk at that time. These guys, in fact, were the pillars of English language news agency journalism  in Nepal.

When I was in New Delhi in 1994 for five-months Non-aligned News Agency Journalism training  provided by Indian Institute of Mass Communication, the participants of the training program were taken to a day long 'excursion' to the Press Trust of India (PTI) and United News of India (UNI), the government of India owned news agencies.

And in 1984 still when I was a journalism major, I had an opportunity to visit the headquarters of TASS news agency in Moscow. Similarly, in Minsk, the capital of Belarus we, journalism students of Belorussian State University were taken to Belta - Belorussian Telegraph Agency - in 1982.

Even though RSS is the only news agency of Nepal, it  still definitely can not be compared to the news agencies in the former Soviet Union and India in terms of resources, infrastructure, equipment and professionalism.

*Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Nepa Chhen and IOFTC's Interaction with Maskey

By Rabin Man Shakya
Advisor, Nepa Chhen, Portland, Oregon, USA

 Nepa Chhen (NC) and International Open Friendship Taekwondo Championship (IOFTC) jointly organized an interaction program with former vice president of National Sports Council and  vice president of Nepal Olympic Committee Sita Ram Maskey at Nekusing Memorial Theater, West Coast Hollywood Taekwondo in Portland on Wednesday  December 17, 2014.

Nepalese dignitaries keep coming to the US on personal or official visits. More often than not, they visit prominent US cities like New York, Washington, LA, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago etc. But Sita Ram Maskey was in Portland for a few days and the Nepalese living in Portland had an opportunity to interact with Maskey..

Officials of Nepa Chhen and IOFTC wrapped khata on Maskey and his spouse at the beginning of the program. Nepa Chhen and IOFTC officials also presented calendars, newsletters and IOFTC publications to Maskey.

The interaction focused on the political situation in Nepal, dual citizenship for non-residential Nepalese (NRNs) and ethnic diversity issues, among others.

From interaction with Maskey, the Nepalese Portlanders came to know about his life full of struggle. Before the first Jana Aandolan in 1990, Maskey was a school teacher active in the Nepal National Teachers Association and was arrested in conjunction with the milk protest demonstrations. Maskey was sent to Bhadragoal jail in Kathmandu to serve a nine-month detention order under the Public Security Act.

On the occasion, throwing light on the grievances of many ethnic groups and communities, Maskey said that ethnic groups have come out quite strongly in recent years, which is natural given the uni-cultural society that the Nepalese people have been living in.

On dual citizenship issue, Maskey said that it is very important to the Nepalese living abroad and the Nepal government should figure it out sooner the better. His remarks on the dual citizenship held the most interest among the Nepalese Portlanders given that this burning issue, it looks like, is going to take a backseat.

The interaction program was followed by  Nepali songs program and Nepali style dinner. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nepal's Media Education Making Tremendous Strides

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

Are chaotically changing Nepal and its people still enthralled with the changing media landscape despite  the boom of social media and digital journalism?  Well, judging by the increasing number of newspapers, radio stations and TV channels in Nepal, the answer will, likely, be "yes".

At a time when journalism industry is on the decline in developed countries like the US and Canada, the scope and relevance of the mass media like newspapers, radio and TV journalism are still on the rise in countries like India and Nepal and herein lies the relevance and significance of journalism education.

It goes without saying that journalism education is gaining more quantitative growth than the required qualitative development. There is no doubt that qualitative and skill-oriented journalism education is the quintessence of rapidly growing Nepalese media industry.

Well, there is no doubt that tremendous strides have been made towards the development of journalism education in Nepal. In fact, journalism education started in Nepal with the launching of two-year IA classes in journalism  at the Ratna Rajya Campus 1976. Later, IA classes in journalism were launched at the Peoples Campus as well in 1986. By 2002, the number of colleges offering journalism in higher secondary level in Nepal was 22 while that number reached 245 in 2011.  At present, there are five colleges which provide MA courses in journalism.

Likewise, enrollment of journalism students is also on the rise. In 2003, the number of journalism students in the plus two colleges was 493, while that figure was 5989 in 2011. No doubt, nation's oldest Central Department of Journalism under Tribhuvan University has been playing a Zeus-like role in the trajectory of Nepal's journalism education given its historical legacy.

Legacy is big for an institution like the Central Department of Journalism which has built the reputation of so many journalists in Nepal. But the high profile legacy also underscores some of the pitfalls of the Department. This is the Central Department which boasts of two professors of journalism. This is so far the only Department which is legally entitled and supposed to create Ph. Ds in journalism. But as of now, paradoxically, no teaching staff is still  a Ph. D. in the Department. Both the professors do not even have  Masters Degree in Journalism, much less a a doctoral degree. However,  I do not doubt about journalistic capabilities and credentials of the teaching staff of the Department.

One of the palpable problems of media education in Nepal is the lack of basic equipment and infrastructure. The precondition for qualitative journalism education is a commitment to developing an appropriate teaching and learning atmosphere,  where media educators, students, learning materials and equipment are properly mobilized.

The theoretical journalistic knowledge and lessons provided in the colleges do not still work in tandem to meet the ground realities of practical journalism in the media industry. Similarly, courses of study of journalism have to be amended to suit the changing scenario  by including contents on digital journalism and social media. It is not that the concerned authorities have ignored the problems in this respect, but it looks like they are moving ahead in the snails pace.

More focus should be accorded to practical reporting, practical editing and practical headline writing.Not just chapters, there should be separate and comprehensive course on editing and reporting. Likewise, journalism classes should be divided into Nepali language journalism and English language journalism.

*I value your opinion. Please provide your feedback by posting a comment below.
**Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Gorkhapatra: Grand Old Lady of Nepalese Journalism

Dr Rabin Man Shakya
Former Lecturer of Journalism at Peoples Campus, RR Campus

The Nepali newspaper "Gorkhapatra" is called the Grand Old Lady of Nepalese journalism and rightfully so. The first Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana upon return from his Britain visit had brought with him a hand printing press (Giddhe Chapakhana) in 1851. The Ranas came to power after Jung Bahadur Rana successfully orchestrated a coup d' etat in 1846. The autocratic rule of Rana oligarchy lasted for more than a century (1846-1951).

It is true that no newspapers and magazines were published in Nepal during Jung Bahadur Rana's regime. Nepal's first newspaper "Gorkhapatra" had to wait for liberal Rana prime minister Dev Shumsher Rana  to be published in 1901. But Jung Bahadur Rana had laid the foundation for printing activities, even though it was limited to printing of government notices and orders.

On May 6, 1901 started the publication of the newspaper Gorkhapatra. This newspaper first published within the territory of Nepal was brought out still in the epoch of feudalism in Nepal. The newspaper continuously served the interest of feudal institutes headed by the hereditary Rana premiers  until 1951. The authorization orders of 1901 issued by Rana prime minister Dev Shumsher  clearly point out the fact that the first editor of  the Gorkhapatra was Pandit Nardev Pandey. It is to be noted taht the Gorkhapatra did not print the name of its editor for decades during the Rana regime.The Rana generalissimo handed over the Giddhe Chhapakhana and Litho Press to  Pandit Nardev and authorized him to publish Gorkhapatra under the supervision of Lt Col Dilli Shumsher Thapa .

The newspaper Gorkhapatra was launched at atime when the Nepalese people were not only deprived of civil liberty and of the right to form social and political organizations but all those means of mass communication (books, radio, cinema, libraries) that might make them politically conscious of their legitimate rights were also prohibited  at that time.

Nevertheless, the history of code of conduct (or censorship ?) for journalists goes as far back as the history of the Gorkhapatra itself. An ordinance about "what to print  and what not to" in the Gorkhapatra was issued by the then Rana prime minister.

Initially, the Gorkhapatra was a weekly newspaper. In 1943, it became a bi-weekly, in 1946 a tri-weekly and only in 1962 with the establishment of the Gorkhapatra Corporation, it became a daily newspaper.

Gorkhapatra has an unprecedented historical significance. The newspaper has witnessed a number of vicissitudes and political upheavals in the nation ruled by Ranas, Shahas and different political systems like Parliamentary systems under monarchy, Panchayat system and Parliamentary system under the republican structure.

The Gorkhapatra is a unique newspaper in many respects. Besides being the first newspaper in Nepali language, it also is the only newspaper which publishes news and other materials in different ethnic languages of Nepal.

