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FES Activities in Nepal with Media in 2000

Media Situation

The Nepalese media sector has recorded a significant development since the installation of multiparty democracy in 1990. There is a high degree of enthusiasm among media people and potential investors in the media industry, thanks to the improved sense of security and certain guarantees offered by the kingdom's Constitution that came into effect in November 1990. Earlier, the prevailing law and regulations allowed the local administration to seize and/or order closure of any printing press; summon and/or order the arrest of the editor/publisher concerned; cancel the registration of the publication; refuse to issue registration approvals for new publications; and harass the editor/publisher in many other ways.

Private Media

According to the data made available by Nepal's Department of Information, the total number of daily, weekly, fortnightly and monthly news publications has crossed 1550. Of these, however, only 185 are regular publications and the rest are either irregularly published or have ceased to be published since some years. But the very fact that there are nearly 200 publications in a country whose official literacy rate is hardly 45 per cent of the 24 million people, is a high number. If there were only two broadsheet national dailies till 1993, there are seven today and a couple of more are in the pipeline.

In the broadcast sector, private companies have also begun to make some inroads into government monopoly. In the last four years, private FM radio stations have been operating. Half of the dozen or so FM stations are operating in the media-saturated Kathmandu Valley and the rest are scattered elsewhere.

The new atmosphere thus has served as a major boost to potential investors to venture into the media world. The broadsheet dailies are a case in point. But this all is only one side of the coin. The Nepalese media continue to be in transition, faced as they are with a variety of challenges, problems and shortcomings. One-third of Nepal's 75 districts does not have any local newspapers and its takes several days or more for national newspapers to reach these areas. All "national" publications are produced and printed in Kathmandu Valley. Newspaper network is weak, partly because of the difficult topography, lack of roads and poor transportation system. There is no mechanism for inter-district newspaper sales. District papers have very small circulation figures, most of them limited to a couple of thousand copies at the most.

Government Media

Nepal has only one news agency, National News Agency (RSS), owned wholly and solely by the government. Members of its board of directors and chairman are all appointed by the government. RSS is heavily funded by the government as its revenue from subscription fees is extremely meagre. Radio Nepal and Nepal Television are also wholly and solely owned by the government. The government also owns two broadsheet daily papers, in Nepali and English, and three other periodicals, all operating in a manner similar to other official media.

Press Associations

Federation of Nepalese Journalists represents most mainstream and other media people. FNJ has been active only in the last four years or so, organising talk programmes and training. FES has regularly supported the organisation. There are some 30 other media organisations but FES has been working with about ten of them on a regular basis.

Professionalism and Conclusion

Nine out of every ten newspapers have hardly any advertisement. How they survive is anybody's guess. One casualty has been fair journalism. Most papers are directly affiliated with one political party/faction or the other. Partisan journalism is the order of the day. This was so five years ago and it is still the same, although the private broadsheet dailies are better off on this score. Most journalists are members of political parties. Government media are extremely biased especially when the government faces a crisis.

The press associations are a divided lot, often on grounds of political ideology. People have to make a guess as to what is happening in the national affairs after going through the various media, which give different accounts of events, thus leaving the public confused. Newspaper distribution system is extremely weak.

Audience/readership surveys are almost non-existent.

Media Activities in 2000

In keeping with the prevailing situation in Nepal, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung/Nepal Office in 2000 supported a variety of media-related programmes, designed to benefit media organisations and practitioners as well as readers, listeners and viewers in general. The basic objective of the support was to promote professionalism in the media and help strengthen democracy. Seminars, workshops, material help and publications were accorded priority.

Focus

The main focus of FES support for media-related programmes is to:

  • Strengthen the functioning of media structures and organisations that help contribute to enhancing democratic decision- making process.
  • Enable organisations engaged in civic education to get media access for reaching the public.
  • Increase public awareness on the role and function of media in a democratic society.
  • Improve the working conditions of media employees and organisations are.
  • Make the performance of media more professional.
  • Enhance the influence of NGOs in informing the public on various important topics and problems.

