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.

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