The Gorkhapatra or the Gorkhapatra Corporation is a journalistic institution which have produced journalists like Bharat Dutta Koirala, Gokul Pokhrel, Lal Deosa Rai, P. Kharel, Dhruba Hari Adhikari and so on who are considered as founding pillars of journalism education in Nepal. Therefore, it will not be an exaggeration to assert that the Gorkhapatra is a newspaper which is the quintessence of modern Nepalese journalism.

Despite its past glorious legacy and heritage as the grand old lady of the Nepalese journalism, today the Gorkhapatra is facing a journalistic reckoning, as it has to confront and compete with more professional and technically more equipped private sector broadsheet dailies. In fact, the private sector newspapers vs official media dichotomy had emerged right after the People's Movement in 1990. Today there is a sense that despite historical legacy and heritage, the Gorkhapatra's journalistic trajectory and destiny are still uncertain.

*I value your opinion.Please provide your feedback by posting a comment below.
**Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nepalese Newspaper Cartoons Champion Cause of Common People

Dr Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

Justly or not, Nepalese newspaper cartoons have become a provocative symbol of Nepalese journalism, riding roughshod over the corrupt politicians, institutions and other social and political ills.The Nepalese newspaper and magazine cartoons do not just make fun of the political heavyweights, they make mockery of various social and political ills.

Nepalese newspaper cartoons do not just fire salvos at some powerful persons or institutions, they also compel us to think ahead about many burning issues. A newspaper cartoon thus provides some entertainment too, enthrall the readers.

Not only during the days of authoritarian Panchayat regime, not only during former king Gyanendra's repressive rule, but even today newspaper cartoons have been occupying an indispensable position in Nepalese journalism by playing a watchdog role. Therefore, the impact of the Nepalese newspaper cartoons on the social and political life of Nepal is immense.

The Nepalese newspaper cartoonists have been championing the cause of the common Nepalese people, be it today or be it during the repressive Panchayat regime. Well, they faced numerous challenges from the authorities but they never compromised on their journalistic viewpoint. Today, Nepal has a free press and editorial cartoonists are not under any kind of pressure. But it was not so during the Panchayat regime, the challenges facing the cartoonists and editors during the Panchayat era were indeed formidable. The editors of the newspapers were frequently harassed and arrested  by the authorities for printing 'objectionable' cartoons.

Nepal was notorious for lack of press freedom during the 30 years of Panchayat misrule. No body was allowed to say anything against the monarchy. In fact, monarchy allowed only the veneer of press freedom to take hold. It was under such circumstances that the famous and historical weekly newspapers Samikshya, Matribhumi and Rastrapukar had to operate. Under tough censorship dilemmas, these  and some other newspapers had published so many cartoons making fun of the Panchayat government and exposing other social and political ills.

It was during the period of the Panchayat system that the Nepalese newspapers used to bring out a special Gai Jatra issue (once every year)  in which they used to address many socio-economic and political maladies, and used to print cartoons and caricatures lampooning the politicians and their modus operandi.

Batsyayana is considered to be the founding pillar of Nepalese newspaper cartooning. In fact, Batsyayan is the quintessence of modern Nepalese newspaper cartooning. History of freedom of the press in Nepal will be incomplete without mentioning the effective and powerful   cartoons of senior cartoonist Batsyayan. Other notable newspaper cartoonists of Nepal are Rajesh KC, Rabin Sayami, Subhas Rai, Basu Chhitiz, Uttam Nepal and Akrir. These guys have made themselves indispensable to the Nepalese newspaper cartooning.

It goes without saying that cartoons, just like the photos, can say what a news story can not say even in thousand words. There is no doubt that the corrupt political stalwarts, palpably, are not happy with the intrepid cartoonists and journalists. Hundreds of Nepalese newspaper cartoons have focused on questionable corrupt practices and vested interest of the powerful politicians who today are playing blame game  on each other for unnecessary delay in writing the constitution.

Newspaper cartoonists should be very sensitive while sketching cartoons related to ethnic and racial matters. There were cases in Nepal as well as in the United States when some cartoons were mired in controversies.  Newspapers had to issue a public mea culpa for inappropriate and wrongful depiction.

For example, on Nov 24, 2014 The New York Times published a news story headlined "Newspaper Apologizes for Cartoon on Immigrants" which  says: "The Indianapolis Star removed a cartoon from its website over the weekend after readers complained that the drawing was racist for depicting an immigrant family climbing through a window to crash a white family's Thanksgiving dinner."

The newspaper should not have published the cartoon, the paper's executive editor, Jeff Taylor was quoted as saying in the statement on Saturday. The cartoon, by the artist Gary Varvel, featured a white family unhappy telling his family "Thanks to the president's immigration order, we'll be having extra guests this Thanksgiving."

*I value your opinion. Please provide your feedback by posting a comment below.
**Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Challenges of Reporting

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

A number of  news stories in the last few months about the barbaric beheading of Western journalists by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq Islamofascists have raised questions about the vulnerabilities of the reporters, correspondents and press photographers working in the conflict and war zones. In fact, incidents of killings and violence against reporters and journalists have been repeatedly reported in recent times across the world, making the profession of journalism the most dangerous and vulnerable in the world.

Even during the Cold War period in the world, the lives of the reporters and correspondents were lot safer than today. For that matter, during the period of notorious Panchayat regime in Nepal, many journalists were harassed, threatened  and jailed, but no  journalist was ever killed during the Panchayat regime (except there was an assassination attempt on Padam Thakurathi).

During the Panchayat regime, Nepal was an absolute monarchy and did not tolerate any challenge to its rule. No body dared to utter any words against the royalty and its extended family. Publicly  calling for a multiparty system could result in long prison sentences.

Nevertheless, reporting for mass media like newspapers, radio, TV channels and news agencies has been  a challenging assignment for journalists across the world. Today more than ever, when violence, conflict, civil war and war have gripped so many nations, the reporters and correspondents working in the conflict and war zones are expected to take up the gauntlet to the extent of sacrificing their lives.

The number of reporters and journalists being killed in conflict-ridden and war zones in the world are on the rise today more than ever. So many journalists were killed in Nepal during the Maoist insurgency. Even after Nepal was declared a republic, so many journalists have been assassinated.

No doubt, regular reporting about different incidents and accidents, obviously,  is out of danger, but conflict and war reporting, crime, corruption and investigative reporting have always been the dangerous beats of journalism.

Today, ISIS has been posing as terrible menace for the international journalists. Gruesome and merciless beheading of Western journalists by the ISIS Islamofascists was outrageous and deplorable. These barbaric killings of the international journalists have underscored the vulnerabilities of the international journalists working in the conflict and war zones.

Many journalists and reporters suffer attacks and sometimes face fatal assaults because of what they write. Hundreds of the journalists have been killed in the conflict-war zones. Many of them have been abducted and subsequently killed in a barbaric fashion. In the last ten years, nearly 600 reporters and journalists have been killed in both conflict and non-conflict situations.

Despite the tremendous strides in digital technology, communication and protective equipment, reporting from conflict-ridden and  war zones  has become more perilous and vulnerable to the insane militants and Muslim fundamentalists.

Today, the challenges facing the international journalists  in the conflict and war zones are formidable. Therefore, the bottom line for the reporters working in the conflict and war zones: take stock of the situation and test the waters before embarking on the journalistic assignment.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Yuko Okamoto Steals the Show at Nepa Chhen's Second Anniversary

Rabin Man Shakya
Advisor, Nepa Chhen, Portland, Oregon, USA

Anniversary is a day which commemorates or celebrates the day of establishment or foundation of an organization. Anniversary is always a big milestone in the life span of an organization like Nepa Chhen which was born on November 15, 2012, with the objective of creating a permanent forum for community gatherings, focusing on preserving Nepalese arts and culture.

Anniversary is not only an occasion to rejoice at the accomplishments  and achievements of an organization, it is also a solemn occasion to do some soul-searching of its weaknesses, if any, and to come up with concrete strategies taking the community interest as their top agenda.

For now, Nepa Chhen which is just two years old can be compared to a baby who keeps crawling before it can walk. Walk it can and run it can as well when it will be able to construct its own community building.

Well, speaking of the Nepa Chhen anniversary reception organized on Saturday  at Nekusing Memorial Theater, West Coast Hollywood Taekwondo in Portland, it was a grand success as always.There were plenty of wining and dining, songs, dances and music, live performance of Nepali rock music group 'Manda'. Not only that, the Nepa Chhen anniversary program was followed by poetry recitation by different individuals, and was warmly applauded by the guests.

But it was Yuko Okamoto - a Japanese female dancer and teacher of Nepalese dances in Japan - who stole the whole show by presenting dazzling and mind-boggling Jhyaure and Dhime traditional dances of Nepal.

