Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nepalese Press (1951-1960): A Decade of Democratic Innovations

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

Nepal was totally isolated from the outside world during the Rana autocracy, even as Nepal was not colonized by any foreign power during her entire history. The coup d 'etat orchestrated by Jung Bahadur Rana in 1846 empowered the Ranas to usurp power and rule the nation until 1951. Rana autocracy's downfall at the hands of the popular upheaval in 1951 paved the way for democratic innovations in Nepal.

The part of  history of Nepalese journalism spanning from 1951 to 1960 was unique and unprecedented in many ways. The Nepalese press also could not remain untouched by the democratic innovations."Awaj" was the first daily newspaper published on Falgun 8, 2007 BS immediately after the ouster of the Rana regime.

The second daily newspaper in the Nepali language was "Samaj" which was launched in Bhadra, 2011 BS. Other worth mentioning newspapers published during the period were Hal Khabar, Bhugol Park, Everest News, The Motherland, Filingo, Kalpana and Diyalo etc. "The Commoner," edited by Gopal Das Shrestha, was the first English daily newspaper launched on July 15, 1956, whereas "Nepal Guardian," edited by Barun Shumsher Rana was the first English monthly magazine.

"Nepal Bhasa Patrika," was the first newspaper in Newari, edited by Fatte Bahadur Singh,  and was launched on Ashwin 16, 2012 B.S. Before that, Asha Ram Shakya had commenced a fortnightly publication "Pasa" in Newari in Kartik, 2009 B.S. "Mahila" was the first publication launched by first women-journalists Sadhana Pradhan and Kamakshya Devi in 1952. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (then Nepal Journalists Association), an umbrella organization of the Nepalese journalists was also established on March 29, 1956. Its first chairman was late Krishna Prasad Bhattrai,  (ex-Prime Minister of Nepal) who was the editor of "Nepal Pukar."

The first and foremost Press Commission of Nepal was set up in 1958 to look into the problems facing the Nepalese Press. Radio Nepal started its regular broadcasting on Chaitra 20, 2007 B.S. News programs by Radio Nepal were not confined to the news in Nepali and English, but in Nepal Bhasa and Hindi as well. There was a radio program called "Jeevan Daboo" in Nepal Bhasa. News in Nepal Bhasa and "Jeevan Daboo" were scrapped by Radio Nepal immediately after King Mahendra orchestrated a coup in 1960 against the elected government of the Nepali Congress. Airing of news by Radio Nepal in different languages including Nepal Bhasa was testimony of ethnic pluralism and press freedom during this period.

The scrapping of the Nepal Bhasa programs by Radio Nepal had disillusioned the Newar community and also had perpetually sparked protests against the government. First news agency of Nepal -- was established on Poush 1, 2016 B.S. followed by the second one -- Sagarmatha Sambad Samiti set up on Baisakh 30, 2017. Political mouthpieces were also brought out during this period. "Nepal Pukar" and "Nawa Nepal" were the newspapers published by the Nepali Congress. "Nav Yug" was the mouthpiece of Nepal Communist Party while "Nepal Sandesh" and "Jan Vani" were published by Rastriya Praja Parishad.

The pioneering Nepalese journalists, such as, Mani Raj Upadhya, Gopal Das Shrestha, Fatte Bahadur Singh, Pashupati Dev Pandey, Madan Mani Dixit, Govinda Biyogi and so on were the remarkable outcomes of this journalistic period. Whereas, in 1951 there was only one daily newspaper and three weekly publications, the number of daily newspapers was 32 and number of weekly publications was 65 in 1960. The Nepalese journalism history from 1951-1960 was significant not only because of some political innovations and polarization of the press, it was important because the nation was able to usher in political changes to pave the way for press freedom.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Underpaid Nepalese Journalists in 'Financial' Limbo

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

One of the striking features of the Nepalese media is the fact that the problems encountered by it, as in other poor and developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America are manifold and multifaceted.  Today more than ever, the Nepalese media is facing more challenges and problems and one of the burning issues is related to the minimum wages of the journalists working in the newspapers, radio and TV channels of Nepal. In fact, underpayment or late payment of wages or salaries have become a constant 'pain in the neck' for the Nepalese working journalists.

Financial ills of the Nepalese journalism is not a new one. Be it during the Democratic period (2007-2017 BS), Panchayat period (2017-2046 BS), period of restoration of democracy  or even after Nepal was proclaimed a republic, majority of Nepalese journalists have been complaining of being overworked and underpaid. Actually, underpayment or late payment of salaries have always been a perennial ills  for the Nepalese journalists.

According to the Working Journalists Media Study Report 2067 BS, 45 per cent of the Nepalese scribes are working as reporters and journalists without getting any official appointment letter and 37 per cent of the Nepalese journalists are not getting the minimum wages as fixed  in the Minimum Wage Fixation Act.

Before moving to the United States in 2002, I used to work as a journalist with The Rising Nepal and also used to work as a lecturer of journalism at couple of journalism colleges in Kathmandu and luckily enough I did not have to face the financial constraints, but unfortunately majority of Nepalese journalists were and still are not as lucky.

Well, journalists working for the government owned newspapers, radio, TV channels, news agency and journalists working with reputed news outlets like Kantipur (both print and TV) and Nagarik and few others are getting their normal salaries. But the majority of other Nepalese journalists working with different media outlets are perennially underpaid or paid lately.

