Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Proximity" Factor of News

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

James Gordon Bennet Jr., an American publisher of the New York Herald, on Oct 4, 1887, had launched the Paris edition of the newspaper titled "The Paris Herald" which is now the "International New York Times" circulated and read across the world including Nepal where "Republica" has affiliated to it.

Bennet Jr. used to tell his reporters in an epigrammatic way: "A dead dog in the Rue de Louvre is of more interest than a flood in China." Though a little bit exaggerated, this quote illustrates the idea that the news stories about event and mishap in one's  home town are more newsworthy and more interesting than some accident and catastrophe that take place far away.

A store or bank robbery of higher magnitude in Dallas, Texas may be less newsworthy than a shop robbery of a lesser scale in Kathmandu for readers in Nepal. However, if some accidents or robberies take place abroad and involve some Nepali guys as victims, then the news value increases for Nepalese readers not only in Nepal but also for Nepalese scattered across the world because of emotional proximity.

There is no doubt that Proximity, Timeliness, Human Interest, Conflict, Impact, Prominence etc are the primary factors that determine the news worthiness of a potential news story. And it goes without saying that news closer to home has more news appeal than from far away.

Millions of Nepalese have migrated to other countries in search of jobs owing to dismal economic scenario in Nepal. In fact, as a result of increasing global migration, it will be hard to find a country where a Nepali has not reached. According to an estimate, more than 100 thousand Nepalese are living only in the US. The Nepali diaspora scattered across the world are always eager to read news from Nepal rather than the countries where they are living currently. Having fervent desire to keep in touch with Nepal, thousands of Nepalese living across the world reportedly have hooked up with  Indian and Nepali cable channels.

Moreover, digital journalism and use of social media have tremendously helped the people to keep in touch with what is happening in their communities and families.

That is why proximity refers to the geographical as well as emotional closeness of a news story to the readers and viewers of newspapers (online as well), radio and TV networks; and help readers and audience relate to news stories on a more personal and 'nationalistic'  level  in this age of global migration.

Why, among the South Asian countries, Afghanistan is always making headlines in the US newspapers and TV networks overshadowing even India and China? War against terrorism may be one of the main reasons but the role of the emotional proximity can not be ruled out, as hundreds of thousands of US military troops are still deployed in that country.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Olympic Day Marked in Portland

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

Yesterday June 23 marked the World Olympic Day - a celebration of the creation of the first modern Olympic Games. According to news reports, Olympic Day was celebrated across the world including in Nepal and at various cities of the United States. Olympic Day  is celebrated by thousands of people in more than 160 countries.

Commemorating the birth of the modern Olympic Games, Olympic Day is not only a celebration but also an international effort to observe the Olympic values of Fair Play, Perseverance, Respect and Sportsmanship. It is also a day to celebrate the International Olympic Committee's three pillars: Move, Learn, Discover. Actually, Olympic Day is a chance for us to wave the flag for fair play and sportsmanship.

In the chronicles of the Olympic movement, the name of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French pedagogue, is written in the golden letters. It was de Coubertin who realized the moral and educational value of sports and on June 23, 1894 began the task of reviving the Olympic Games.  He constituted a panel in charge of organizing the first games and created an international Olympic movement. Hence, the first Games of the modern era were organized in Athens in 1896 and the International Olympic Committee was officially established.

Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, USA too, Olympic Day was marked with great enthusiasm and fanfare by International Open Friendship Taekwondo Championship (IOFTC) . A number of events including a soccer match, Olympic Peace Walk, Taekwondo Demonstration and live music and dance were organized on the occasion.

At a function organized at the Wilshire Park, different speakers threw light on the importance of Olympic Day. They said Olympic Day was an opportunity to renew our commitment to observe the Olympic values of fair play, perseverance, respect and sportsmanship. The function was attended by local dignitaries as well as by one Olympian each from the US and Nepal.

It goes without saying that the Olympic Peace Walk should become a catalyst for participants and others to defend Olympic values and principles. The Olympic peace rally, palpably, was a candid occasion  for participants to embrace with the Olympic ideals. Me and my spouse Naveena Shakya also asked for a half-day-off at our work place to take part at the peace walk which kicked off from Wilshire Park at 4 PM and wound up at IOFTC headquarters on Sandy Blvd.

