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