Why do the journalists who are supposed to play watchdog roles end up in being the lapdogs of the politicians and tycoons?   Why are some Nepalese journalists playing a sycophantic role in the Nepalese media industry? Apart from politicization and polarization of the media, the financial constraints are pushing journalists to become media lapdogs at the hands of political stalwarts and business tycoons.

Working as journalists and anchors in various Nepalese TV channels and FM radio stations sounds very great.  But in reality it is nothing more than the superficial glamour and glitter of the tinsel town - that is Kathmandu. The Nepalese journalists continue to suffer because of underpayment and late payment of salaries. But it looks like the Nepalese journalists have been 'sweetening the pill' by continuing to work for less money or even for no money.

If one analyzes the problem in broader perspectives, it will be found that licenses and registrations of newspapers, FMs and TV channels are issued haphazardly in Nepal without examining deeply into the actual financial status of the media organizations. Here, in the United States, the practice is totally different. For example, Portland is the biggest city in the state of Oregon, but there is only one daily  newspaper "The Oregonian". It goes without saying that journalists working in the newspapers, radio and TV channels in the US get a good salary.

Similarly,  when I remember my days in the former Soviet Union as a journalism major, the Soviet graduates of the journalism schools, like any other schools, used to get their degrees along with the appointment letters. The pay, of course, was not that great but still it was sufficient enough for a decent livelihood in the then USSR.

Nepalese FMs and television channels are facing a number of challenges that threaten the very survival of the media outlets (with the exception of NTV and few others) due to sharp declines in advertising revenues and increasing production costs. The practice of issuing licenses in a random basis should be stopped. The proud representatives of the Fourth Estate should be paid as per the rules and laws of the nation. Working Journalists Act and Minimum Wage Fixation Act should be implemented by all the media outlets. Harsh penalties should be imposed on the media outlets which are found to be underpaying and not paying on time.

The media is the watchdog of the nation. If it is hindered, it cannot carry out its responsibilities towards the society and the nation. An underpaid or a financially vulnerable journalists can not work very effectively and as a result the watchdogs themselves will have to be watched over.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Role of Media and Political Uncertainty in Nepal

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

Nepal has once again plunged into political turmoil as the divided and polarized Constituent Assembly could not make any significant breakthrough in formulating the constitution. It looks like the ruling as well as the opposition political parties succeeded in obstructing the constitution writing process and set a very bad precedent in Nepalese politics.

There is no doubt that  a free and independent media is vital for a vibrant democracy. There is also no doubt that Nepal has  a free press and that Nepal is a fully democratic country.Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the incumbent Interim Constitution of Nepal.  Nobody is persecuted, prosecuted or arrested in Nepal for venting his or her ideas in the news media.  Then,  the question arises: Why is political transition taking so long, why did the main political parties not come to the common consensus and why were they not ready to sacrifice some of their vested interests for the common cause of the people? All this would raise additional questions about the intention and credibility of the prominent political parties like the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist. Some analysts event went to the extent of smelling rats about the grand designs of the external forces. The duty of the press is to expose  the dishonesty of the politicians vis-a-vis the ongoing political process.

Today more than ever, Nepal is confronting a lot of challenging problems that threaten the very existence of the nation, and herein lies the role and relevance of the free press. Nepal is bitterly divided in the federalism vs non-federalism dichotomy The very fact that even after so many years Nepal has not been able to enforce constitution has just demonstrated the inefficiency, incompetence and incapability of the Nepalese political parties and its leaders.

It was the clearest evidence yet that the political uncertainty has only widened the divisions that have plagued Nepal since the ouster of the monarchy. The kind of hostilities and conflict between the ruling and opposition parties - as was reported in the Nepalese media - will certainly derail the constitution writing process and  is also likely to reverberate the entire  political spectrum of Nepal

Despite the sacrifices of hundreds of Nepali sons and daughters, why one after another event  brings us disgrace and why the political parties and leaders have not been able to forge consensus on the contentious issues like federalism? All the political disagreements and differences can be solved and figured out if the political stalwarts are ready to compromise on contentious issues for the broader interests of the common people.

 It is a fact and it is true that if the Nepalese political parties do not bury their partisan and parochial differences and do not work  in tandem for the common benefit of the people, the job of writing the constitution cannot be accomplished even in decades. 

At a time when the Nepalese political parties are not appearing serious about the constitution and when    they are trying to reap partisan benefit out of the protracted crises and political stalemate, the Nepalese news media should be able to effectively warn the parties and the stalwarts of the fatal consequences of their partisan and dishonest politics. Nepalese media outlets should try to create a healthy public opinion and should present a supportive view of a compromise and reconciliation  between pro and anti federalists.

It is evident that in the perspective of contemporary Nepal, in its elaborate process of  political and socio-economic development, the scope and role of mass media is getting to be vital. But it is true that the Nepalese media has not been able to overcome the hangover of the polarized journalism. And it is equally true that lapdog journalism is also flourishing in Nepal. But what the Nepalese people aspire is the watchdog  media which can effectively exert pressure on the political parties to work for building national consensus. That is precisely why we need a "watchdog" press to train "the dishonest, parochial and partisan" politicians, to make sure the political stalwarts are doing what they should.

Admittedly, an independent and watchdog media is a cornerstone of democracy. The free press should be able to yield something good, otherwise there will be questions about the role of a free press in a  democracy. And, therefore, Nepal's media outlets should be able to play a positive and effective role towards ending the political uncertainties plaguing the nation