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.

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