Sunday, May 25, 2014

Journalism and Corruption

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

Commenting on my blog headlined "Problem of Corruption and Role of Media", Rajendra Adhikari, one of  the senior-most engineers of Nepal and a septuagenarian intellectual, currently based  in Boston, USA asked  me a query:"When media itself is corrupt, what is the way out?"

Journalists always expose the wrongs of our society, political and financial shenanigans among the country's elite. Journalists try to squeeze the truth out of what is going on in our community as well as governmental and non-governmental activities. That is why it is just natural for them to have supporters as well as detractors. But the question raises what if the journalists  themselves are dishonest and corrupt?.

Remember the questionable reporting practices by News Corp's UK weekly tabloid "The News of the World" which was later closed. Remember the sexual scandals of BBC's Jimmy Saville and others. Remember BBC's Nepali language correspondent Surendra Phuyal's sordid sex activities?

Well, there are good things as well as bad, good people and bad ones. In journalism sector too, not all media people are trustworthy. There are some journalists who misuse the name of the profession. Media's power to bully people who have broken no law is dangerous to all of us. Media outlets and journalists do not have the right to play cops or to become judges. That is why there is no dearth of cases when Yellow Press faced a journalistic reckoning.

Power of the Press is beyond any dispute. Remember, President Nixon had to step down as a result of investigative reporting carried out by The Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the Watergate scandal. Therefore, what reporters and journalists do and write has an immediate as well as long-term impact on the socio-economic and political process of a nation. But journalists and reporters who publish and broadcast news about others sometimes become cynosure of national and international headlines for allegations of financial and political skulduggery and other hanky-panky deals.

But comparing to other professionals like doctors, engineers, teachers and lawyers etc, the lives of journalists are more vulnerable. They are easily assassinated and assaulted for what they say and write. In the last ten years, more than 600 journalists have been assassinated across the world, just for what they wrote.

Journalists do many good things. There were and still are lots of examples where the victims of accidents or disputes have been rescued with the help of journalists and media outlets, where reporters took up the gauntlets against injustice, corruption and different kinds of malpractices in the society. But journalists should always remember the code of conduct written for them. Obviously, the name "journalist" does not give anybody carte blanche  to write or to do whatever one likes to.

Yes, to be honest and true journalist is a matter of great respect and admiration. Journalists should believe in truthful write-ups. They should be unbiased and impartial in their news stories. They can not get away with anything they do, write or say. The ultimate winner in newspaper business will be whoever can  win the hearts of the readers, convince the newspaper readers that their newspaper is honest, unbiased, credible, true, impartial and balanced.

The big Nepalese broadsheet daily newspapers claim to represent the interest of the common Nepali people, but these interests turn out to be identical to those of the tycoons who own the newspapers. The danger of the media tycoons poking nose into journalistic activities could be another  source of hot scoop for the investigative journalismn

In case of Nepal's media, there is still a journalistic stigma attached to the weekly newspaper journalism as many of them are brazenly pro-corrupt leaders and tycoons thereby playing a lapdog role.   It is hard to find much common ground among Nepal's polarized journalism especially the weekly newspapers. Not only do they naturally mistrust one another, but they also tend to divide along party lines so much so that "Deshantar" weekly is brazenly pro-NC, "Dristi" weekly is conspicuously pro-UML and "Janadesh" weekly is die-hard pro-UCPN-Maoists. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Problem of Corruption and Role of Media

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

"The fight against corruption by the Nepal government and the people of Nepal will continue."  "Corruption is the deadly cancer of the society which has to be nipped in the bud." " The NC (or for that matter UML or UCPN-M) is the party that has always been waging a war against corruption and impunity."

I was often amazed at the mendacity that would come from the mouth of the Nepalese political stalwarts and more so that the Nepalese media would cover them in a prominent way. Notorious corrupt politicians  Khum Bahadur Khadka, Govinda Joshi, Chiranjivi Wagle and Jaya Prakash Gupta have been convicted by the court on corruption charges and have served the respective prison terms. There is no doubt that individual acts of courage against some corrupt political leaders work as the light at the end of the tunnel.

Corruption continues to plague too many countries around the world. Majority of the governments are failing to protect citizens from corruption, be it abuse of public resources, bribery or secret hanky-panky dealings. In a developing country like Nepal, official corruption has become a widespread problem and a source of public disgust.

Yes, corruption is a ubiquitous and global disease. The practice of corruption is spreading day by day in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Reportedly, corruption has infiltrated the entire political and administrative machinery of countries like Russia. Likewise, corruption has become lifestyle in India and China, emerging global powers. Even the US is not untouched by the problem of corruption

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As reported by the media, Republican Rep Michael Grimm was indicted recently on federal charges of tax evasion and perjury for allegedly hiding more than $ 1 million in revenue from his New York restaurant where he also hired illegal immigrants. Trey Radel, a Florida Republican was convicted of misdemeanor cocaine possession. William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, was indicted in 2007 on 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and money laundering. Likewise, James Traficant, an Ohio Democrat, was convicted in federal court on 10 counts of bribery, racketeering and income tax evasion. These, again, are just the tip of the iceberg.

