Sunday, July 26, 2015

"Pravda" Means the Truth

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Lecturer of Journalism, Peoples Campus, RR Campus.

Pravda means the truth and Izvestia means the news in Russian. Pravda and Izvestia were the top daily newspapers across the Soviet Union until its disintegration in 1992. But even during the period of the Soviet Union, I have heard the Russians say: In the Pravda ( The Truth), there is no news and in the Izvestia ( The News), there is no truth.

To a considerable extent, it was true. Pravda was full of information and stories about the activities of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, about its meetings, plenums and congress. The Pravda was notorious for printing the verbatim speeches of the general secretary of the central committee of the CPSU. Apart from that, the Pravda also used to publish well-written stories on culture, science, literature, economics, sports etc.

During my decade-long stay in the former Soviet Union (1979-1989), I had to read the newspapers Pravda, Izvestia and other Soviet newspapers in Russian, because there were no other options. Foreign newspapers and magazines were dubbed as bourgeois and hence strictly prohibited in the Soviet territory. Only the newspapers of the fraternal Communist Parties were allowed to be sold in the main cities of the Soviet Union.

Pravda's materials and stories were presented in such a way as to indoctrinate the party ideas and messages into the people effectively. Many a times, stories of heroic achievements of industrial and agricultural production made banner headlines. But the Pravda did not believe in the sensationalization of news, so it never printed celebrity, scandal and crime news.

The newspaper Pravda was the official mouthpiece of the CPSU from 1917 to 1992 until the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Pravda was the only newspaper in the history of print journalism in the world having the single issue circulation of 12 million copies everyday and was the largest circulation newspaper in the world until 1992. Pravda was printed and published daily from 42 cities of the former  Soviet Union simultaneously.

The reporters and correspondents of the Pravda were deployed all over the Soviet Union. And there were bureaus of the Pravda in more than 50 countries of the world, and the bureaus  were manned by the Soviet journalists.

The other important newspapers except Pravda and Izvestia during the Soviet period were : Komsomolskaya Pravda (Komsomol Truth), Trud (Labor),  Selskaya Zhizn (Rural Life), Literaturnaya Gazeta  (Literary Newspaper) and Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) and so on.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Pravda witnessed a lot of vicissitudes. Ownership of the Pravda was sold to a family of Greek entrepreneurs. The Pravda had a big fortune during the Soviet regime. Not any more. It used to be printed everyday and like I said at certain point its daily circulation exceeded 12 million copies. But today the Pravda's circulation is about 100,000 copies a day and is brought out only three times a week. Fortunately, the newspaper still comes out from the Pravda's same old office building at Pravda Street in Moscow.

The Pravda is still the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is one of the strong opposition parties in Russia today. But paradoxically the website Pravda. ru is  totally different from the original newspaper and is pro-Kremlin and pro-Putin.

Well, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Soviet authorities very well knew the importance of newspapers and mass media. Newspapers, magazines and mass media were used as the effective means of propaganda and publicity during the Soviet period.

Nepal was not untouched by the propaganda wars of the Superpowers. Nepal was flooded with many Soviet newspapers and magazines  in Hindi and English at that time.  "Soviet Bhoomi"  (Soviet Land) was an illustrated news magazine published in Nepali from Kathmandu by the Information Department of the Soviet Embassy in Nepal. The price of the "Soviet Bhoomi" was cheap and affordable for the Nepalese people. The Americans, not to lag behind, also used to publish "Swatantra Vishwa" (Free World) from Kathmandu. Likewise, Radio Moscow used to broadcast news and other programs in Nepali on a daily basis until 1992.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ward's Death Great Loss to Nepalese Community in Oregon

Rabin Man Shakya
Advisor,  Nepa Chhen

Death is an eternal truth. In Theravada Buddhism, there is a saying in Pali language "Anichavata Sankhara" which implies that life is uncertain but death is certain.

Helen Ward who was one of the early Nepalese immigrants to settle in Portland, Oregon and who worked as Early Intervention - Early Childhood Special Education Specialist at Willamette Education Services passed away on Monday, July 20, 2015 in Portland. The cause of her death was breast cancer.

Many Nepalese Portlanders say Helen was the quintessence of hospitality and friendship. They say that late Ward was a formidable combination of articulation and determination, yes determination to help and host the people.

Her tireless activities for the common good of the Nepalese community won her commendation from the community members.

Late Helen Ward with the activists of Nepa Chhen

It was at some programs organized by Nepa Chhen that I had the privilege to get acquainted with late Helen Ward.

Nepa Chhen, a Cultural Center for Nepalese community in Oregon will always be indebted to Helen didi for her moral and other support to the organization. At a picnic organized by Nepa Chhen on August 9, 2014 at Blue Lake Park in Portland, Helen didi had offered donations to Nepa Chhen by selling ear-rings which she made by herself.