Yuko Okamoto was the chief guest at the anniversary program. Speaking on the occasion,Yuko stressed the need for preservation of folk dances of different ethnicities of Nepal.

Nepa Chhen's annual news letter was also released and new Nepa Chhen calendars were also distributed to the guests on the occasion. Likewise, certificates by Nepa Chhen  were given away on the occasion to Nepalese kids (1) for successful performance of Nepalese dances in Portland school dance competition  and (2) for bagging medals at the tenth international Open Friendship Taekwondo championship held in London in July, 2014.

Similarly, there were two different slide shows at the program: the first slide show was a presentation of past Nepa Chhen activities while the second one highlighted the tentative architectural designs of future Nepa Chhen building in Portland.

The lucky winners of Nepa Chhen fund raising Raffle tickets were also announced during the program. About 150 people from different walks of life from among the Nepali diaspora attended the anniversary reception.

There is no doubt that the increasing activities of Nepa Chhen, palpably, demonstrate the role of Nepalese diaspora in Portland in enhancing and enriching Nepalese arts, culture and traditions in Oregon, USA.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Free Press and Democracy

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

Former Prime Minister of India late Jawahar Lal Nehru had once said:"I have no doubt that even if the government dislikes the liberties taken by the press and considers them dangerous, it is wrong to interfere  with the freedom of the press. I would rather  have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated press."

Sure enough, freedom of press and freedom of expression must be respected in the print as well as electronic media and in the digital world where news and views are increasingly produced and consumed.

Well, there is no doubt that free press is a hallmark of democracy. Democracy and pluralism can not sustain themselves without a free and responsible press. while freedom of press and freedom of expression can be guaranteed only in a functioning democracy. Thus, we see, there is some kind of symbiotic interrelationship between free press and democracy.

Today Nepal is a republic, thanks to the biggest popular upheaval in the modern history of Nepal. The people's uprising in 2006 had stunning and far-reaching implications for the Nepalese living in Nepal and across the world.

It was obvious all the time that the monarchy often stood as the stumbling block in the press freedom history in Nepal. The monarchy allowed only the veneer of press freedom to take hold. Until recently, during King Gyanendra's regime, because so many publications existed, competition was intense, and  those that let loose with the most harrowing rhetoric - against the politicians and and sometimes even  the royalty - sold the most newspapers.

Despite the fact that there is an unseen tug of war going on between the government-controlled newspapers, TV channel and radio stations and the privately owned newspapers, radio and TV channels, Nepal's press has enjoyed  considerable freedom in principle.

But today it is hard to find much common ground among Nepal's squabbling, competing newspapers. Not only do they naturally mistrust one another, but they also tend to divide along with party lines.Despite political and journalistic freedom, journalists lack the acumen and guts required to expose cases of misuse of power and corruption by top-level politicians and top tycoons. There were cases when mainstream media of Nepal were intentionally silent about the dubious activities of politicians and tycoons, and the citizen journalists and bloggers had to step in. This shows how the profligate lifestyles of Nepalese political stalwarts can weigh heavily in backstage power tussles, especially as political skulduggery plays out under the intensifying glare of media.

Nevertheless, speaking about the Nepalese press, things are not as bad as some people think. The Nepalese press is not as qualitative and incredible as where we want it to be either. It goes without saying that journalism should be in a position to bring about changes in a way the people think and rally them towards a just cause.

Even after so many years of democratic exercise, free press culture and feeling of responsibility have not taken root in the country's journalism, unfortunately. So far, the government, the parties, the politicians and tycoons have drawn fire from the people who - judging by the posts in social media - think the role of the press in fighting the corrupt politicians and tycoons has somehow been eclipsed by social media and digital press.

Right now, under a veneer of public apathy, anger and disillusionment of the public is rapidly growing while the country's economy is crumbling.  Therefore, an honest political direction is the need of the hour not to allow the political situation to go stray and set a clear roadmap for smooth political transformation. Now it is obvious that as long as the politicians do not follow the norms and values of democracy and good governance, they will never be able to establish the true free press and democracy in the country.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Belarusian State University: My Alma Mater

Dr. Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal
Former Lecturer of Journalism, Peoples Campus, RR Campus, TU.

I have had good innings in print journalism and journalism education in Kathmandu before I moved to the United States in 2002. I worked for five months as the assistant editor at the English Desk at the National News Agency of Nepal -- Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS), as sub-editor and then associate editor of The Rising Nepal for about 11 years and as a lecturer of journalism at the Peoples Campus for over 10 years and the credit goes to Belorussian  State University and its school of journalism (Faculty of Journalism).

Well, Belorussian State University (BSU and its school of journalism) is my Alma Mater. After completing my Preparatory Faculty (intensive learning of Russian language for a year) in Odessa, Ukraine for six months and in Donetsk, Ukraine for another six months, I was admitted to the Faculty of Journalism at the BSU in Minsk, Belarus in 1980 and in 1985 I successfully completed and passed the Masters Degree in Journalism. I was admitted to Ph D program in journalism at the BSU Journalism Faculty in 1986 and I successfully defended the Ph D at the School of Journalism at the Moscow State University in 1989 paving the way for me to become the first Ph D in Journalism in Nepal. But who is the first Masters Degree holder in Journalism in Nepal? As far as I know, senior politician as well as journalist Nilambar Acharya was the first Nepali person to earn the Masters Degree in Journalism from the Peoples Friendship University in Moscow back in early 1970s.

In a way, the Nepalese journalism education will be indebted to Belarusian State University for producing first Ph Ds in journalism in Nepal and half a dozen M. As in journalism in 1980s when there was not a single college that could provide Masters Degree in journalism in Nepal.

Anyway, I consider myself a proud alumnus of Belorussian State University. I remember Belorussian State University, back then, in 1980s was truly an international university with hundreds of foreign students coming from across the world. It is to be noted that more than 4,000 foreign students from over 102 nations of the world had studied at the BSU when Belarus was a part of the former Soviet Union until 1992.

Belorussian State University which today is a top rated higher educational establishment in the Republic of Belarus was established on Oct 30, 1921, and the Faculty of Journalism was created in 1967. There were at least five professors cum doctors at the Faculty of Journalism of BSU at that time followed by scores of associate professors with Ph D degrees. Taking a trip down memory lane, I remember  there were foreign students from about 40 countries at the entire Journalism Faculty at that time. I still remember the excellent teaching approaches of late prof Bulachky, prof Ivan Ivanovich Sachenko, Associate Professors Valery Shein, Nina Tikhonova and Angelina Rudenko and so on.

My class boasted of students coming from 22 different countries. I could imagine the difficulties and challenges faced by the professors lecturing in Russian to the diverse audience speaking more than 25 languages and coming from totally different cultures of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The precondition for quality education, I think, is a commitment to developing an appropriate teaching and learning environment, where teachers, students, learning materials and aids are properly mobilized, and BSU's Journalism School had it all. Even in 1970-1980s I remember, BSU's Journalism Faculty had its own Photography Department with Dark Room facilities, TV Broadcasting Section and Radio Broadcasting Section. Each student was required to possess a camera.

However, journalism education started in Nepal with the launching of two-year IA classes in journalism at the Ratna Rajya Campus in 1976. Later, IA classes in Journalism were launched at the Peoples Campus as well in 1986. These two colleges were, pretty much, the educational establishments which provided journalism education until 2000s. Prior to my moving to the United States in 2002, I was involved as a lecturer of journalism at both the Peoples and RR Campus.

Tremendous strides have been made towards the development of media education in Nepal. Today. more than 250 colleges of Nepal have been running journalism classes and, at least, five of them run Masters Course in Journalism.  It goes without saying that journalism education is gaining more quantitative growth than the required qualitative development. There is no doubt that qualitative and skilled journalism education is the quintessence of rapidly growing Nepalese media industry.

Speaking of BSU, three Nepalese persons had obtained Ph D degrees in journalism having enrolled at the BSU's Faculty of Journalism:(1) Rabin Man Shakya (2) Gita Maiya Shrestha and (3) late Achyut Babu Koirala. BSU alumnus Prabal Raj Pokhrel is associate professor at the Central Department of Journalism, TU and another BSU journalism alumnus Ramji Neupane is also working in media field.

*I value opinion. Please provide your feedback by posting a comment below.
**Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mha Puja and Nepal Sambat Celebrated in Portland

 Dr Rabin Man Shakya
President, Newah American Buddhist Association

This year's Mha Puja and Nepal Sambat New Year 1135 celebration in Portland, USA was unique and unprecedented in many ways. It was a collective and group 'Mha Puja' celebration with participation of about 100 people representing Newars as well as non-Newars living in the RIP city.