But here in the US, people do not have to bribe the officials in the city, state and federal offices to get their job done, whereas in countries like Nepal and India the people have to go from pillar to post to do some registration things and their renewals, to obtain driving license  and fix their problems in the government offices unless they pay bribes to the officials.

The press has always been playing a critical role in the battle against  corruption. However, the problem about covering delicate issues like official corruption, police abuse and misdeeds of business tycoons can backfire the journalists in forms of dangerous vendettas and retributions.

The media's efforts to uncover official corruption earn them many influential enemies, they are vulnerable to assaults, threats and revenges. The legal custodians of the government: the law enforcement and the bar have additional responsibility in this regard.  There is no doubt that a journalist alone can not wage a lone battle against the octopus of corruption. There should be a triangular collaboration of  the cops, the bar and the press to fight  a winning battle against the corruption.

Journalism should be in a position to bring about changes in a way the people think and rally them towards a just cause: increase awareness against corruption, make corrupt politicians 'pariahs' and ostracize them in the media coverage etc.

In Nepal, sadly enough, instead of playing a watchdog role there are a number of newspapers which carry on obsequious profiles of "dubious and corrupt" tycoons and politicians thereby becoming notorious lapdogs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Buddha Purnima Celebrated Across the World

Rabin Man Shakya

According to news reports, Buddha Jayanti or Buddha Purnima  was celebrated on Wednesday,  May 10 with various programs not only in Nepal, but in countries like India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China (Tibet),  Bhutan, South Korea, Thailand, Mongolia, Russia (Buryatia), Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and so on. Besides, Buddhists scattered across the world celebrated Buddha Purnima as a very important festival.

Therefore, celebration of Buddha Purnima in so many countries across the world underscores the significance of Buddhism as a major religious force of the world. This is again a testimony that Shakya Muni Siddhartha Gautam Buddha is adored and respected worldwide as the apostle of peace and light of Asia, and his teachings about peace and non-violence are, pretty much, relevant today more than ever when so many nations are mired in violence, civil wars and wars. Buddhism, in fact, is not just a religion, it is a philosophy, a realism of non-violence and peaceful co-existence, a trail-blazer for millions to lead a blissful life.

My family in Portland, USA especially my spouse Naveena Shakya is going to celebrate Buddha Purnima as usual by offering candle lights, flowers and by chanting prayers to Lord Buddha and by eating Kheer (rice cooked in milk with sugar, cashews, cloves, cardamoms, raisins, coconuts etc). After all, why do Buddhists all over the world celebrate Buddha Purnima?  As a matter of fact, Purnima means full moon day. For Buddhists, every full moon day every month is sacred and pious. The full moon day in the month of Baisakh has an additional and special significance. That is because on this day Siddhartha Gautam Shakya was born, attained enlightenment and Nirvana.

I think it will not be out of context to mention some of my personal events in the past. I had the opportunity to greet and be blessed by prominent and renowned late Bhantes of Nepal like Bhichhu Amritananda and Bhichhu Sudarshan at some programs. But I also had an opportunity to be blessed by Lama Bhante Hambo Dorje Gamboyev from Soviet Buryatia when he was in Kathmandu on a friendly visit. Likewise, I fondly remember meeting Bernardo Bertolucci, director of the movie "Little Buddha" at a press conference in Kathmandu when I was still working as a journalist  with The Rising Nepal.

Nearly half of my life was spent in countries like the former USSR and the USA. For about a decade, I was in the former USSR. The Soviet authorities always vainly strived to promote atheism. Nevertheless, Buddhism was the third most prominent religion in the ex-USSR after the Christians and Muslims, it still is in Russia. Buddhism has deep roots in the lives of the people in Buryat, Kalmik and Tuva autonomous republics. and in Russian cities like Irkutsk and Chita.

Buddhism is one of the prominent religions here in the United States too. There are millions of people who believe in Buddhism here. Broadly, there are two categories of  US Buddhists: the Asian Americans and the Whites. In Portland, I have personally confronted with many Whites who have become Buddhists. Hollywood celeb Richard Gere is one of the prominent Buddhists in the US.