Late Ward was devoted to friends and family. The fact that she was taking good care of her aging mother was a testimony to it.

Diwakar Maharjan,  president of NRNA - USA  Oregon Chapter said of her: "Before the establishment of organizations like NAO and Nepa Chhen, Helen didi acted like an institution to unite the Nepalese in Oregon. She was our respected community sister and good friend. Her demise is a great loss to the Nepalese community in Oregon."

Late Ward was born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal in the Mali family. However, she studied Masters in Special Education at Portland State University.

Late Ward is survived by three sons, her mom and her sisters. Her funeral service was held at Riverview Abbey on July 20, 2015.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mass Media Making Deep Inroads into Nepalese Life

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

One of my little booklets titled "The  Press in Nepal: Problems and Political Orientation" consisting of 20 pages was published in 1987 in Kathmandu as part of one of the pre-requisite articles for my Ph D thesis in journalism.

On page 11 of that booklet it says: "In the system of mass media, Nepal can be ranked at the infant or initial stage of development comparing to that of advanced countries. This ranking comes as no wonder when one considers that in a country of 16 million population, the literacy rate is 29 percent and the average per capita annual income for Nepal has been estimated as US $140.00, being one of the lowest in the world. For a livelihood, 80 percent of the population still depends on primitive agricultural tools and equipment."

My booklet further went on to say: "Radio Nepal is the only radio broadcasting enterprise in the country. Nepal Television which was borne couple of years ago is serving the people of Kathmandu few hours daily with extreme difficulties. Not to talk of a TV set, to have an ordinary radio set is also considered to be a source of luxury and prestige in this country on the eve of the end of the twentieth century. The newspapers are mainly confined to Kathmandu and some other urban areas."

The government-owned Gorkhapatra and The Rising Nepal were the only broadsheet daily newspapers in Nepali and English. But a lot of water have flowed under the bridge of river Karnali and Nepal has seen a sea of change in the field of mass media. Media scenario of the nation started to change after the restoration of democracy in 1990.The vital statistics about Nepal have changed so far  accordingly. If Nepal's population has reached over 27 million people, its literacy rate now is 57.5 percent and per capita income of the Nepalese people currently is US $ 662.00.  And today the mass media as well as the social media are making deep inroads into the lives of the Nepalese people.

Today, there are over 400 FM radio stations all over Nepal and the number of TV stations has reached almost two dozens, many of them operating 24 hours. Even here in the US, the White Himal TV channel has been  in operation for last several years and airing programs 24 hours a day in Nepali language.

And there are more than 100 daily newspapers in Nepal today. The number of broadsheet daily newspapers is more than 12, four broadsheets are published in English. The new wave underscores the evolving nature of global communication technology.

In fact, it is not only about Nepal. Technology, globalization and Internet are fast changing the lifestyle and perspectives of the people across the world. The world has seen unprecedented revolution in the field of information and communication technology which has  brought about positive changes and progress in social as well as economic fields. As a result, the world today has turned into a real small global village.

However, over the last several years, the majority of the private sector television channels and FM stations have been embroiled in a financial limbo and as a result the journalists and reporters working for these TV stations and FMs have not been paid their salaries in time.

Therefore, one of the bigger issues causing tremendous concern for the journalists and reporters in Nepal is the lower wages and salaries.

Nevertheless, the important factor that stands in the way of enforcing the much-awaited new constitution is the great role of Nepalese mass media in Nepal's turbulent political landscape. It is to be noted that Nepal was plunged into political turmoil for about a decade, thanks to parochial and partisan attitudes of the Nepalese political stalwarts.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Nepal: A Censorship-free Country

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Lecturer of Journalism, Peoples Campus and RR Campus.

The number of countries which are notorious for using censorship to protect the  regime are on the decline. Today the list is not very long as in the eighties and  nineties: China, North Korea, Eritrea, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus and some other countries in Africa, Middle East and Latin America. During the Panchayat regime of 30 years, censorship was used in Nepal excessively.

There were cases when the copies of Newsweek, Time magazine and some Indian newspapers were banned and confiscated at the Tribhuvan International Airport for materials related to the Royal family and regime during the Panchayat period in Nepal.

Well, freedom of press does not mean the freedom to print, publish and broadcast pornography and obscene materials. Therefore, some degrees of self-censorship are used  and must be used to prevent pornography and obscenity and that is okay.

But if newspapers and magazines are  banned, harassed and intimidated for publishing political materials against the government and the political parties, it is outrageous and unacceptable. So many Nepalese journalists were harassed and incarcerated during the Panchayat regime only because they used their pen against the government. Suppression of information, news and views as well as persecution and prosecution of journalists are  not acceptable in any way.

Today, Nepalese journalists are politically and legally free of censorship and Nepal is a censorship-free country. Democracy was restored in Nepal in 1990 and broadly speaking there was no obvious censorship in Nepal after 1990 except during former king Gyanendra's takeover in 2005 when even the army personnel were deployed in the news rooms of private sector broadsheet daily newspapers, FM radio stations and television channels.