Over a hundred Mha Puja Mandalas were drawn on the floor for each participant. Cheerful Nepalese Portlanders were seen sitting cross-legged in front of their respective Mandalas. Most of the cultural and ritual procedures were followed while performing the collective Mha Puja ceremony -- which took place at Nekusing Memorial Theater, US World Class Taekwondo Hollywood Portland, USA and which was organized on Oct 24, 2014 by Nepa Chhen, an organization committed to enrich and enhance Nepalese arts, culture and traditions in the US.

The Mandala was worshipped by each participant by offering sacred thread 'jajanka' and flowers, by sprinkling and stamping colored paste 'sinnha' on the Mandala. All the Mha Puja participants were given a dab of colored paste 'sinnha' on their foreheads, provided sacred thread 'kwokha' and a bag of 'masala pwo' and fruits. Then, the Nepalese Portlanders were presented boiled egg, fish and wine which was poured down from a Newar-style 'anti' into a little 'khola' and got refill three times in a row. After that, a traditional feast 'bhoe' was served.

Mha Puja Mandalas 

Diwakar Maharjan Speaking on the Occasion
The Nepalese gentlemen were seen wearing 'sakkali dhaka ya tapuli' while the Nepalese ladies were dressed in Haku Patasi and other sarees. The Nepalese Portlanders  were seen wishing each other: Happy Mha Puja and Nhu Dan Ya Bhintuna. On the occasion, fund raising was also launched for Nepa Chhen by playing 'deusi'. The Mha Puja program was followed by a lot of photo sessions.

Eating the Sagun (Egg, Fish, Wine)
During the Puja
There is no doubt that Mha Puja is a quintessential part of rich Newari culture. It is an interesting coincidence that Mha Puja, a part of a Swanti Nakha, is performed to purify mind, and this cultural ritual is annually held on the day of new year celebration of Nepal Sambat.

It is to be noted that Nepal Sambat -- a national lunar calendar of Nepal -- kicked off in 879 AD during the rule of King Raghav Dev to commemorate the reimbursement of all the debts of the Nepalese people by a Newar trader  Shankhadhar Sakhwa who was declared a national hero of Nepal on Nov 18, 1999 by the then His Majesty's Government of Nepal.

Just less than three decades ago, Mha Puja and Nepal Sambat celebrations were usually confined to the Newar community living in the Kathmandu valley, outside of it, and in some parts of India where Newars had migrated to. Today Mha Puja and Nepal Sambat is observed across the world, thanks to the global migration. The collective celebration of Mha Puja last Friday in Portland is a testimony to the fact that the people leave no stone unturned to celebrate their respective festivals and rituals, no matter, where they are.

Above all, international bodies of the Newah people like - World Newah Organization - and prominent associations of the Newahs in America - Newa American Dabu, Chicago, Nepa Pasa Pucha Amerikaye (NPPA) and Newah Organization of America (NOA) etc have been playing a very tremendous role in disseminating the significance of various festivals of the Newah people.

Cutting the Celebratory Cake

All Together Say "Cheese"
** Dr Shakya , a Portland based writer, is former assistant editor at the RSS, former associate editor at The Rising Nepal and former lecturer of journalism at the Peoples Campus. He is also advisor of Nepa Chhen, a Portland based non-profit and Education Director of NRN-NCC-USA Oregon Chapter.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Headlines Must Be Attractive

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

"Headless Body in Topless Bar"  "Tons of Soil Over Sons of Toil"  These are the kind of headlines that instantly grab the attention of readers. Apparently, headlines must be able to attract the readers to go through the news stories, A headline is the title or head of a newspaper story usually printed in large type. A headline must give a gist of the news story that ensues.

"Bush dodges shoes in Iraq"  "Russia to create force to stake claim in Arctic"  "Iranian ruler's big fear?  The BBC"  These are just the samples of headlines of both the hard and soft news stories which tell the details of the stories in a few words.

Giving an attractive and good headline to a news story is a skill, a creativity and an art. Sometimes even a dull news story filed by a newspaper reporter can be transformed into lively news story with the help of a stylish and attractive headline and  with some brilliant editing.

I had worked in a newspaper newsroom for a period of a decade and, of course, am familiar with the constraints of time and space factors while giving headlines to the news stories. A newsroom journalist not only gives headlines to the stories, he has a lot of other journalistic-editing responsibilities as well. Meeting the deadline factor before the contents go to the press has always been a formidable challenge for the newsroom journalists.

Since the headlines must be short as far as possible, the sub-editors use short words in headlines for long ones making pols for politicians, probe for investigation, and prez for president. Likewise, abbreviations and acronyms are commonly used in the headlines, such as, PM for prime minister, PC for Press Council and FNJ for Federation of Nepalese Journalists.

There was a soft news news about marijuana in one of the American newspapers and it was headlined "Some weeds can do good deeds." Headlines like "Tide turns against use of plastic bags" and "Unruly teens get a hand, not a slap" are examples of assertive headlines. I remember when former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, an American newspaper ran the headline: An epic life shadowed by blood and controversy.

There is no doubt that the quality of a newspaper may be evaluated by the pattern of its headlines. It goes without saying that the headlines of the tabloid newspapers are quite different from that of the broadsheet newspapers. The tabloids are more commercial, more celebrity-oriented and hence they go for more sensational headlines.

For example, when a teacher, coach, priest or a celebrity is accused of sodomizing a teen, it dominates tabloid headlines and social media. It is just that people are overly obsessed and overly fascinated by these kind of negative headlines and news stories.

Speaking of brief history of headlines in Nepalese journalism, during the period of Panchayat system, the headlines and news stories of the Gorkhapatra, The Rising Nepal and other pro-Panchayat newspapers were filled with words "anti-national elements" a term that they used to refer to Nepali Congress and the leftist forces. Until recently, during the period of Maoist insurgency, the Maoists were unfairly labelled as "terrorists" in the headlines of the official media.

And again, speaking of the impact of headlines, today more than ever,  the political stalwarts and business tycoons are "hungry"  for the positive headlines about them because good headlines and good  portrayal in the media enhance the political and business personality of these good-for-nothing politicians and tycoons. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nepa Chhen Celebrates Dashain

Rabin Man Shakya
Advisor, Nepa Chhen, Portland, Oregon, USA

News reports of Dashain being celebrated by  Nepalese communities across the world have been emerging in the digital and social media. Dashain or Bijaya Dashami or Mohani Nakha is the most important cultural event for the Nepalese people and more so for the Nepalese living abroad. In fact, Dashain is a solemn occasion for the Nepalese community across the world to have a gathering or reception.

It is to be noted that Nepalese Hindus celebrate Bijaya Dashami as the day of victory of Goddess Durga Bhavani over the powerful but evil demon Mahishashur, whereas Nepalese Buddhists observe Mohani Nakha to commemorate Emperor Ashoka's adoption of non-violence and Buddhism.

Dashain, a festival of victory of the truth over the evils, was celebrated in Portland too by various organizations, such as, Nepalese Association of Oregon (NAO) on Saturday and Nepa Chhen (NC) on Friday.

A potluck reception was organized on Friday by Nepa Chhen at Nekusing Memorial Theater, West Coast Hollywood Taekwondo in Portland, Oregon to celebrate Bijaya Dashami . About 80 people from different ethnic communities and different walks of life from among the Nepali diaspora attended the reception. Some American guests  were also present on the occasion.

On the occasion, Dashain Tika along with Jamara was offered to the guests by septuagenarian Nepalese community members. There were plenty of delicious Nepalese food, songs, dances and music. The center of attraction, however, was the Nepalese music band in Portland "Manda".

It is to be noted that Nepa Chhen, a cultural center for Nepalese community in Oregon, was established in November, 2012 in Portland with the objectives of enhancing and enriching artistic and cultural activities related to Nepal. Until recently, Nepa Chhen was, pretty much, an obscure organization, but thanks to different activities, Nepa Chhen is slowly gathering momentum. Nevertheless, Nepa Chhen has to go a long way before becoming a household name among the Nepalese community members in Oregon.

Efforts and activities to celebrate cultural festivals, to enhance culture and traditions of our multi-ethnic nation is always commendable and praise-worthy, and this kind of activism needs a core strategy, needs to be well-focused, needs more broad-based participation.