 

Activity Categories

The media activities can be broadly divided into the following categories:

i. Seminars/conferences

ii. Workshops

iii. Study/publications

iv. Material help

The activities in the year 2000 include 16 seminars/conferences, 13 workshops, material help to 3 institutions, 1 publication and 1 study & publication. FES has been the most prominent institution in supporting programmes that bring into public debate highly topical and timely issues pertaining to the mass media in Nepal. The conferences, seminars and workshops are designed to help initiate lively and fruitful discussions on different topics. Many of the programmes will be addressed by important personalities from various walks of life, including government ministers, court judges, mayors and other prominent personalities. The pool of resource persons pressed into service for the activities will represent senior and experienced media practitioners, trainers and academics. These programmes are to be organised by relevant partners.

The overall media-related programmes are geared towards enhancing a higher degree of professionalism that not only raises the credibility of media organisations and performance but also contributes to creating a more informed society. Two university campuses, offering courses on journalism and mass communication, and a media training institution will be the beneficiaries of the material support provided by FES.

Illiteracy in Nepal stands at about 55 per cent of the population of 24 million. Electricity reaches hardly 15 per cent of the total households. Motorable roads connect only a few places. As such, radio is the most potent source of information. However, only the state-run Radio Nepal has a nation-wide reach so far while about a dozen FM stations have also sprung up since the government started issuing licences sparingly to the private sector in the last four years. FM stations are not allowed to broadcast news and political affairs bulletins. With FES support, community radio's role in informing its target audience will be brought into discussion. The general consensus is that community radio should be promoted.

Media Activities in Brief

Asmita women's Publishing House brought out a book on women through the media. The Media Watch, in Nepali, is a collection of articles highlighting a wide range of gender issues, including the portrayal of women in the media. FES provided partial cost involved in printing. There might not be more than two or three books on gender issues and media, and hence is the significance of the latest Asmita publication.

Federation of Nepalese Journalists, the country's largest organisation of journalists, organised a series of five two-day workshops on Professional Journalism in the 21st century. The FES-backed theme was also the FNJ's slogan for the year 2000. The programmes were held at different regions outside Kathmandu and discussions focussed on opportunities and challenges for Nepalese journalists in the ensuing decades. Various aspects of professionalism were discussed.

FNJ's Dang district unit was supported partially in organising an inter-action programme on human rights and media.

Women and Development Communication Centre organised two conferences, one on "Community Radio for an Informed Society" and another on "Enhancing Media Services in Rural Areas". The need and opportunities for establishing community radio stations were discussed. Likewise, the need for developing information channels for the benefit of people in rural areas was also discussed. Both the topics were considered relevant in the Nepalese context.

WDCC also organised two seminars, of one day each, on "Media Coverage of Development Issues". Given the fact that the mainstream media have been giving extremely little attention to the problems and developments in rural areas where more than 85 per cent of the country's population live, the topic of the seminar was appreciated by participants.

Nepal Institute of Mass Communication organised two workshops on "News Reporting and Source Development". Held outside Kathmandu for three days each, the workshops attracted participation of senior and mid-career journalists who were acquainted with skills to improve news reporting skills and the importance of public contacts for better stories.

NIMC also organised in Kathmandu a day-long seminar on "Media Perspective of Gender Issues". The programme dealt with the ways the media had been treating gender issues. The focus was on the national media, both print and radio.

People's Campus, which runs a course on journalism at the Intermediate level in Kathmandu, was provided with books on various aspects of journalism and mass communication. There were hardly any books in the campus library on the related topics previously. Now there are about 100 titles of books that are borrowed by both teachers and students. It was the first time that the campus received such assistance.

Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, R.R. Campus in Kathmandu, which serves more than 400 students at Intermediate and Bachelor levels, was provided with books on various aspects of journalism and mass communication. Since FES began providing such material help in 1997, the Department's library has been enriched, with about 250 titles of books on media.

Media Point, a Kathmandu-based training institute on journalism, was provided with books on various aspects of journalism and mass communication. Most of the titles were on journalism since the institute basically trains journalists or would-be-journalists. It was the first time that the institute received such assistance.