More than 100 men, women and children (both Nepalese and Americans) from different walks of life covering a broad spectrum of ethnicities participated at the Olympic Peace Walk. One of the distinctive aspects of the peace walk was: All the Nepalese women participants were attired in Haku Patasi Saree ( traditional dress of Newars for women). All the peace walk participants were provided with free Olympic T-shirts and  certificate of participation signed by IOC president Thomas Bach and NOC president Lawrence Probst III.

Eventually, a live music program on the occasion was presented by a Nepali rock group in Portland at the Nekusingh Memorial Theater where Indian cuisine was served as dinner  to the participants. Last but not least,  kudos  to Diwakar Maharjan and Sunil Rajkarnikar for efficiently organizing different events to mark Olympic Day in Portland. Keep it up, guys.

Monday, June 23, 2014

China Putting the Squeeze on Press Freedom

Rabin Man Shakya

Nepal's powerful neighbor in the north - Peoples' Republic of China - may be the number two economy in the world after the United States, but China is also a country where the freedom of the press has been muffled continuously.

China, where over 2,200 newspapers and 7,000 magazines and journals are published today, has also earned notoriety as the world's leading jailer of journalists and netizens.

According to latest news reports, China introduced new restrictions on "critical" news articles and barred Chinese journalists from doing work outside their beats or regions, putting further restraints on reporters in one of the world's most controlled news media environments.(Chinese Government Tightens Constraints on Press Freedom - The New York Times - June 20, 2014)

It is the first time Beijing has publicly issued such a wide ban  on reporting activities, according to industry insiders. One former legal-affairs director from a Chinese news magazine said it indicated increased confidence on the part of authorities in exerting their will on the Chinese media. (Beijing Puts New Limits on Media, Lawyers - The Wall Street Journal - June 19, 2014)

The new circular would have a chilling effect, discouraging editors from touchy subjects, a Chinese journalist was quoted as saying in the news reports.

Another Chinese journalist added:"This rule is a real threat to us independent reporters. We are very angry."

The sad reality of press freedom scenario in China is that the government controlled leading newspapers: the Peoples Daily, the Beijing Daily, the Guangming Daily and the Liberation Daily all work as the tool of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party.Likewise, the powerful Xinhua news agency, the China Central Television (CCTV) also serve as channels for government and party propaganda.

No doubt, Chinese journalism also has witnessed some qualitative as well as quantitative transformation. Journalism sector has become more commercialized in China than elsewhere. But the authorities still continue to intervene in local news outlets especially those related to sensitive political reporting.

Lately, many more Chinese journalists and netizens have been arrested by the Chinese authorities, Crackdown on cyber-dissidents and interference and control in online journalism is ever on the increase. Foreign journalists attempting to report from China face increasing restrictions from the Chinese authorities. There were also cases when international journalists were declared "persona non grata" for their reporting critical   of Beijing.

While many Chinese journalists are incarcerated by the authorities, there is a wide spread practice in the China Central Television (CCTV) broadcasting videos of confessing to having made "big mistakes" and admitting their "guilt". Such forced confessions of the journalists on CCTV is outrageous and unacceptable.

An Amnesty International report  issued recently also said that the North Korea and China were among the Asia Pacific's "worst culprits".

There is no doubt that the majority of local Chinese outlets will be hamstrung by the troubling new limits. The implementation of the new limits on Chinese journalists is testimony that China is not serious about the press freedom.

China is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index ahead of only  countries like Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Kuwaiti Journalists Under Damocles' Sword

Rabin Man Shakya

According to Associated Press news  stories published recently, two newspapers have been ordered to stop printing for a second time in less than two months over articles about a secret investigation into allegations of a coup plot to overthrow the Kuwaiti monarchy.

The newspaper Al Watan reported online last week that a judge ordered its print edition and that of the newspaper Alam-al Yawm to stop publishing for five days because they had violated a media blackout of the investigation.

In the trajectory of press freedom scenario, Kuwait still ranks among the freest countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. In 2013 press freedom index of the Reporters Without Borders, Kuwait was ranked 77th out of 179 countries whereas it fell 13 places in the RWB index and is now ranked 91st out of 180 countries.

But a clearer picture is emerging to explain how Kuwait is dealing with the dissenting journalists over the years. In fact, a number of journalists and online activists have been incarcerated for months and years in Kuwait for what they wrote or broadcast.