Receiving Tika & Blessings

Performance of Nepali Songs

Group Photo
Members & Advisers of Nepa Chhen

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Nepalese Journalism's Misfortune

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

Thomas Jefferson, the former US president and great American statesman said still in 1787: " The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be  to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

First Amendment to the US Constitution says: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting free exercise thereof or abridging freedom of speech or of the press or rights of the people to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

The importance of press freedom and the role of journalism have been bolstered by multitude of national and international documents. In fact, journalism is a cornerstone of democracy and good governance. The Press is one of the strongest weapons in fighting the war against injustice, impunity and corruption rampant in so many countries. History of nations across the world is testimony to the fact that  journalism has forced so many crooked politicians and bureaucrats  out of office. Remember, President Richard Nixon had to step down in 1973 because of Watergate scandal which was exposed by the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

There is no doubt, even today the corrupt politicians and tycoons are not happy with modus operandi of the honest and true journalists as well as citizen journalists from the social media.Even today corrupt politicians and tycoons tend to deal with the journalists with carrots and sticks approach.Certainly, the honest and true journalists always foil their hanky-panky schemes whereas the dishonest ones do not. It is to be noted that thousands of journalists have sacrificed their lives for the cause of truth, peace, human rights, freedom movement etc.

A number of powerful Nepalese politicians, ministers, bureaucrats and high ranking police officers have served the prison terms, but as we see that frequent jail terms for the notorious politicians have proved no deterrent for the incumbent political actors to engage in dubious and suspicious activities. Unfortunately, corruption and bribery are still thriving in Nepal. And again unfortunately there were cases in Nepal when the mainstream news outlets were hamstrung by the influence of the politicians and tycoons, the social media had to step in.

It goes without saying that journalists should always exercise sound judgement and should not bring discredit and dishonor to the calling referred to as the Fourth Estate by disseminating untrue and unreliable news stories and by becoming sycophants  of the politicians and tycoons. That is why if  journalists are expected to hold others accountable for their misdeeds, we the journalists should be held accountable as well when we happen to disseminate misleading, untrue and biased stories.

However, the misfortune of the Nepalese journalism is --  Not only during the period of monarchy but even after the nation was declared a republic, many journalists are acting like 'spokesperson' of the powerful political actors and business tycoons and many newspapers working as the mouthpieces for political stalwarts and political parties. Today more than ever, the Nepalese journalism is deeply and highly politicized and polarized. Many journalists are engaged in intense political horse-trading and financial skulduggery.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Russia's Restriction of Foreign-owned Media: A Political Maneuvering or Tit for Tat for Sanctions?

Rabin Man Shakya

When the Press which is referred to as the Fourth Estate is more and more polarized, it may be used as a vehicle for political maneuvering and that is what exactly is happening in Russia when Russia decided to clamp down on Western involvement in its media with new legislation limiting foreign ownership of media to 20 percent. The new legislation prohibits the news organizations being funded or run by foreign groups or individuals including Russians with dual nationality.

According to latest news stories, top business daily newspaper Vedomosti, the Russian edition of Forbes and dozens of other news, society and fashion magazines would fall under the purview of the bill, which would force the publications to change ownership or close by 2017. It is to be noted that Vedomosti founded in 1999 is a joint venture of The Financial Times, Dow Jones and Sanoma, a Finnish media group.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, the bill's cross-party authors said in an accompanying note that its aim was to prevent foreigners from "having an influence on the taking of strategic decisions."

"The Cold War, namely the information war, which is being unleashed against the Russian Federation, requires us to apply its rules," said Vadim Dengin, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill. (The New York Times. Russia Moves to Extend Control of Media. Sept 24, 2014).

An influential Russian journalist even went on to the extent of asserting "the hastily drawn up law as a form of revenge for Western sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

The latest Russian move to limit foreign ownership of media outlets is an attempt to fish in troubled waters at a time when Russia is still in a painful transition.In terms of press freedom, Russia is still going through a painful period of prolonged transition after the downfall of the former USSR in 1992. It is to be noted that 29 journalists were killed in Russia from 1995 to 2005, thereby making Russia one of the most dangerous and vulnerable country for journalists in the last decade.

Although the press in Russia has enjoyed freedom in principle, the job of the Russian journalists is still hazardous because Russian journalists still continue to be assaulted, intimidated and even killed for writing and reporting truths and facts. In press freedom sector, because of harassment and legal entangling of journalists, Russia has slipped from a ranking of "partly free" to "not free" (ranking by Freedom House). And it is to be noted that the largest media outlets in Russia are owned by the state or controlled by business tycoons close to President Putin.

There is no doubt that Russia should take several measures to improve the press freedom scenario. True, improving press freedom especially in a volatile country like Russia (because of troubles in Chechnya-Daghestan) is a daunting task and  cannot be carried out overnight.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Newspaper Reading Habit

Rabin  Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

Newspaper which is one of the most important miracles of modern technology has done many, many wonderful and commendable things in the history of nations across the world. A newspaper not only publishes news and views of home and abroad, it also provides information about science, culture, arts, business, sports, entertainment  and so on.
 A newspaper in fact is the store house of information and knowledge.  A newspaper is a good source of information for chronicles and history. A good newspaper is a trail-blazer to the society and nation as a whole.Therefore. newspaper reading habit is a passion which provides people with lots of information and knowledge.

I remember I started reading newspapers when I was 15 years old. Taking a trip down memory lane, I remember reading the Nepalese newspapers in Nepali as well as in English: The Gorkhapatra. The Rising Nepal, Samikshya, Matribhumi, Rastra Pukar, The Commoner and Naya Sandesh etc. Obviously, I read all those newspapers in the libraries.  After passing my SLC in 1973, I became a member of Biplavi Pustakalaya in my local neighborhood and also became a member  of the libraries run by the American Center, British Council, Nepal-Soviet Cultural Association and Nepal-China Friendship Association in Kathmandu.

Meanwhile, the frequent news reports about the closures of  newspapers, about the decline of circulation of the newspapers, cutback in the frequency and home-delivery and lay-off of journalists are most alarming for the US newspaper industry. Today, more than ever, less and less American young people are not reading newspapers. As a result, if you ask the young Americans " what are the names of Secretaries of State and Defense of the US?" some will pronounce the name of the Secretary of State, but majority will struggle to say the name of the Secretary of Defense. This happens when young people are not paying adequate attention to newspaper reading habit.

Newspaper reading habit is of utmost importance for the young people because it not only opens the doors for getting to know what is going on in and around the nation and the world, it also helps to build vocabulary skills, general knowledge and background information.

Therefore, given the near-total literacy rate and better economic, educational and cultural opportunities, the decline of newspaper circulation and newspaper reading habit is a matter of grave concern for the United States.

Well, well-informed citizens are the assets of a nation and we can not imagine of well-informed citizens who do not read newspapers and magazines. Political development and democratic process of a country is definitely influenced by the well-informed citizens.

Now, I am going to disclose you  some more of  my personal details about my newspaper reading habit. I had the opportunity to read newspapers of different hues in the past: from communist to libertarian newspapers. Likewise, I have read newspapers in five different languages: English, Russian, Hindi, Nepali and Nepal Bhasa. And my favourite  newspaper is: The New York Times.

By the way, when I used to read the Soviet newspaper "Pravda" during my long stay in Minsk in the eighties, its circulation exceeded 10 million copies daily and it was published from 40 different Soviet cities simultaneously.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Changing Scenario of Global Information Order

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

From 1979 to 1989, I was in the former Soviet Union doing my Masters in Journalism and then Ph. D. at the journalism schools of Belorussian State University (BSU), Minsk and Moscow State University (MSU). The Cold War between the USA and the ex-USSR was at its height. I remember at journalism school at the BSU, we incessantly debated topics like the Cold War, Neo-colonialism,  New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), Media Imperialism, Non-aligned News Pool etc. We used to discuss the issues about imbalance in global information order and viewed that the Western media should not be given an unfair advantage vis-a-vis the media systems of countries of the Third World.

But after the collapse of the USSR, the world became increasingly uni-polar, process of globalization and global migration set the pace after the millennium, and Internet, technology and social media etc have rendered the concepts like New World Information and Communication Order, Media Imperialism and Non-aligned News Pool etc far less relevant today.

New World Information and Communication Order was a UNESCO sponsored drive to counter media imperialism by envisioning an information and communication order which gives a more balanced and credible view of the countries of the Third World than has been generally presented by Western media coverage.

The purpose of UNESCO with its NWICO plan was viewed as a means of creating two-way information flow by launching organizations like Non-aligned News Pool. The US was always against the NWICO idea and took it as barriers to the free flow of information and to the interests of global media outlets. As a result, the US withdrew its membership from UNESCO in 1984 followed by the UK and Singapore.