I was with The Rising Nepal, a government-owned English language broadsheet daily newspaper for over a decade spanning from 1992-2005. I have heard about the grim stories about the top journalists of the Gorkhapatra Corporation being suspended and transferred to other sections for minor mistakes in news stories related to the royal family during the Panchayat period.

Fortunately, I was with the TRN after democracy was restored in 1990. Still the policy of the Gorkhapatra Corporation - which run the newspapers - required to use self-censorship to a considerable degree so much so that a very minor and insignificant piece of news related to the royal family has to be printed on the front page of the Gorkhapatra and The Rising Nepal even after the restoration of democracy in 1990.

I was in the former Soviet Union for over a decade from 1979 to 1989. The Soviet Union was notorious for censoring politically delicate news coverage and jamming the radio broadcasting of radio stations like the BBC and Voice of America. Free press did not exist in the Soviet Union. All the activities related to the mass media were directed and monitored by the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union). The foreign newspapers and magazines were strictly prohibited in the USSR. Only the newspapers and magazines of the fraternal Communist Parties were allowed. Therefore, the mouthpiece of US Communist Party "People's World" and British Communist Party newspaper "Morning Star" were available at the newspaper kiosks in major cities of the former Soviet Union.

There are a number of reasons for disintegration of countries like the USSR and Yugoslavia. Lack of reasonable democratic practices and absence of press freedom were among them. It is not as easy for the politicians to argue, as they did in the past, that the disintegration of the countries like the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia is the result of grand designs of outsiders. Actually, they were just frightened by the power of democracy and free press.

*Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA - USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.
**Please leave a comment below.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

"I Regret Not Being an Active Reporter"

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

The stereotypical perception of a reporter comes from a person nosing around for news with his pen and notebook, and dangling around with his camera and smart phone. But it is also very true that we can not imagine the existence of newspapers without the reporters. The quintessence of a newspaper is a talented and qualified reporter. Today lots of powerful political stalwarts and powerful tycoons are also scared by  some formidable reporters of popular newspapers. I regret not being an active reporter during my entire experience in journalism. Although I was involved in the news desk during my journalistic tenure, I had opportunity to be friend and to interact with reporters not only from Nepal but from across the world.

Reporters are integral part of news outlets like newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television networks and news agencies. News and breaking news about important incidents, accidents, scandals and catastrophe  are the results of tireless works of reporters.

Judging by interaction and long friendship with the reporters, I can say life of a reporter is not only always hectic and  busy but vulnerable to threats and intimidations and yet it is full of adventures and challenges. You get to meet with so many political stalwarts, business tycoons and luminaries and celebrities.

To work as true reporters in authoritarian countries is really risky and challenging. It is in these repressive regimes that true and genuine reporters are treated like criminals for doing their job honestly. It is in these  authoritarian countries  that hundreds of reporters and journalists have been assassinated for what they wrote.

During my long stay in countries like the USA, the USSR and India, I have confronted with reporters from around the countries ruled by dictators and authoritarian rulers. They had expressed their opinion to me and the bottomline was: the authoritarian regimes are not happy with the modus operandi of the true reporters.

Today Nepal is a democratic country where reporters do not have to face big problems while doing their reporting assignments at least from the side of government, though time and again the Nepalese reporters have been harassed and intimidated by political stalwarts, business tycoons and criminal dons. But, at least, unlike during the Panchayat period, the Nepalese reporters and journalists are not persecuted and prosecuted - for what they write - by the government. But in many repressive and authoritarian countries, hundreds of reporters and journalists are being incarcerated  for what they wrote. In some countries of Asia, Africa, Middle East and Latin America, seeking out information the government does not want made public deprives the reporters of their basic journalistic freedom.

In countries like Nepal and India, reporters working for newspapers, radio stations and TV networks are under perennial pressure to bring in breaking news and scoops and there is carte blanche to do most bizarre things.

A scoop is a piece of  important or exciting news made public by a newspaper, news agency, radio station or TV channels before its rivals. Reporters across the world are nosing around for scoops and breaking news. Reporters like to nose out all the details of a sensational scandal. Reporters keep looking around places and asking questions in order to discover something interesting.

Well, reporting is a hard  and challenging job, but it is also where the joy lies in journalism. Digging into something newsworthy provides a rush, almost a high. But to discover something new by searching carefully and talking with people is another joy for reporters. Anybody who has worked as a reporter can tell you what it feels like to get a big scoop. I have seen the joy of reporters bringing in the breaking news and scoops in the news desk.

No doubt, news is a result of work of reporter. News must be newsworthy, accurate, impartial and balanced. For this,  opinion of all sides relating to the story must be included.Reporters must be careful careful while writing, gathering and selecting news stories. The primary essence is to identify the important underlying problems of the relevant issues.

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