In a country where the vast majority of people live in extreme poverty without access to running water, electricity, or adequate food or shelter, the state of journalism may seem inconsequential. However, Nepal is also a country that has suffered from wide-scale political corruption, social inequity and human rights abuses. Journalists play a critical role in ensuring that people have access to the information required for them to understand the ways decisions made at national levels impact their livelihoods and in enabling them to have their voices heard. Yet, in Nepal’s transition to peace and democracy, journalists have faced many challenges.
After the Royal Takeover in Nepal in 2005, the former King Gyandendra clamped down on the free press by censoring all media and imprisoning journalists who criticized the monarchy. The army shut down community FM radio stations and newspapers ran editorials about the weather rather than risk unintentionally publishing opinions that could be construed as derogatory. On Feb 2., 2005, a blog called Radio Free Nepal posted, “Communications are still cut off. And the future of our country, people, and our journalistic career look glum.”
After a popular uprising in 2006, the government annulled all restrictions on press freedoms. An interim constitution was drafted that guaranteed freedom of the press. However, this did little to relieve the difficulties journalists faced in Nepal as they became the targets of ethnic clashes and Maoist insurgents.
Since 2006, when the Maoists abandoned their People’s War, considered to be one of the most brutal Asian conflicts in modern history, Nepal has undergone political upheaval. Just this year the 200-year old monarchy was abolished in favour of a Federal Republic. Nepal, in its emerging state of peace and democracy, is flawed, uncertain of itself, and faces serious challenges in overcoming the residue of its conflict. Journalists are a critical cog in the peace process in postconflict Nepal. However, state-run press and broadcasting organizations are little more than mouth-pieces for major political parties, and many commercial media organizations also have political affiliations leaving principles of fair and balanced journalism suspect. As a result, a great deal of reliable news reporting in print and broadcast media falls on grassroots journalism.
Grassroots journalism in Nepal has been lauded for its role in peace-building in recent years. Independent newspapers and community-based FM broadcasters are widely credited for bringing Maoist rebels into negotiation with the state and for demanding free speech despite threats, imprisonment, and abuse perpetrated by Maoist rebels and the royal government. Now, in the postconflict climate, journalists face new challenges. The war has left a country marred by mass suffering, displacement, and ethnic agitations in its wake.
Currently, press coverage of issues related to truth and reconciliation, compensation and war reparations is scant. A great deal of journalism at public, private, and grassroots levels is steeped in partisan ideologies and is defined by inaccuracies, exaggerations, and conflicts of interest. Journalists continue to suffer from lack of resources, political pressure, news manipulation, and threats from special interest groups.
For more information on journalism in Nepal, visit BBC News.
Posted By Heather Gilberds
Posted Jul 20th, 2008