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Role of media in Constitution Making

Organised by Press Chautari Nepal (PC)

4 July 2009, Nagarkot


Press Chautari, in association with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung - Nepal Office, organised one day workshop on the Role of Media in Constitution making process in Nagarkot of Kavre District on 4th July, 2009. The participants included journalists from vernacular weeklies, dailies, radios, FMs and Television stations. Altogether 40 journalists which also included five women journalists, from different parts of the country took part in the workshop. The programme was attended by the Minister for Communication - Mr. Shankar Pokhrel, General Secretary of the UML- Mr Ishwor Pokhrel, Executive Director of Nepal Television - Mr Kundan Aryal, Mr Vijaya Chalise - Executive Chairman of the Gorkhpatra Sansthan, Balkrishna Chapagain - Chief of the Rastriya Samachar Samiti, Mr Sambhu Shrestha - Chairman of Press Chautari, Mr Bishnu Rijal - Prime Minister's Media Advisor, Mr Mahaendra Bista former General Secretary of Nepal Journalist Federation, Mr. Madhav Sharma of Mechi-Mahakali media society and media advisor from the ministry of communication.
The main objective of this workshop was to train media personnel as how to lobby and guarantee rights of the working journalist in the upcoming constitution as well as to explore possible role of media in constitution making process. That is, how can media contribute towards the writing of the constitution in a stipulated time-frame and ensure that upcoming constitution guarantees rights of the various societal groups to minimse possible conflict in society.

The proceedings

Mahendra Bista presented a paper on the role of media in the constitution making process. His paper stressed on the fact that media should play more constructive role by being vigilant as well as by giving alternatives views in the whole peace-process to move it to the logical end. There is a confusion in Nepali society whether the constitution will come in time or not and even if it comes will it be inclusive or not. The lack of trust that exists between politics and society primarily because 'politics' has failed to serve the interest of 'people' at large has generated anti-political sentiment in society. Politics, as usual, in Nepal is working for the interest of bourgeoisie class not for the society as a whole. Against this backdrop, the foremost duties of media is to build-up trust across various social groups and make politics 'people' oriented rather than process oriented. If politics continues to lose confidence of people and media merely 'recycle' knowledge, the whole peace process is bound to face serious challenges. Thus, role of the media during the transition period becomes crucial both to build up confidence building measures and to put peace- process on the right track through contextual sensitivity. In addition to these challenges, there are some thematic issues such as federalism, future framework or model of governance (Presidential vs. Prime Ministerial) where rigorous discussion is required. But the Constitutional Committees are yet to take initiatives on these thorny issues. Hence, media's role becomes more significant in pushing political parties, political leadersr, CA members, civil society and other stakeholders to work towards this end as soon as possible. Mr Bista also discussed about the status of media in the country, he said that media houses (print, electronic and broadcast) have mushroomed in the last few years but the overarching fear is that how long will they survive? The sustainability (the economic viability) question of bulging media houses is at crucial juncture. Nepalese media are heavily reliant on advertisement for their overall survival but the ad market is shrinking due to deteriorating economic condition coupled up with political instability and de-industrialisation process of national country. As a result media houses are competing for the 'same sources' at all time and this has led to the growth of unhealthy competition, forced them to surrender ethical values. In other occasions, most of the media houses have to carry out activities which are against the state, society and culture. For example FM stations in Palpa air Christian sermons (bhajans) just for the money for half-an hour. By and large, media in Nepal are co-opted with fund.

Sambhu Shrestha - Chairman of the Press Chautari said that Press Freedom should be incorporated in the new constitution as fundamental rights and media personnel should work towards this end.

Kishore Shrestha, commenting on Mr Bista's paper said that role of the Fourth Estate should be clearly defined in the upcoming constitution. He also stressed on the need of quality journalism that can contribute to resolve various political/societal problems in the country. He has also demanded for the provision of Pension for the working journalists (once they are retired or incapacitated). He also demanded subsidised Internet facility to the vernacular papers (media), quota to study journalism for the children of journalists who had martyred their life during duty. He also enquired if FES could conduct training on Safety Journalism in the future.

