Promoting democracy through practice

<br>DhrubaHari Adhikary

Sept. 30, 2012, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 06 No.-08 Sept. 28-2012 (Ashoj 12, 2069)

The word  "democracy " carries its exact meaning , said late professor Yadunath Khanal once,  if it is used without any adjective. If a prefix--- such as basic or guided--- is added, it only helps to dilute its essence often leaving readers in doubt.  The observation appears convincing. But in a given context, such explanation may look incomplete. A simple example could be of a person who just comes from a scene of road accident. He describes how angry passengers beat the bus driver ruthlessly, but a bystander disputes his description. Then the witness reiterates what he said earlier : I saw the scene through my own eyes. Here the allusion to the "eyes" is not redundant as it is used here to emphasize the point being made. It is in this context that the readers of Professor Kharel's latest book on media need to decipher its title. The word " participatory " is denoting the emphasis the author wants to attach to democracy.  The following quotation from page 86 amplifies his argument : " Democracy anywhere considers dialogue essential…"  And the dialogue inherently demands participation.

Like the author's previous publication, Political Communication, this book too appears to be the outcome of his painstaking research. This is evident in all the 10 chapters contained in the book. The volume of information in it is remarkable. He must have spent a good amount of time to collect and verify the statements, references and pithy quotations he has drawn from a wide variety of sources. Here is a relevant example from page 48 : "Wall posters were the forerunners of the newspapers in Europe and they first appeared in Venice, the Italian city, in 1566." Side by side, the author has provided bases to take the participatory democracy discourse towards oriental ideas and approaches. Or else he would not have offered references from Ramayana and Mahabharat.  Since the author was  a student of history before entering the journalism, it might have helped him to employ his knowledge and skills in injecting historical perspectives. 

The author has spent considerable space to examine a number of definitions which are relevant for the debate on the main theme of the book. How, for instance, is freedom defined ?  One sample the author puts forward is as follows : " A liberal defines freedom as implying choice and absence of restraints while a socialist links freedom with equality."

A broader picture of how the Nepali media is working needs to be considered is another important aspect of the book at hand. Media's credibility is palpably low as it has been penetrated by political and external interest groups. Workers of political parties---with leanings to far left as well as to the far right---have sneaked into the media in the guise of reporters. And very few of them possess desirable qualifications and professional competence to work as producers of reports that are balanced and reliable. This stark reality is appropriately summarized on page 55 : " Nepal is a country where most mainstream media are too close to political and other interest groups…"

The author has liberally shard his thoughts with readers. And some of the issues raised in the book can persuade the readers to  look for alternative approaches. The subject of right to information act is a case in point. Is specific law a must in any country under democratic governance ?  Not really. The Indian constitution, for example, does not provide for any tailored freedom extended to media---media derives its share of freedom from the right to freedom of expression given to all citizens. That justifies their  need for a separate Right to Information Act. But in Nepal, the 1990 constitution guaranteed press and publications rights specifically, and violation of those rights can be challenged directly in the Supreme Court. And lawyers like Balkrishna Neupane have indeed successfully taken such matters of public interest to the highest court. Right to seek information on issues of public interest has been guaranteed to every citizen of this country. Then this question naturally arises : if you can take your case to the highest legal institution on the basis of constitution why should you invoke a subsidiary law, RTI in this instance, and knock the door of a district level court ? Fundamental rights of citizens contained in the 2007 Interim Constitution are nothing but a copy of the provisions enshrined in the 1990 statute.

While this book, as indicated earlier, is a mine of information--- and mostly supported by convincing interpretations as well as contentions--- it also has some mistakes. And this is not unusual. In some pages there are disjointed paragraphs that confuse readers regarding the context of the information and arguments being offered. Similarly, the author has chosen to omit references that can be perceived as inconvenient truth. One such reference can be found on page 36 : on the infamous Jallianawallabagh massacre of April 1919 in what was then the British India. Over 400 people including women and children were killed within minutes on the orders of Brigadier General Dyer. And the shooting was carried out by the Gurkhas. That the Gurkhas were used then as mercenaries is a historically established fact. Unfortunately, this tradition survives to this very day and young Nepalis in foreign uniforms continue to be engaged in battles with countries which are not Nepal's adversaries. This is a great irony. A keen reader of this book might also notice one or two minor/typographical mistakes. On page 124, there is a description of how Maoist insurgents killed a journalist in Bara district. He who lost his life was Birendra Sah, not Dhirendra as mentioned.

These are extenuating flaws in a book with a splendid theme. The message, as inserted on page 41, is : practice promotes democracy. It is another thing that people of this country have been continuously deprived of a chance to practice democracy since the day it dawned in February 1951.

Media for Participatory Democracy
Author : P. Kharel
Publisher : Kamala Kharel
Pages : 321+
Price : Not mentioned
First edition, 2012

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