It is illegal to criticize Emir and Crown Prince of Kuwait as the law allows authorities to fine journalists upto 300,000 dinars (1 million dollar) for criticizing the emir or the crown prince, or misrepresenting what they say, and impose sentences to 10 years in prison on journalists who insult God, the prophet of Islam, or the the prophet Mohammad's wives or companions. This, no doubt, is a draconian law reminiscent of the authoritarian royal regime in Nepal.

Under such circumstances, the challenges facing the Kuwaiti media and social media are indeed formidable. Given the draconian law that prohibits journalists to criticize the emir and the crown prince, it seems that the Kuwaiti journalists and netizens are always under a sword of Damocles.

News stories in Al-Watan's 13 and 14 April issues claimed that former senior officials were involved in the alleged coup conspiracy. "The prosecutor's ban on media coverage of this case is a grave violation of freedom of information", said Soazig Dollet, head of the RWB Middle East and North Africa desk. "The absurd and iniquitous suspension of those two news outlets again shows that the authorities are bent on controlling the media, in this case, suppressing coverage of a sensitive political investigation."

Palpably, Kuwait has come under sharp criticism from organizations like Reporters Without Borders for the treatment of the dissenting journalists and newspapers.

It is to be noted that 14 Arabic and 3 English language newspapers circulate in this tiny emirate where the state owns nine local radio stations and five television stations. And there are, at present, 16 privately owned television stations in this oil-rich Gulf nation.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Arrests of Journalists on Rise in Myanmar

Rabin Man Shakya

Although Myanmar has seen some qualitative changes in the newspaper industry, the Myanmar government still continues to tighten its grip on other means of mass media, such as, radio, television broadcasting and news agency.

On top of that, arrests of the journalists for what they write has become common in Myanmar, raising the question about the "hangover" of the 50-years rule of the former junta, and the specter of the analysts that progress on media freedom has stalled.

Four journalists with the "Unity" weekly newspaper and the newspaper CEO were detained recently in connection with a report about an alleged secret chemical weapons factory in the north western city of Pauk.Similarly, last December, a reporter from the newspaper "Daily Eleven" was imprisoned for three months. Likewise, a journalist from the "Democratic Voice of Burma" news website, Zaw Pe, was incarcerated for a year for entering an education department office without authorization and  interviewing students.

As if all that is not enough, Myanmar has recently deported an Australian journalist, Agnus Watson working for the "Democratic Voice of Burma" after he reported on a demonstration calling for media freedom.

According to media reports, Watson's deportation is believed to be the first time a journalist has been declared "persona non grata" by the  Myanmar government since President Thein Sein's government began easing press censorship in 2012. Earlier this year, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times was sent back to Yangon, but not forced to leave the country, after the reporter was found reporting in restive Arakan State on a tourist visa.

The press censorship which was lifted in 2012 allowed journalists to print and publish news stories that would have been unimaginable under the rule of the generalissimo.But recent intimidation and arrests of journalists have cast doubts on the flourishing media scenario of Myanmar.

Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and deputy minister of information, was quoted as saying on the Facebook that Watson would not have been deported, had he held a journalist visa. "He was on a business visa, but he participated in a protest that did not have government permission. So he violated the immigration and was deported," Ye Htut added in a statement on his Facebook page.

Judging by the magnitude of the press freedom, Freedom House,  an international press freedom watchdog had identified Myanmar as one of the world's blackest spots for free journalism. It goes without saying that during the entire 50-years old rule by the generalissimo, Myanmar maintained its long notoriety as a country which used the mass media as vehicle for political propaganda.

Frequent arrests of local journalists and Australian journalist's deportation have prompted Human Rights Watch to speak out that fears over the arrest and "intimidation" of journalists, as well as "vague" new press laws could inhibit reporting.

"This serious backsliding raises concerns about the government's commitment to a free press," said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. It is to be noted that Myanmar is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in the world press freedom index published in February, 2014 by Reporters Without Borders.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

YouTube Ban Unconstitutional: Constitutional Court

Rabin Man Shakya

In a legal tug of war between the YouTube and the Turkey government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the ban of YouTube in Turkey, YouTube has emerged as a winner causing big setbacks to the Turkish government.

According to media reports, Turkey's highest court - the Constitutional Court - ruled that a government ban on the video-sharing social media site YouTube was unconstitutional and a violation of freedom of expression, paving the way for the lifting of the  two-month blockade.