During the Cold War period, the media was one of the strongest weapons of both the super powers - the US and the ex-USSR in disseminating ideas and information attempting to consolidate their influence across the world.. Both the global super powers understood the role of media. It was like the countries of the Third World were caught in the crossfire in the media and propaganda war between the US and the ex-USSR, hence giving birth to the idea of NWICO.

During the Cold War period, mass media like newspapers, news agencies, radio and TV channels were used to enhance the influence of the super powers across the world. AP, UPI, AFP, Reuters and TASS were five major news agencies which dominated the world of news dissemination. Satellite TV broadcasting was considered like a 'personal checking account' of few developed countries like the US, the ex-USSR, the UK etc. It looked like the Western media sometimes rode roughshod over the feelings and emotions of the people of the developing countries.

When I joined The Rising Nepal in 1992, it still was the only broad-sheet English daily newspaper of Nepal. Since developing countries like Nepal could not afford hiring correspondents abroad, the media outlets of Nepal had to fully rely on AFP and AP for the international news. Coverage of news from the developing countries always had the Western slant. AP, AFP and Reuters news agencies dominated over 80 per cent of international news flow in the world in those years.

But today tremendous strides have been made towards the two-way flow of information, thanks to the technological innovations. Al Jazeera is a testimony to the changing global media scenario.. Al Jazeera is the most watched and popular news channel in the entire Middle East and Arab World. And as if the Middle East media dominance is not enough, Al Jazeera America has been effectively and successfully launched in the US.

Today, Nepalese living in the US can watch the Kantipur TV with the cable network hooking, not to talk about watching major Nepalese TV channels in the Internet. Likewise, today, the prominent broadsheet daily newspapers of Nepal boast of their correspondents in New York, London and New Delhi etc thereby not wholly relying on the news disseminated by AP, AFP and Reuters. Similarly, major radio stations of Nepal can be heard abroad with the help of Internet. Digital journalism has helped the people across the world to read the newspapers from their respective countries instantly.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

And Then Journalists Become Victims of Terrorism

Rabin Man Shakya

Global Islamic terrorism is like the dangerous, violent and ugly monster which has taken roots not only in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria and other Muslim countries but has posed a big threat even in countries like Russia (Chechnya-Daghestan), India (Kashmir) and China (Uighur). When the war on terrorism is at stake, the international correspondents and aid workers are in the firing line. And then the journalists become  the victims and easy targets of the notorious terrorists.

Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal was beheaded by the Islamofascists in 2002 in Pakistan. Now journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff have been mercilessly beheaded by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The release recently of the video showing the beheading of journalists Foley and Sotloff who had been working as international correspondents in the Middle East brought to the fore the serious threats posed by terrorism. The merciless beheading of Steven Sotloff was carried out despite televised pleas from his mother Shirley Sotloff to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to give amnesty to her son who was captured  by the Islamofascists in northern Syria a year ago.

Now the ISIS has been continuously grabbing the international headlines for one or the other terrorist activities. For that matter, even few years ago, ISIS was only a tiny visible tip of the iceberg of Islamofascists. But today, even al-Qaeda has been eclipsed by the ISIS which, in fact, was an al-Qaeda breakaway group. Today, the bunch of the Islamofascists, the ISIS, has become a formidable and powerful terrorist organization.

There is no doubt that the threats of the Islamofascists should not be taken merely as hoax. They are capable of doing any kind of merciless, mean, monstrous and ugly acts. The purpose of terrorism is to create terror and panic among the people. The terrorists can not do this without the help of the media and social media. Terrorists and terrorist organizations are widely known to have extensively used social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube etc to disseminate their ideas, messages and consolidate their power base. YouTube and Twitter can not and should not be the effective tools of terrorist propaganda.

The act of terrorism is against civilization, peace and humanity, and as such, violence and terrorism must be nipped in the bud. For this, the historical experience has already demonstrated that Washington, London and Paris alone are not able to effectively fight against the terrorist forces. Washington must join hands with Moscow and Beijing to do away with the Islamic terrorists.

Also, the acts of terrorism and their continuing coverage in the world media have raised the specter that the international media is directly or indirectly helping the notorious terrorists just by covering stories  about their sinister and heinous activities.

For right now, ISIS activities are confined to Iraq and Syria and this has made Syria and Iraq the most notorious and dangerous countries for journalists. Last year, 70 journalists were assassinated for doing their jobs, according to Committee to Protect Journalists. Over the last few years, some 70 journalists have lost their lives while covering Syrian war, and about 20 are still missing raising the question how many journalists still will have to face the ISIS's monstrous and merciless  act?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hong Kong's Press Freedom in Jeopardy

Rabin Man Shakya

It was in 2004 when I was going to Nepal from the US back and forth, I was flying aboard Cathay Pacific Boeing via Hong Kong that I had a chance  to read English language newspapers published from Hong Kong like the South China Morning Post. I was pretty much impressed by news, views, features and editorial contents of the Hong Kong newspapers and I must say that South China Morning Post was an example of a quality newspaper, even when Hong Kong was already a part of Peoples' Republic of China.

But, today perennial tug of war is going on between the independent journalism and pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong. And the independent Hong Kong news outlets are already feeling strong pressure from Beijing to toe its line. As a result, the Hong Kong newspapers have been hamstrung by the increasing as well as overt and covert interference by Beijing.

According to news stories published recently, officers from the anti-corruption agency in Hong Kong searched the home of the media tycoon Jimmy Lai on Thursday, a month after leaked documents suggested  that he had made substantial donations to local pro-democracy parties and politicians. This sudden search of Lai's home has been termed "political persecution" by Hong Kong media.

Jimmy Lai is an outspoken supporter of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. Lai owns Apple Daily, one of the influential Chinese language daily newspaper in Hong Kong with sales of 190,000 copies. Likewise, in February this year a prominent independent Hong Kong journalist Kevin Lau Chun-to was assaulted and was seriously wounded. The Hong Kong journalists have been organizing rallies to protest what they feel as "waning press freedom".

Before its sovereignty was handed over to China in 1997, Hong Kong was one of the best epitomes of the highest degrees of press freedom in Asia. But now Hong Kong ranks 61st of 180 countries in 2014 Reporters Without Borders (RWB) Press Freedom Index.

Not long ago, RWB stated:"A recent visit to Hong Kong by RWB allowed the organization to hear from numerous journalists, netizens and information freedom defenders. They all shared the view that freedom of information is eroding, with press freedom hampered by self-censorship as well as pressure from within some news organizations."

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Social Media and Nepal's Senior Citizens

Rabin Man Shakya

Social media is fast changing the perspectives and lifestyle of the people across the world. Even in countries like Nepal, social media is creating a new and diverse audience for news and views making deep inroads into the life of the people.

But, senior citizens, the septuagenarian and octogenarian people of Nepal are still finding their footing less and less when it comes to social media. So why are the majority of Nepal's senior citizens lagging behind in the social media and Internet use?

In the system of use of social media and Internet by the total population, the ranking of Nepal may still be one of the lowest in the world. Nepal is one of the poorest and least developed countries of the world where smart phones, tablets and laptops are still considered to be luxury. No one disputes the fact that the economic situation has worsened in Nepal and development indicators present a dismal scenario. For this, the blame is attributed to political instability and economic uncertainty gripping the country. There is a sense that despite political gains (toppling of monarchy) in recent years, Nepal's economic and social trajectory is still highly uncertain.

Illiteracy especially the adult illiteracy is one of the highest in Nepal. Because of illiteracy, majority of Nepal's senior citizens can barely handle and use cell phones, let alone use smart phones and laptops. Electricity is an essential component for using laptops and smart phones, but Nepal is constantly and perennially short of power. Despite vast hydro power potential, load shedding has been extended up to 14 hours a day. And, also, there is no electricity, at all, in most of the rural mountainous areas of Nepal. Hence, Internet access is limited mainly in the urban areas. Lackadaisical government policy vis-a-vis attracting senior citizens' interest in Internet use is equally responsible for this.

But here in the US, the scenario is totally different. According to a study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, approximately 87 per cent of American senior citizens use online search engines such as Google, and a study conducted by the Nielsen Company found that 88.6 percent of American senior citizens use the Internet to check their e-mails.

The fact that majority of American septuagenarian, octogenarian and even centenarians are using the Internet is the testimony to the fact that age is no factor when learning the ins and outs of social media. So given the appropriate atmosphere, opportunities and training, Nepalese senior citizens can do the same. With everything just a click away in the age of smart phones, social media has served as a primary channel of giving full vent to happiness, sadness, feelings, emotions, criticisms and suggestions.

