MEDIA TRENDS

The general perception at the moment is that credibility of media,including that of the print, is on the decline. And polarization along party political line alone is not responsible for this disappointing trend.<br>-<EM>Dhruba H. Adhikary</EM>

Dec. 20, 2010, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 4 No.-07 September 3-16, 2010 (Bhadra 18, 2067)

That Nepali Congress is a fissured political party does not need elaboration. And denials cannot change the reality. The ongoing war of words, through print and broadcast media outlets, between Sushil Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba serves as solid evidence of the power struggle inside the party. A recent report from Chitwan said an irritated Deuba told inquisitive reporters to stop asking questions regarding his party’s internal affairs. But is this a tenable position?  Can whatever is happening inside the country’s oldest surviving party--with democratic credentials--be likened with a trivial row between husband and wife, and left as a private matter?


Let’s see this subject in another context. While Deuba might have issued an edict on the reporters chasing him, persistent journalists were not probably restrained to put up their queries when B. Lynn
Pascoe, UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, was addressing them on December 4. A look at the transcript of question-answer session makes it clear that none of the media representatives bothered to seek information on his visit to India just before he landed in Kathmandu. How would he characterize his meetings with Indian authorities on Nepal issue, for example? If the UNMIN transcript is correct, at least two of the media-persons present there belonged to Indian media organizations. Or did they find it prudent to skip the Delhi bit of Pascoe’s trip?


After all, this seasoned American diplomat is Ban Ki-Moon’s right-hand man.
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WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower website, and its founder editor, Julian Assange are sure to remain in the headlines worldwide for the time being. While the site has been subjected to stoppage and cyber attacks, Assange was detained in London on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Sweden. And the Swedish authorities acted on the complaint made by two women of rape. Initial media reports had it that since the sexual encounters were of consensual nature, the rape charges had been dropped. But it got mysteriously revived” now—at a time when Assange is being harassed for having leaked diplomatic
cables between Washington and the US missions across the globe. Since no democratic government wants to be seen taking measures to curb freedom of expression, some of its employees appears to have put in their ingenuity for implicating Assange in a sex-related case. Such a plan was bound to hide the real agenda. In an article published in The New York Times, former German ambassador in Washington, Wolfgang Ischinger, conceded that his country’s foreign ministry decided to publish 53 “major diplomatic cables” dispatched by the team he led in 21-day negotiating process in the Dayton peace talks on Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996. The reason for publication of those cables was that the German contributions to the talks were not duly recognized by the concerned parties. Anyway, this admission by Ischinger is a proof that releases of cables are not something new or startling. After all the media is expected to work for a larger public interest in any society that claims to have a democratic foundation. This is what Julian Assange, 39, is too saying. “Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media,” he wrote in his country’s newspaper The Australian.

Don’t shoot the messenger. He is essentially reiterating this universally accepted principle.
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Nepal’s media spectrum is growing, and expanding. The number of FM radio stations is over 300 ; and television channels more than a dozen. These numbers can be interpreted as a positive development. More the merrier, as the saying goes. But numerical growth does not necessarily—and automatically—ensures a credible media for the country.An element of competition can definitely bring some improvement, with concomitant changes in the entertainment segment. However, news and current affairs side of broadcast and online media has to have a high quality service to stay in the market. The general perception at the moment is that credibility of media, including that of the print, is on the decline. And polarization along party political line alone is not responsible for this disappointing trend. Profit-seeking tendency has led some investors to air/print sponsored contents in the garb of
news and independent analyses. Neighbouring India’s press council is already fighting this malpractice of disseminating “paid news”. Another factor that is denting media’s credibility is media owners’ inability to hire trained and competent journalists for the newsroom. They pay very little attention for updating journalists’ knowledge and skills. Meanwhile, those who have succeeded in sneaking into newsrooms
through “right connections” have found themselves lured to a series of unhealthy fads.

 

One of such fads is visible in the form of their attempts to air public opinions based on polls/surveys on contemporary issues. One often sees the anchor posing a question like: should Prachanda be made next prime minister of Nepal ? When the results are aired in the subsequent broadcast, Prachanda is shown getting the support from 65% of the viewers, without informing the audience about the exact number
of viewers who responded to the question. This presentation is obviously incomplete, and can be misleading. Percentage alone does not mean anything unless supported by actual figures. Here is an example :if a new high school has sent 10 students to appear in SLC and all of them pass the examinations, the headmaster can claim a hundred per cent success. Compare this with another school which sent 100 students and 90 of them score pass marks, but it turns out to be just 90 per cent. If the district education office does not reveal the actual number of students sitting in examinations from each of the two schools-- and cite only the percentage, the school with 10 students would be seen to have produced better results. But does this depict the ground reality?


Over the years, I have seen one English newspaper and a weekly at that, which has been publishing such polls and surveys in a proper, professional manner. Most of the times I have found The Nepali Times’ questions topical and sensible and those are accompanied by a set of logical options to choose from. The paper shows the percentage of polls, and the important point is that it never forgets to print the
precise number of votes received. This item used to be a front page attraction for several years; but I haven’t seen it in the print edition these days.
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Janadisha, a Nepali daily run by the Maoist party, reported on December 3 that those attending the upcoming student conference would include the son of Peru’s jailed revolutionary leader of Shining Path
fame, Abimael Guzman (a.k.a Comrade Gonzalo). Doesn’t the younger revolutionary have a name of his own ? Or perhaps this is a secret not to be revealed to the readers.

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