Turkey was without the access to YouTube for two months because the Turkish government had blocked it following an audio recording leaked on YouTube had revealed that top officials in Turkey were plotting to fake an attack against their own country as an excuse to wage war on Syria.

The Telecommunications Authority of Turkey said that the ban on YouTube was a "precautionary administrative measure" amid concerns over national security, media reports added. Last month, the Turkish government was made to remove a ban on Twitter a day after the Court issued a similar ruling.

But, unfortunately, the uncertainty in Turkey's journalistic and social media spectrum is far from over, especially when arrogant Turkish prime minister Erdogan keeps saying: "We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook. We will take necessary steps in the strongest way."

No wonder, Turkey ranks 154th among 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders on Feb 12, 2014, just behind war-torn nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Turkey has failed to make progress in its press freedom record. Turkey continues to rank among the "world's biggest prisons for journalists", according to the Reporters Without Borders.

So why is the government of Turkey working so hard against the social media sites like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook?  Social media helps people mobilize and organize, and it also helps audience and reporters from afar keep track of different sources and perspectives. Social media is playing a big role as a custodian of democracy and human rights abuse. Just like the mainstream media, the social media is enhancing its role and presence as a watchdog against authoritarianism.

This is no wonder that some authoritarian and pseudo-democratic governments and powerful political parties are vulnerable to the social media sites. In fact, what is not published by the mainstream media is published by the social media. Some countries like China, Russia and Turkey are even trying to step up their presence in the social media sites by employing thousands of youths to that effect and also by employing the ban tactics.

Five Found Guilty of Killing Politkovskaya, But Questions Remain Unanswered

Rabin Man Shakya

The news stories that a Moscow court recently found five men guilty of assassinating award-winning investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a frequent Kremlin critic who was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment block in 2006, has raised further questions about the motive and the ultimate and real mastermind of the assassination.

The five men that a jury panel convicted on May 20, 2014 are three Chechen brothers - Rustam, Ibrahim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov - their uncle, Lom-Ali Gautukayev (an alleged member of the criminal underworld), and a former Interior Ministry employee, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov. The court did not identify either a motive or a mastermind,  and  according to media reports, the Russian Investigative Committee said it is continuing its investigation into the murder.

There is no doubt the Kremlin and pro-Kremlin authorities in Chechnya were not happy with the modus operandi of Anna. And she knew that her life was in jeopardy because she was waging a war against the group of perpetrators in Chechnya

According to Novaya Gazeta's chief editor Dmitry Muratov, Anna was supposed to file a lengthy news story on the torture practices believed to be used by the Chechen security detachments  known notoriously as Kadyrovshiki (goons of Chechen president Kadyrov). Politkovskaya derided Chechen president Kadyrov as the "Chechen Stalin of our days" in one of her last interviews.

It is to be noted that Anna Politkovskaya was born in New York in 1958 because her parents were Soviet diplomats at the UN. After finishing her MA in Journalism from the Faculty of Journalism at the Moscow State University, she worked for different newspapers: Izvestiya (1982-1993), Obshchaya Gazeta (1994-1999) and Novaya Gazeta (1999-2006).

As the favorite beat of Anna was Chechnya, she published numerous news stories in Novaya Gazeta about deteriorating conditions in Chechnya. Anna was laureate of several prestigious international awards for her journalistic works. A number of books including "Putin's Russia" were authored by Anna Politkovskaya.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, 56 journalists have been killed in Russia with motives confirmed and another 24 killed with motives unconfirmed making Russia one of the deadliest countries for the journalists.The killing of Politkovskaya and some other prominent journalists has underscored Russia's reputation as one of the world's most dangerous countries for the journalists and reporters and has raised fresh questions about the democratic commitments of the Putin administration. Not without reasons, Russia has slipped from a Freedom House ranking of 'partly free' to 'not free'. Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in the 2014 press freedom index prepared by Reporters Without Borders.

To treat a journalist as a felon or a criminal for doing his or her job - seeking out information the government does not want made public and divulging the truth about its misdeeds - outrageous and unacceptable. Needless to say, Anna was harassed, intimidated and even tortured several times during her journalistic innings.

Anna was assassinated for what she wrote. Observers believe that her death, palpably, does not have anything personal to do with the convicted criminals who must have killed her on somebody's order. "The murder will only be solved when the name of the person who ordered it is known", Anna Stavitskaya, an attorney for Politkovskaya's family was quoted as saying by RIA, a Russian news agency.