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Report on Democracy and Peace building in Nepal: Role of Media in Constitution making process

Organised by The Telegraph Weekly (TW)

17 December, Kathmandu

The Telegraph Weekly (TW) Organized a one-day seminar on "Democracy and Peace-Building in Nepal," on December 17 in Kathmandu. Altogether 70 participants representing media, peace commission, army integration special commission, CA members, embassies, European Commission and academia discussed on the role of media in constitutional discourse and democratization of society. Participants focused on the role of media in giving voice, visibility and access of minorities and left out groups in various CA committees. The questions about the democratization of media, political parties and state institutions were also raised as they concluded that rationalization of means is a precondition to the achieve democratic end of politics-peaceful plural coexistence.

Nepal’s highly acclaimed academicians and senior journalists have painted a very gloomy picture of this country. The Nepalese scholars exhibited their pessimism over the country’s future given the tussle, friction and differences seen in and among the political parties that have a say in the country’s politics. The intellectuals and the responsible media men were of the opinion that though the political system had changed, however, the said change could not be felt by the common men of the country. The two sections of the Nepali society expressed their surprise over the Prime Minister Dahal’s fresh declaration wherein he had appealed the population to take up to the arms if need be in order to preserve the political gains after the declaration of a republican order in the country.

Both the scholars and the media men urged the ruling elites and other major political actors to mend their petty differences and concentrate their entire efforts in drafting of a new constitution as promised to the population. They made their views known to all at a Telegraph Weekly and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung sponsored media seminar entitled “Role of Media in Constitution Making Process” held in Kathmandu, 17 December 2008. Welcoming the attending galaxy of scholars, the chief editor of the Telegraph Weekly, Mr. N.P. Upadhyaya said that “what the nation needed today was a cross cutting cleavages which should speak people from my region-people from other regions; people from my class and people from other classes; people from my race and concurrently people from other races”. Mr. Upadhyaya dwelling on the role of media in the constitution making process opined that “ it can at best forward suggestions to the CA parliamentarians to sense the heart beat of the population and draft a charter that takes care of all the ailments that have had gripped this country in the past”. He further maintained that the media can caution the CA members to draft a constitution that allows each and every individual to claim that this is my constitution, and our constitution. (See second impression for Mr. Upadhyaya’s welcome speech).

The General Secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, Mr. Poshan K.C lamented that even with the installation of the republican order in the nation, the Nepali media were still being subjected to threat and intimidation from political quarters.

“The relation between the Press and the Political parties are not good as it should have been even after the change”, said Mr. K.C demanding the new constitution must guarantee the freedom of the press under any circumstances.

“Though the system changed, however, the old political mindset to look at the media remains the same”, concluded the FNJ functionary. Mark Larsen, the Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Nepal was the chief guest of the media seminar. Delivering his key note speech at the inaugural session of the seminar, Mr. Larsen said that the media had an enormous role in the constitution making process. The media should, said Mark Larsen, make investigative reporting, bring out opinions from different sectors of the society to open debate which would be later utilized by the CA members while drafting of the constitution.

“The media can conduct research as to what the people want…how the constitution should be…which ensures the rights of each and every section of the society”, added Mark. According to Mark Larsen, the media should provide a forum for discussion and debate to the people so that the people in turn could ventilate their feelings. “Good journalism with balanced news and views from various sectors of the society must reach to the CA prior to the drafting of a new constitution for Nepal”, added the US embassy official. Professor Dr. Sushil Raj Pandey, the Head of the Political Science Department, Tribhuwan University said that the “constitution must be drafted that is inclusive in nature and content both, however, how much time the drafting of the constituted was immaterial”. He opined that the CA members must remain sensitive towards the so far neglected population and draft a national charter that addressed their grievances so that the emerging Nepali society remains friction-less. Prof. Dr. Ram Kumar Dahal, Tribhuwan University also maintained that the new constitution should embrace the entire diverse culture and address to the genuine grievances of the people who had been denied their participation in the mainstream politics. Dr. Dahal lauded the efforts of the Telegraph Weekly in catering to the needs of the Nepali academicians by publishing academic articles which, in his opinion, were of immense value and importance to those who were engaged in the field of research works.

Similarly, the Head of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office, Mr. Dev Raj Dahal said that “a democracy infected by huge disparity in power, wealth and access to the means of public communication can neither set citizens free from fear nor free from the deficiency of essential good”. Dahal opines, “A democratic order can exist only out of necessity of public reason of government to be responsive and compliance of citizens to public institutions and laws and that it was essentially false to presume that the government alone can create public order without the consent of the governed”. Dahal concluded his vote of thanks by quoting the German scholar of international standing who said, “Democracy is a means and an end to both individual and social emancipation”. “But this emancipation requires the liberation of Nepalese politics from its excessive preoccupation with utilitarian instinct and making it serve public purpose of a peaceful future”, says Dahal prior to making the concluding remarks.

After the inaugural session, Mr. Chandra Dev Bhatta presented a working paper on “Democracy and Peace Building in Nepal: Role of Media in Constitution Making Process”. Mr. Bhatta in his paper has said that “political parties who are supposed to give good governance either as the party in government or party in the opposition are engaged in get-rich-overnight business and that their precepts are openly emulated by others in all organs of the government and have thus institutionalized corruption in the society.

Mr. Bhatta opines that “political parties and their leaders have always used and abused the system for their own personal and partisan benefits and kept on practicing hypocrisy”. (See telegraphnepal.com for Mr. Bhatta’s entire text presented at the seminar). Speaking from the Chair, Dr. Rabindra Khanal congratulated Mr. Bhatta for his excellent presentation and urged the media men to begin public debate on the issues that are to be included in the new constitution and that may have serious impact in Nepal’s socio-economic and political development.

During the second session of the seminar, senior advocate Mr. Satya Mohan Joshi-Tharu presented his paper and stated that “role of the media is very important which carry out functions of a watch-dog in the pressure group”. Mr. Tharu says that the government and the political parties have so far not become successful in presenting the activities of probable framework as specified by the Interim Constitution after analyzing the important new structure in the new constitution making to-date-that is formation of a State Restructuring Commission and formation of a Commission together with to provide shape for the integration of the Maoist army. He further says that “inequality and lack of opportunities are the major impediments and thus the Nepali society needed a sort of revamp that takes care of the interests of all those who have had been left in the cold in the past”. Speaking from the Chair, Prof. Dr. Hari Bansh Jha wished that the new constitution contributes to the enhancement of the communal harmony in and among all the communities residing inside the Nepali territory.

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