Kundan Aryal of NTV lamented that currently Nepali media are more focused on monologue than on dialogue (absence of two way communication) as a result media in Nepal has not been able to provide alternative voices/visions. They have been 'recycling the knowledge' by repeatedly producing same persons in Television talk-shows, newspaper interviews and expert opinions. We need to depart from this culture and engage in developing the mechanism of multilayered communication. Media should develop directive principles and adhere them while conducting professional responsibilities. Media personnel should respect 'ethical values' of journalism which has not been the case. We cannot cheat society just by spreading 'sensational issues' all the time, said Mr Aryl. On the question of media sustainability, Mr Aryal said that how long we are going to rely on the state for our survival. This tendency has made 'journalism' a begging profession and had led to the growth of 'Pocket' based newspapers (merely to grab journalism welfare aid of the government). This has developed some sort of 'yellow journalism' in the country. Coming on the provision of 'pension' Mr Aryal gave different opinion. He said that we as a journalist are also selling products - how could we ask for the pension. Unless and until general public do not get pension from the state - how can businessman like us ask for a pension opined Mr Aryal. The main duty of the journalist is to concretize 'abstract issues' made by political parties, leaders, policy makers and convey to the citizens in an honest way, said Mr Aryal.

Speaking in the same programme Minister for Communication Shanker Pokhrel stressed that media should engage to build up confidence building environment in society to win back the public trust. He also said that current provision of classification of newspapers should be decentralised(given to the district HQ) as it will discourage 'pocket journalism' and encourage 'true journalism'. Welfare aid that is being disbursed by the state to media houses should be streamlined. Media should try to explore the 'common ground' that can take peace-process to the logical end rather than building their own empire, or being the mouthpieces of political party, government or any other agencies/persons/organisations said Minister Pokhrel. The confusion and deadlock that exist with the ongoing political process should be minimised and media can play crucial role in this sector by developing alternative views - views that serve the interest of state and society. Not of particular political party or only for the interest of media for that matter.

Dev Raj Dahal, Head of FES - Nepal Office said that the role of media is to connect system with people and vice versa and for that matter they should work as per the spirit of time and will of the people. Media should also spread civic education by uniting different identities into a single national identity. This identity will help to build-up civic nationalism in the future. Media should also focus on normative reporting not only on objective reporting as objective reporting sometimes could create problem in a society and could destabilise social harmony. For example - the communal violence in society should be reported in such way that its boomerang effects could be scuttled to the lowest level. Nepalese media should rise above the partisan interest and work for the national issues. The unabated foreign intervention in domestic problems has become a problematic and media should report objectively on these issues. Foreign intervention is dangerous as Kant said democracy cannot survive in a country where too much of foreign intervention exists. Media should also do the job of early warning on impeding crisis of any kind. To conclude, civic education, context sensitivity, public interest above all other values, vocational ethos, enlightenment rather than information are the good virtue of journalism. To carry out these functions freedom of the press is necessary in fact it is a lynchpin of democratic system.

Finally, Ishwor Pokhrel - General Secretary of UML - spoke importance of media in the current political process. He said that rather than speaking or writing on a 'wholesale' basis media should be rational and analytic while reporting on the issues of public/national importance. He said that media should not create an environment of negative psychology in society. We should explore issues what unites us together rather than what divides us together.

Conclusion

The programme drew very important issues on media and their possible role in the Constitution making process. The taming of media in the developing country by the state was thought from the fact that they are important factors for democratisation. But with the passage of time a trend has developed to control media either by the state or political parties or by the media houses just to serve their own interest through what Noam Chomsky calls consent manufacturing. This development in media has put democracy in danger. In Nepal vibrant media is emerging and many youngsters wanted to have media as profession but we also need to develop some sort of mechanism for their sustainability on their own. Otherwise, there are chances that mushrooming media houses may be (mis) utilised by various actors as had happened in Palpa. We should be careful to this end. Finally, Press Chautari expressed its gratitude to FES for their continuous support for the discussion on the issues of national importance.

 
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