Nepal Press Union organised two two-day workshops on "Information Bill and Act for Right to Information" in eastern and western Nepal. The theme was highly topical and relevant at a time when the Nepalese society in general and media practitioners in particular have been protesting against the delay on the government's part in initiating mechanisms for a freer and greater flow of information. In the absence of a Right to Information Act, government offices are extremely reluctant to part with information that might seem to have the slightest potential to embarrass government officials and ministers, although Nepal's Constitution explicitly guarantees right to information to all citizens.

NPU also received support for a day-long seminar on "Responsible Journalism in the 21st Century. (Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is scheduled to make an inaugural address to the seminar in Kathmandu on December 26, 2000.)

Telegraph Weekly organised a day-long seminar in Kathmandu on "Role of Media in Enhancing Good Governance", a topic that has been catching the imagination of many sections of Nepalese society. It was for the first time that media's role in good governance was discussed by academics and journalists together. The weekly paper, which regularly carries comprehensive articles on various issues, especially those of interest to university professors and media academics, is the only news publication that is a regular FES partner in Nepal in the last five years.

Sancharika Samuha Nepal organised a day-long seminar in the capital and two two-day workshops in eastern and western Nepal on the topic of "Beijing+5 Review & Media". The focus was on how the media have responded to gender issues in the light of the 1995 women's conference in Beijing. The consensus was that there has been a noticeable improvement in media outlook of gender issues but there still remains a lot to be achieved.

Journalism Research and Training Society of Nepal organised in Kathmandu a day-long seminar on "Prospects and Challenges in Judicial Reporting". Of late, there has been growing popular concern that the media had not been given a critical appraisal of the judiciary because of fear among journalists that they might be booked on charges of contempt of court, despite persistent rumours of glaring anomalies in the functioning of the judiciary. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Daman Nath Dhungana was the resource person.

Vasudha Sanchar Samuha organised a day-long seminar on "Media Priority for Environmental Issues". Participants stressed on the need for the media to accord higher priority for environmental issues. They also called for in-depth writing on such issues.

Press Chautari organised two day-long seminars on "Freedom of Expression and Media Responsibility" and a two-day workshop on "Professional Skill in Regional Press". In the seminars, the participants discussed not only the role of the media as a watchdog but also their responsibility towards society. The workshop on regional press dealt with constraints of the press in the districts and skills needed for writing news and views effectively.

Nepal Association of Media Educators organised in Kathmandu a day-long seminar on "Curriculum for M.A. in Mass Communication". Despite demands from various quarters for introducing M.A. course on journalism and mass communication, there is no such curriculum in Nepal so far. FES has supported a number of programmes on media education in the last three years and, as a result, the Tribhuvan University seems to be serious in introducing such a course within the next two years.

Editor's Guild in Nepal organised in Kathmandu a day-long seminar on "Media Policy for Weekly Papers". About 80 per cent of regular news publications in Nepal are weeklies. But they attract very little advertisement, and hence the seminar discussed ways and means to improving the financial health of weekly papers so that they can serve their readers better.

Professional Journalists Society was supported for a study & publication project. The book was supported in 1999 in the form of a modest first phase payment. This year, the book, written in Nepali by well-known journalist Kishore Nepal. It dealt with media coverage of events of Nepal's two important democratic movements, one that led to the 1980 National referendum and the other to the 1990 restoration of the multiparty democracy.

The book in Nepali entitled "Janamatdekhi Jana Abndolan Samma (From Referendum to Popular Movement) was formally released by former Prime Minister and senior-most Nepali Congress leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai in Kathmandu. Speakers at the programme were all praise for the book.

UNESCO/Himal-initiated "1st Asian Input Conference" in Kathmandu was partially supported by FES. The assistance was in the form of an air-fare for an expert attending the workshop. The workshop included objectives that sought to encourage creative endogenous television productions in developing countries in transition to democracy and increase the presence of television makers from developing countries and their productions at the international level.

 

 
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