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Nepali Media and Madhesi Movement

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The ABCs of journalism – Accurate, Balanced and Credible – are most debated in the Nepali media. Throughout our history, media has been praised for its positive and effective role in favour of democracy, human rights, freedom and equality. But are they balanced and impartial? For all the years, journalist themselves and experts from other fronts also saluted the Nepali media saying it has always played a role of catalyst for the good of all – be it during the student movement of 1980, of 1990 or during the Jana Andolan II.

But along the road, experts have pointed out that Nepali media was not as objective, balanced and impartial while highlighting or covering the first mass movement launched by the Madhesi community at the beginning of this year.

Prof Lal Deusa Rai of Tribhuvan University argues that it was the lapse of the professionalism among media workers that turned the Madhesis against the media. He did not deny the political and criminal attack on media and media persons during the 21-day long Madhesi movement, but said lack of accuracy, balance and impartiality in news reports appearing on print or electronic media was one of the many reasons that evoked the Terai unrest.

Dozens of journalists were attacked, manhandled, threatened, their offices wrecked, their vehicle burnt and distribution or transmission obstructed during the movement. The leading media bodies operating from the central level failed to maintain accuracy in the news and find out the root cause of the unrest.

Former general manager of the Nepal Television, Tapa Nath Sukla, stressed that media in Nepal needs to make more effort to keep their credibility, impartiality while the political forces must keep away from influencing the media for their personal gains. He however said the local media in the districts had been more impartial comparatively.

According to a new research carried out by Freedom Forum, whose team included senior journalists, rights advocates, lawyers and university professors, the national media has been more critical while giving space to news related to the Terai unrest. Since the beginning of the movement from Lahan, where a student was killed by Maoist affiliated Young Communist League (YCL), the media had used most quotes of critical persons who said the unrest was evoked by the palace, Indian fundamentalists, foreign forces and such others.

Senior journalist Gokul Pokhrel, who led the research, says Nepali media failed to play a non-partisan role while highlighting the unfolding events of the movement. The languages used in the news items in several instances were attacking towards agitators, others exaggerating while the rest reported without facts, he stated.

In turn, the agitators became more furious against media, the foremost being Kantipur Publications, though local media in the district were most affected. The research has also pointed out that reports sent by local reporters were altered to have a negative connotation by the editors in Kathmandu eventually leading the Madhesis to become more aggressive against the mainstream media. At the centre, the editors explained the unrest as what they perceived, while in districts the agitators forced the local media to write or broadcast in their favour.

During this period, a number of publications and radio stations were forced to remain shutdown while the agitators compelled the local cable TV operators to telecast CDs prepared to evoke ethnic enmity between the Madhesis and the Pahades.

Journalist Binod Dhungel said as reporters in the districts cannot be so impartial and accurate while collecting news in a situation where their lives are under threat, the research report failed to suggest that media owners had not trained journalists on how to report on such critical situations. Gopal Thapaliya of SAFMA Nepal stressed on the need to highlight the news of movement for judicial freedom and to be objective. He termed the Terai unrest an movement for 'judicial freedom' and that the media has to give priority to such news with facts.

Tara Nath Dalal, former president of Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) added journalists entrusted to protect the rights of others cannot maintain absolute impartiality and accuracy in a situation where their life is in danger; therefore sharpening of skills of the Nepali journalists to suit the conflict situation in the society is the need of the hour.

At the same time, the research has cautioned the hidden political interests of media owners be revised to present an Accurate, Balanced and Credible news of all sections. Expansion of media industry has not always meant it protected the rights of the people and brought in the voice of voiceless. Looking towards the impacts of the news item has become necessary for Nepali journalists, the research added.

note to editors: This article written by Indra Adhikari originally appeared on www.nepalnews.com. i could notupload the image