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Report on Role of Media in the Democratization

Organised by Press Chautari (PC)

26 April 2012


Press Chautari Nepal (PS) in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Nepal organized a one-day national seminar on the "Role of Media in the Democratization," on April 26 in Kathmandu. Altogether 87 journalists of vernacular press including 12 women took part in the meeting.

Introduction

The seminar was attended by Speaker of Parliament and Central Committee member of NC, UCPN (Maoist) and CPN-UML as each of them hailed the role of media in public communication, system change, gender equality, bridge building across the social, economic and political divides, bringing progressive legislation, protecting the rights of citizens during conflict, exerting pressure on politicians for timely promulgation of Constitution and logical end of peace process. The journalists identified political role for media to make leaders accountable to their promise, media as a public sphere for critical dialogue, fight against prohibitory acts and implementation of Working Journalist Act. They identified two areas for campaign: editorial freedom and responsible press. Political leaders representing NC, CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist) explained the political situation of the country, progress in the Constitution drafting and peace, defined ways as to how media can play effective role in inserting democratic contents in the constitution and make transparency of governance affairs.

Inaugural Presentation

Presenting his paper senior journalist Mahendra Bisht on the theme argued that Press Chautari Nepal is a common platform of active and professional journalists with five-thousand members. This organization is engaged in protecting press freedom, rights of working journalists, implementation of Right to Information Act and protection of working journalists.

Since its establishment it is organizing a number of activities with the aim to promote professionalism of journalists and editorial freedom. Chautari is also engaged in a series of campaign to bring the transitional politics and peace process to a logical end, institutionalize democratic practice and activate citizens through awareness building. It has also organized capacity building of journalists, skill training and career enhancement. Press Chautari stresses not only rights of journalists but also duties in the areas of :free and responsible press, institutionalization of democracy for the consolidation of change, guarantee of democratic peace and constitution, safe landing of transitional politics, constructive role in the education of citizens about public affairs and help in reshaping of public opinion and democratic will-formation and objective reporting of events to make the life of citizens visible in policy attention.

Inaugurating the program Speaker of Parliament Subash C. Nembang said that journalists have to engage people in constitutional discourse, follow constitutional norms and engage them in informed opinion formation. Press freedom is possible only under democracy. It is wise to promulgate constitution by May 27. Leaders are concentrating their efforts. The press should exert constructive pressure for timely promulgation of new constitution. We should first draft integrated constitution and take it to the public for consultation. The process can be shortened.

Dev Gurung (Chief Whip of Maoist Parliamentary Party): He said that Nepal Army was dramatically engaged in Maoist cantonments to disarm the PLA violating the norms of Interim Constitution, Comprehensive Peace Agreement and National Security Council. It was not integration, it was surrender. It was also undemocratic as Prime Minister Baburam Bhatarai did not consult even the cabinet and President. How can we believe that NA cannot be mobilized against the CA? The CA has been inactive because it has become the prisoner of three major parties' leaders. Media should play active role like they played during the movement for the restoration of democracy.

Arjun Narsingh KC (Member, Nepali Congress Central Committee): We need a constitution that fulfills the rights of ethnic and caste groups, classes and all communities. The press should lobby for the articulation of rights of all Nepali and consolidation of democratic achievements made so far. The old bitterness among the parties are disappearing which is a good sign for the promulgation of new constitution by the Constituent Assembly. The backbone of democracy is vibrant press, therefore, political parties should be careful about providing them environment and protecting the rights of journalists. Nepalese citizens have undergone through the process of absolutism and dictatorship. The demand for presidential system seeks to revert Nepal's political process in that direction. If the power of executive and military head is concentrated in president then it can easily breed fear of absolutism. Rights of all can be ensured only under democratic constitution.

Pradip Gyawali (Head of Publicity Department of CPN-UML): The role of press in social change has remained all the time. The country paid the price for protracted transition. Irresolution of constitutional issues might be costly for peace and constitution. Despite the integration and rehabilitation of combatants, there are other issues such as reconciliation, return of property and justice and disappeared persons commission. Only consensus politics can guarantee new constitution otherwise politicians will face the disaffection of people and lead to anarchy.

Dev Raj Dahal (Head, FES Nepal): Constitution alone is not sufficient for a civic culture. There should be constitutional behavior of all actors. There should also be a balance between individual, group and human rights. For this, media should foster the concept of citizenship equality, protect the rights of minorities, weaker sections of society and opposition so that democracy as a responsive rule becomes a common stake of all citizens. Media should also help to put a tab on aspirational politics which has weakened the authority of government, political system and the state in society and distanced citizens from these institutions. As a medium between the citizens and the state, media should work for the negotiation of rational social contract, a workable constitution. Media autonomy and impartiality can increase their credibility before the public and build trust on their news, views and opinions which are essential to expose the citizens to democracy and modernity and foster a conversational public. Media can also play constructive role in the healing of society as the sensible words they use have soothing impacts.

Shiva Gaunle (President, Federation of Nepalese Journalists): Media should be responsive to public and constantly monitor the behavior of leaders as to whether they follow democratic lines and responsive to public or deviating from their path. Protection of editorial freedom and journalists in the context become important.

Mahendra Bisht (Senior Journalist): Media and democracy move in tandem and each strengthens the other in a virtuous way. In this context, journalists should be both objective and impartial. False new affects their own credibility and distorts public faith as well as pushes the country backward.

Kundan Aryal (Senior Journalist and media teacher): Journalists have to fight for democratic rights of citizens and see whether their rights are violated. Media freedom can be guaranteed by the state, not non-state actors. Freedom should have autonomous values. Only then they can bring change like they did in the past.

Kiran Pokhrel (Chairman, Nepal Press Union): peace existing in the country is mainly because of the de-legitimization of violence by media. Media should be conflict sensitive and foster the values of rule of law, good governance, transparency of governance and information flow. Implementation of rights is connected with the capacity of the state, therefore, they should also inform about the functioning of public institutions.

Maheshwor Dahal (Chairman, Nepal Revolutionary Journalist Association): Media is industry, Media houses should be independent of businessman and leaders. They are now biased as media have gone into the hands of business and politics and therefore far less report about the life of people. This trend should be rectified.
Gagan Bisht (President, Press Chautari Nepal): To make democracy strong we have to strengthen the public sphere where all citizens equally speak and share their options about public affairs. It strengthens the democracy from the base and help fulfill people's sovereignty embedded in the constitution. We also need to take democracy at various levels of society and stimulated people's informed participation.

Conclusion

The presentation of the paper was followed by discussion among the participants where they viewed the deterioration of the condition of human rights, press freedom and attack on journalists. They also found that source of threat has shifted from the state to armed groups, criminals and mafias owing to the declining outreach of the state in society in matters of security, rule of law and service delivery. Security and safety of journalists was deemed essential for articulating editorial freedom in the press. Vernacular journalists also demanded training opportunities for them for career enhancement prospect and dignity of the profession. They also felt the need for the solidarity of working journalists for establishing fair working conditions.

 
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