Becoming a part of the digital era could have changed the lives of  the Nepalese senior citizens. Social media could have shown them that there is so much going on in the world. Today more than ever, the social media is exploding with new information, photos, comments, quotes, articles and views, and it is just sad to note that the participation of Nepalese senior citizens in the social media is still negligible.

Right now, social media is deeply embedded with the educated-urban people of Nepal and social media to become the essential activity of the Nepalese senior citizens is still a dream that is difficult to come true any time soon.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nepalese Journalism, Press Freedom During Panchayat Era

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

Nepal was under the grip of monarchy and Panchayat misrule for thirty years from 1960 to 1990, when the whole world was bitterly polarized and divided into two different lines: democratic and communist lines, heavily influenced by the Cold War between the US and the ex-USSR.

Today's younger generation of digital journalism and social media age probably cannot imagine how the media scenario looked like in the Panchayat days. The coup d' etat orchestrated by King Mahendra to overthrow the parliamentary government with the Nepali congress in power in December 1960 and the restrictions imposed on press freedom put the Nepalese press in a vulnerable situation. All the political parties were banned, press freedom and freedom of expression were substantially curtailed.

The important doctrines of the Panchayat system were active royal leadership, partylessness, class coordination and decentralization. The historical development has clearly demonstrated the fact that the history of political system of Panchayat can be divided into two periods:

1. The period of repressive Panchayat system 1960-1979:
Some leading newspapers of this period were: Samaj, Naya Samaj, Nabin Khabar, Samikchha, Matribhumi, Naya Sandesh, Rastra Pukar, The Commoner and The Motherland.
2. The period of relatively liberal Panchayat system:
During the post-referendum period, the journalistic scenario was dominated by the opposition press. The notable newspapers during this period were: Bimarsha, Jan Jyoti, Chhalphal, Deshanter, Dristi, Saptahik Mancha, etc.

Since Panchayat was a political system introduced in Nepal after the political coup in 1960, so it was palpable that the emergence of the pro-Panchayat press was designed as an effective tool of the regime's massive political indoctrination. The monarchy often stood as the stumbling block in the process of democratization of the Nepalese society in general and Nepalese press in particular. Monarchy allowed only the veneer of press freedom to take hold.

Not only did the monarchy pit one banned political party against the other to bolster its position, it also doled out financial help to pro-Panchayat newspaper editors to wage war against the dissenting newspapers and banned opposition forces.

Immediately after the installation of the new regime on December 26, 1960, B.B. Thapa, the then Home Minister warned the press that criticism, made with any ulterior motive or aimed at obstructing national progress by encouraging instability in the country, would not be tolerated.

Likewise, still in 1965, the then Minister of Publicity, die-hard Panchayat supporter Bedanand Jha declared: "In order to raise the standard of Nepalese journalists and in order to do away with the multi-party political feelings and unworthy elements, the prime objective had been taken into consideration, so that the followers of the Panchayat system in journalism might be bolstered in a strong position." Thus, the ruling elite of the Panchayat system very well understood the role of the press and propaganda in consolidating their position.

The Gorkhapatra corporation, the Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS: the National News Agency), Radio Nepal, Nepal Television, were all the propaganda tools of the Panchayat regime to justify its rule. Besides, the government had doled out financial assistance to a number of newspapers to wage war against the pro-democracy and leftist newspapers.

The Press and Publication Acts enforced in 1963 and 1975, respectively, were the draconian measures intended to deal with the dissenting newspapers. Section 30 of the press and publication act 1975 stated: "His Majesty's Government may issue an order directing the suspension of any news, or publication in case it is deemed reasonable to do so in the public interest. No appeal or complaint shall be entertained against such order."

The challenges facing the pro-democracy and pro-leftist newspapers were indeed formidable since those newspapers had to survive in a politically suffocating atmosphere. It was during this era that so many journalists had encountered harassment and arrests for what they wrote. In a blatant assault on press freedom, journalist Padam Thakurathi was the victim of fatal attack in 2043 B.S. but he survived the assassination bid.

So many newspapers which dared to differ from His Majesty's Government or even slightly criticized it were immediately banned, their editors arrested. Lack of press freedom had a poisonous impact on the quality of the Nepalese journalism and it took its toll on the media as well.

Despite the repressive nature of the regime, not everything was dark: there was light at the end of the tunnel too. Journalism education was launched by the Tribhuvan University and Nepal Television started its broadcasting during the Panchayat era.

The grand old lady of the Nepalese journalism, "The Gorkhapatra," started to come out as a daily broadsheet newspaper in 1961. The nation's first broadsheet English language newspaper "The Rising Nepal" was also launched in 1965 during the Panchayat era.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

US, UK Media Plagued by Excessive Celebrity Coverage

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

Wikipedia describes celebrity journalism as another area of journalistic genre which "focuses on the personal lives of people, primarily celebrities, including movie and stage actors, musical artists, models and photographers, other notable people in the entertainment industry, as well as people who seek attention, such as politicians and people thrust into the attention of the public, such as people who do something newsworthy."

It continues: "Celebrity journalism differs from feature writing, in that it focuses on people who are either already famous or are especially attractive -- and  often covers celebrities obsessively, to the point of using unethical behavior to provide coverage."

Paparazzi reporting, lifestyles of Hollywood stars, dating and weddings of the celebs, conflict, cheating and divorce of the stars, obsession over stars' babies, pregnancies, their bizarre behavior and photos are a always the good sources of celebrity journalism here in the US.

The media in today's world exercises tremendous influence in the way people think and behave. And no doubt, the American journalism is a cornerstone of American democracy and governance. But sadly enough, lately, US media's obsession with celebrities, fads, polls and ratings means that they sometimes miss bigger stories and issues. More than anywhere, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez, Kendra Wilkinson, the Kardashian sisters and other celebrities are making constant headlines in the US media.

Likewise, arrests of the Hollywood stars, prominent sports people and politicians for their bizarre illegal activities  are more fodder for the celebrity coverage here in the US. Celebrity reporting is extensively carried out by the UK tabloids The Sun, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail whereas in the US, the Enquirer, People, Us Weekly, In Touch, Life & Style weekly magazines disseminate the celebrity reporting. Questionable reporting practices in "Celebrity Reporting" were time and again reported in the UK as well as the US, and there were a plenty of cases where the "victims" of the gossip stories sued the different media outlets in the UK and the US for questionable reporting practices and for libel and defamation.

If the US and UK media are more plagued by the celebrity coverage, journalism of the countries like Nepal are more politicized, polarized and trivialized.

Remember, the death of Princess Diana was caused by the paparazzi who were following her car. Paparazzi journalism has done no good for the cause of healthy journalism. The excessive coverage of the celebrity news and activities by the US and UK media has been castigated by the media observers, but the pathetic side of the journalism here is that the polls and ratings, not the quality, determine the destiny of the TV programs and their survival

As a matter of fact, celebrity journalism is gaining momentum not only in countries like the US and the UK, but slowly and steadily the celebrity journalism is taking root across the world. Today more than ever, money, sex, scandals and crime sell pretty much. That is why reporting of celebrities interests most of the people across the world. Writing salacious gossips about the celebrities is one of the modus operandi of the celebrity journalism, and surprisingly, readers love to read salacious gossips that enhance the circulation of the tabloids and increase the number of "views" of the bloggers and online journalism.

Back in 1993-94 when I was with The Rising Nepal, I had the privilege to interview Nepalese celebrities cum luminaries: Ambar Gurung, Gopal Yonjan, Tara Devi, Nati Kaji, Shiva Shankar,  Prem Dhoj, Yogesh Vaidya, Harihar Sharma, Ravi Shah, Mithila Sharma, Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya and the list goes on. The interview materials were published in my regular weekly column "Lifestyle" in The Rising Nepal in 1993-94. And, though my articles were based on the interactions and interviews with the senior Nepalese celebrities, it was, of course, not a part of celebrity journalism.

The effects of globalization of media were evident in Nepalese journalism too, and as a result, celebrity journalism is slowly and gradually making inroads into Nepalese media as well. That's because the existence of celebrity coverage is changing in a world of transparent social media and online journalism where everyone could be a journalist or netizen.

