Sunday, March 22, 2015

Role of Media in Democracy

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

Sometimes after orchestrating a coup d' etat against the elected Nepali Congress government in 1960, King Mahendra imposed a kind of governance known as the Panchayat system which lasted for 30 years and which was notorious for persecuting and prosecuting the journalists and for curtailing press freedom.

One of the distinctive features of the journalistic period during the Panchayat system is that while the opposition newspapers were  busy doing the 'mission journalism' playing the watchdog role,  the pro-Panchayat newspapers were playing lapdog roles at the hands of the powerful regime stalwarts.

Nepal today is a democratic country. But it was not during the Panchayat system. After the political upheaval in 20006, Nepal was morphed into a republic from kingdom. But as the nation wrestles with its gravest and longest political crises in a lingering transition for writing a constitution, the  questions arise: What is the role of media in a democracy as well as in a non-democratic dispensation?  Was the role played by the Nepalese press effective in warning the political parties  against the unnecessary dilly-dallying of the constitution writing process? It looks like the role of 'mission journalism' during the non-democratic Panchayat regime was more effective than the role the Nepalese media is playing today in a democratic setup in Nepal.

Democracy is described as a government that rules with the freely given consent and mandate of the people  and is a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Looking at the modus operandi of the Nepalese political parties and their intentional procrastination in enforcing the constitution, it seems like they lack the democratic culture and political credibility as well. That is why people are raising the questions in social media sites "Why the hell are the Nepalese politicians wasting time and not been able to deliver constitution even after eight years of monarchy's annihilation?"

As long as the Nepalese politicians do not follow the norms and values of democracy, they will never be able to establish true and genuine democracy in the country. People are already aware that  Nepal's Constituent Assembly (CA) is still ill-prepared and lacks credibility to deal with wide ranging issues for delivering the constitution to the nation. The only job of the members of the CA is to abide by the whips and orders of the political parties that they represent. The grim reality of Nepal is that the CA members have been so pre-occupied with their personal and partisan interests that national interest has taken a backseat.

So what is the role of media in Nepal's chaotic democracy? Are the Nepalese media playing constructive and supportive role in enhancing the democratic culture of the Nepalese politicians? Why are the Nepalese political parties and leaders not rising above their petty partisan interests? Why are they not getting down to the business of writing the constitution? Why have the Nepalese media been unable to grill the politicians for their political failures and to bring the politicians back to the track to write the constitution?

There is no doubt that a free and independent media is vital for a vibrant democracy. Nepal today faces a number of challenges relating to the political uncertainties and imbalances. The Nepalese media should be able to provide a clear  and trailblazing vision to the politicians and to get out of the political mess. Therefore, the role of the Nepalese media in exerting pressure on the political parties to build national consensus and bring out a constitution is very significant.

An independent and free media is a cornerstone of democracy. A free media's role can be compared as the oxygen of democracy. That is why the Nepalese media should be able to tell the people about the devastating outcomes of unnecessary lingering of writing of the constitution.

Media is a powerful tool to transform the society but the power of media should not be abused to fulfill vested interest. And at the same time, the Nepalese media should get rid of old hangover of partisan journalism and should be objective in political reportage.

Media and democracy are symbiotic to each other, they both need each other. Politicians always aspire to use the media to curry the political favors.  But the role of media becomes more relevant when the means of mass media support only the right decisions of the politicians and parties, and unequivocally flay the wrong decisions and activities of the political parties and their stalwarts.

*Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA, Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA

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