Though Shakya Muni was born in Lumbini, Nepal, the ideas and messages of peace and harmony spread by Buddha are reaching nook and corner of the world. And yes, it will be hard to find a country today in the world without Buddhists living on it thanks to the globalization and rapid pace of migration.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Terrorism, Media and Social Media

Rabin Man Shakya

Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamic terrorist group is lately grabbing one after another international headlines across the world for its heinous terrorist acts. More than 300 Nigerian school girls were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists recently. Of that number, 276 remain in  Boko Haram's captivity and 53 were able to escape. An additional eight girls were also abducted little later  from a village near Boko Haram's stronghold.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, Boko Haram threatens to sell the nearly 300 teenage school girls. And in another heinous act of terrorism, the Boko Haram terrorists killed as many as 300 people in the town of Gamboru Ngala, on the border with Cameroon. According to news reports, the terrorists fired into crowds of people at a busy market. Earlier this year more than 50 teenage boys were massacred at a government school in the north of Nigeria by  Boko Haram terrorists.

Despite the fact that world pressure on Nigeria is mounting over Nigerian government's  disability and failure to rescue the abducted girls and contain terrorist activities, and despite protests being organized in world capitals demonstrating international solidarity for abducted girls and denouncing the terrorists, the Boko Haram terrorism is taking a disastrous toll on the Nigerian people's lives.

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. By the same token, terrorists and terrorist groups are widely known to have extensively used social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc to disseminate their ideas, messages, and consolidate their power base.

That is why it will not be an exaggeration to assert that terrorism, media and social media may have dangerous and triangular dimensions. Terrorism is not tolerated, no matter where it comes from, and can in no way be justified.

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. The more the people freak out, the more successful will be the terrorists. Therefore, the media should be more careful, more balanced and more precisive while covering the terrorist acts. Unnecessary details should not be hyped.

American TV journalist Dan Rather is absolutely right when he says:'True or not, newsrooms covering terrorism everywhere should do what they can to ensure their reports serve the public and not those committing violent acts."

Sunday, May 4, 2014

World Press Freedom Index: The Numbers Don't Lie

By Rabin Man Shakya

The World Press Freedom Index: This is how the nations across the world are ranked and extrapolated in terms of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), a respected non-profit organization based in Paris, France. The World Press Freedom Index, according to RWB, is a reference tool with seven criteria - the level of abuses, the extent of pluralism, media independence, the environment and self-censorship, the legislative framework, transparency and infrastructure.

When it comes to understanding press freedom in countries across the world, the data and ranking released by RWB is of utmost importance. After all, the rankings and numbers extrapolated and released by respected organizations like RWB do not lie. The rankings, palpably, help as warnings and suggestions to the respective governments.

As reported by RWB, Finland tops the World Press Freedom Index for the fourth consecutive year followed by the Netherlands and Norway, whereas at the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritria.

Nevertheless, the United States is a trail blazer in democratic practices. Likewise, countries like Nepal and India are democratic nations as well.. Therefore, the ranking of the US (46th), India (140th) and Nepal (120th) in the World Press Freedom Index may raise some questions about its practical credibility.

But RWB in this regard clarified:"The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists." RWB went on to say:"The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed."

This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies, RWB added.   There is no doubt press freedom is a hallmark of democracy. Therefore, where there is no press freedom, there is no democracy either. Therefore, press freedom and democracy have symbiotic ties.

The quintessence of journalism is the news which should be disseminated, published and broadcast in a free, fair and unbiased manner without any restrictions whatsoever. In pluralistic societies, people today depend on the media and social media for the fair and truthful  accounts and details about current events. Free and democratic nations allow the press freedom to report news and views without government meddling. Therefore, it goes without saying that freedom of the press encourages the exchanges of ideas among the citizens and netizens , which is essential for a democracy to work.

Freedom of the press is the right to print, publish and broadcast news, views, facts, ideas and opinions without interference from the government, political parties, private organizations and  business tycoons. This right applies to the print media, including books, newspapers and magazines, and to the electronic media including radio and TV channels as well as to the social media and on-line journalism.

However, the sad reality of press freedom scenario in Nepal is that the government controlled newspapers, radio station and television channel are not in a condition to directly chastise the government for some of its wrong policies and programs, and the private sector newspapers, FMs and TV channels are not capable to speak out against the interests of the tycoons for whom they work. The 'myth' about  journalistic polarization and its politicization and the biasedness seen in the 'mouthpieces' of political parties  are other discrepancies.A number of journalists have been killed in Nepal by government forces, Maoist insurgents and criminal masterminds in the past, and even today many of them still keep receiving threats and intimidation. No wonder, though a democratic country, it will definitely take a long time to enhance Nepal's press freedom ranking.

The Nepalese media fraternity marked the World Press Freedom Day on Saturday (May 3) with a call for greater professional solidarity and guarantee of security for media persons. No doubt, World Press Freedom Day is a solemn occasion for the scribes to strive for raising awareness of the basic principles of press freedom and to remember and pay tributes to those journalists who sacrificed their lives for the cause of the pravda. (truth in Russian).