Just one little example: News of notorious Don Dinesh Adhikari Chari's death recently in a police encounter in Kathmandu has drawn an extensive coverage both in social media and the mainstream media in Nepal, thereby making obscure model Khoosbu Oli, the Don's alleged girlfriend a cause celebre. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Press is the Fourth Estate and Social Media the Fifth Estate

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

The Press is referred to as the Fourth Estate for its effective role to mould  the public opinion for or against the crucial and burning issues facing the community or the nation. The Press is assumed to play a vital social and community role in the context of the First Estate (government), the Second Estate (judiciary) and the Third Estate (church). The Press is one of the strongest weapons in showing the world the devastating consequences of war, injustice, impunity, wrongdoings and malpractices. An independent and free media is a cornerstone of democracy and good governance.

To say the least, Nepal's political parties are not working effectively for the cause of the people. The Nepalese political stalwarts seem to be convinced that the Nepalese people have no alternatives left to supporting the crooked, nefarious and corrupt leaders. The aspirations of the Nepalese people have been shattered time and again by these shrewd and cunning politicos. In such a situation, the role of media and social media is particularly important in exerting pressure on the politicians and political parties to become more responsible, more honest and to rise above the petty partisan and parochial interest in issues of national interest.

Comparing to young people and adults in their 30s and 50s, the septuagenarian and octogenarian people are far less  attracted to the social media sites, than reading newspapers and watching  TV for infotainment. In case of developing countries like Nepal, the number of the the people in their seventies and eighties using the social media is even negligible. The senior citizens are still relying on the traditional journalism for getting news and information, more so in case  of developing countries like Nepal.

In case of the US, more than 90 per cent of the American adults have a cell phone and more than half are smart phones which are pretty much used for Internet and social media activities as well enabling them to work as small laptops. Social media is creating a new audience for news, just as TV did a half century ago. In case of newspapers, radio and TV, it is one voice speaking to many, giving the same message to many people. But with social media, it is many voices being disseminated to a number of people instantly.

Therefore, today more than ever, people are using smart phones and tablets to learn about what is happening in the world. No wonder, the circulation of newspapers and magazines are on the decline in advanced countries like the US, and no wonder, the online news revenue has surpassed the revenue of the print journalism prompting the newspapers to jump on the online news bandwagon.

Tech titans Google and Facebook are changing the perspectives, lifestyle and cultures of the people across the world. Today more than ever, the social media is exploding with new information, photos, comments, quotes, articles and views. It goes without saying the role of social media is more effective, more far-reaching and more ubiquitous than the mainstream journalism. Therefore, it is no wonder that the social media is being called the Fifth Estate by some pundits.

As of now, there are still some pitfalls in case of the social media. Social media (like Twitter) can not tell the story or the breaking news in detail. Cases of factual inaccuracies in the social media "breaking news" is rampant, and  the social responsibility  factor is violated more in the social media than in the mainstream journalism.

Therefore, even if the role of social media is more ubiquitous than the mainstream journalism, the social media does not and can not replace the mainstream media, at least for now. Watchdog role of the traditional mainstream journalism is still more relevant and more important than the social media.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Press Freedom Advocacy Groups Voice Concern over Arrest of Journalists in Iran

Rabin Man Shakya

Iran used to have a vibrant press and used to be a country where press freedom, freedom of expression and human rights were guaranteed by the Iranian constitution, when Iran was a monarchy. Not any more, not after Iranian monarchy was toppled by the Ayatollahs and  Muslim fundamentalists in 1979.

Iran, today, is a theocracy-controlled nation which  does not care about the press freedom even a little bit. This is the nation where scores of journalists have been threatened, beaten, incarcerated, subjected to unfair trials. Not without reason, the Freedom House has declared Iran a "Not Free" country in terms press freedom and democratic values.

Whenever I confront some of the Iranian Americans here in Portland, Oregon, without beating around the bush and without mincing the words, they emphasize that religious  fundamentalism remains the cornerstone of Iran's governance and that, for right now, there is no scope for political and press freedom in Iran. Exit of hardliner Ahmadinejad and more liberal politico Rouhani taking centerstage in  Iranian political scenario has still not minimized the stubbornness and adamancy of the theocrats  in Iran, they say.

Meanwhile, according to news reports, The Washington Post's correspondent in Iran is believed to have been detained this week, the newspaper said on Thursday. The correspondent, Jason Rezaian, was reported to have been taken into custody Tuesday evening along with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, also a journalist, and two other people. The Post's foreign editor, Douglas Jehl, said in a statement,"We are deeply troubled by this news," Mr Jehl said,"and are concerned for the welfare of Jason, Yeganeh and two others said to have been detained with them." (The New York Times, July 25, 2014).

In New York, the  Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a press freedom advocacy group voiced concern over the arrest of journalists. CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said:" We  call on Iranian authorities to immediately explain why Jason Rejaian, Yeganeh Salehi and two other journalists have been detained, and we call for their immediate release."

"Iran has a dismal record with regard to its treatment of imprisoned journalists. We hold the Iranian government responsible for the safety of these four," added Mansour.

Likewise, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) also condemned the arrest of journalists in Tehran. Reza Moini, the head of the RWB Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan desk said:"Arbitrary arrests, illegal summons,  for example, by intelligence officers of the Revolutionary Guards, are adaily reality for journalists in Iran. Media workers, particularly foreign journalists based in Tehran, are most often accused of spying. They are the victims of a policy of demonizing the foreign media, which is aggravated by the settling of scores among different groups engaged in a power struggle."

Iran ranks 173rd out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2014 prepared by the Reporters Without Borders just followed by Vietnam, China, Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. With 65 journalists and netizens in prison - five of them foreign nationals - Iran is one of the world's top five prisons for those working in news and information, said the Reporters Without Borders.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Core Qualities of a Good Journalist

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

There are old as well as new books, articles, pamphlets, seminar papers and studies on journalism coming out all the time. Judging by the contents of the mass media, you would think that what it takes to be a good journalist changes constantly. Journalists are born, not made, some say. But today, the majority of journalists working in mass media have a degree or diploma from a journalism school. Today more than ever, you have got to have computer skills and knowledge. Internet, blogging, online journalism and social media are making deep in-roads into mass media.

And sure, as times change, the culture changes and technology advances, different journalistic concepts might fall in and out of fashion. But I believe there are core qualities that transcend all of that. Though there are lots of qualities needed to become a good and successful journalists, the core qualities are: good writing skill, fearlessness, impartiality and accuracy. Integrity, truthfulness and honesty should be the mantra of modus operandi of a good journalist.

Madan Mani Dixit of weekly "Samikshya" and Gopal Das Shrestha of "The Commoner" were great Nepalese journalists in the 70s and 80s. In a way, Dixit and Shrestha were the pillars of modern Nepalese journalism in Nepali and English, respectively.

During my tenure of journalism in The Rising Nepal (1992-2005), I had the privilege of interviewing some of the Nepalese journalistic luminaries: Madan Mani Dixit, Bharat Dutt Koirala, Padma Ratna Tuladhar and P. Kharel. I never interviewed Gopal Das Shrestha but late Shrestha provided me with important ideas and suggestions for my PhD dissertation paper when I met him a couple of times in 1987 at The Commomer's office at Naradevi. All these prominent journalists of Nepal during the meeting with me emphasized the core qualities needed for becoming a good journalist. (Coincidentally, I was familiar with Usha Shrestha - daughter of the late Shrestha - who also went to a school in Minsk, Belarus.)

In what could be considered as a swipe at some of the opportunistic pro-Panchayat journalists of that period, late Shrestha (who was one of the very few people educated in the US at that time) told me that journalists should be able to expose the misdeeds of higher authorities, a thing that was never done by the pro-Panchayat "mouthpieces." The editorials in The Commoner (written by the late Shrestha) and his short articles were appreciated by what was then a small community of English language readers of Kathmandu.

There is no doubt that a journalist is part of an enterprise that is challenged by a multiplicity of problems and issues, and a good journalist is the one who is able to overcome various challenges, issues and problems. Journalists should always exercise sound judgment, and should be able to play the role of a trailblazer. The press is the watchdog of the nation. More often than not, the watchdog role of the press is sometimes misrepresented by some pseudo-journalists. Instead of playing a watchdog role, there are some newspapers which carry on obsequious profiles of "dubious and corrupt" businessmen and politicians thereby becoming notorious media lapdogs. A journalist should not bring discredit to journalism - which is regarded as the Fourth Estate - by disseminating biased and sometimes untrue news stories.

No wonder, some in the social media and online journalism, have sometimes derided the mainstream Nepalese journalism as pussyfooting vigilantes because they sometimes on purpose avoided  challenging super-rich tycoons and corrupt politicians.