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The role of media in the nation building

A two-day seminar organised by FES Nepal office

8-9 August 2014, Nagarkot

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal
subedirituraj@yahoo.com


The robust role of the fourth estate has been again sought to end the prolonged transition that continues to roil the nation. The decade-long conflict ran virtually all the state organs into the ground. Building the viable institutions to deliver on the collective promises remains a critical and urgent task before the nation. Achieving a consensus constitution, durable peace, political stability and inclusive economic growth is necessary to bring back the disarrayed nation on the right track. The post-conflict society requires all stakeholders to work in tandem. The media have emerged as the powerful agent of political changes and their role in making positive gains for the beleaguered nation is beyond dispute.

The media that have always forged partnership with the political parties and civil society during the major democratic movements are again expected to play their proactive role in the nation building project. At the moment, their tasks mainly include oiling the political wheels and pressing the parties to mop up the remaining contentious topics of the constitution. The media must engage the parties and the public in the constructive debates on the matters of statute to assert their role in the reconstruction phase. One way of fulfilling their duty is to pin down the politicians as to what is their actual position on federalism, form of the government, electoral system and the judiciary, the most contested points of the new statute. This might bring an end to all dithering and wavering of the key players as well as Constituent Assembly members on whom the people pin their faith through the second CA elections in November last year.

Realising the historic need, the FES, Nepal office, gathered senior journalists and reporters in Nagarkot and solicited their ideas on the said topic. Although the media persons had their own perceptions and approach towards the nation building agenda, they were in unison to state that the media should act as an effective watchdog to end lingering deadlock, thereby facilitating the constitution-making process. They agreed on creating active citizenship and specifying the areas for the media campaign to write constitution. Divergent issues such as media performance, the degree of ethics in corporate and political journalism, the capacity building of journalists and the need to mainstream the marginalised gender and ethnic groups also figured during the discussions.

Day 1

Delivering her introductory remarks about the programme, moderator Arati Chataut said that the seminar seeks to trigger a qualitative debate on the role of media in the nation building process. She said that several commitments made and mechanisms envisaged in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) have not been yet materialized. She noted that the usual modus operandi of the leaders and the policy makers have very much frustrated the people. The seminar wants to highlight the role of media during the transition, she said and added that only the informed citizens could take a right decision and at the same time the media need to be honest to the women and other marginalized groups at this juncture of state restructuring stage.

Remarks of Dev Raj Dahal, FES, Nepal head

'Media must contribute to build national identity'

Media as a means of political socialization transform people into citizen and link them to national political culture. They interact in multi-centric ways and report group-differentiated rights, strong de-politicization of society and removed the boundary between political and non-political spheres.

Two critical challenges Nepalese media face are: how to bridge the gaps of cultural fragmentation between the urban and Westernized elites whose members are alienated from national values and institutions and rural masses who stay with native values and tradition and between the netizens whose membership is defined by the participation in the virtual world of Internet and citizens who have legendary bond with the land and culture and participate in the real life-world.

The density of communication by satellite, TV, radio, internet, telephone and social media have changed the political culture, the very definition of democracy, national interest, party system and the economy. Nepalese media have increasingly exposed the contradictions of society inviting policy intervention appropriate for civic renewal, code of ethics, conflict sensitivity and nation-building. In this context, public ownership of media and their autonomy from the interest groups of society are important for the messages they convey to ordinary citizens and seek their loyalty to the nation.

Leaders begin to communicate with media

Cognizance of the mediatization of society, Nepal's political leaders have begun to communicate more to media than among themselves for political ends, use power equation analysis and seek to alter the rules of the game based on feedback they receive from their supporters. Feedback from the popular expectation and action is essential for the attainment of the national consolidation goals of society and secure democracy's functioning. It informs the risks associated with the decay of political system. Media are the learning institutions for problem solving and coordinating with various actors-state, market, local institutions and civil society-the later institutions are the providers of public goods and services. External information is important for internal adjustments to change occurring at the societal and political levels. Nepali media persons are engaging with international media to bring an end to impunity, improve journalists' safety and security, implement media laws and enhance their career prospect so as to rationalize both society and the state and use humanitarian norms as a social discipline to generate meaning and value of truth.

The operationalization of media within the recognizable limits of constitution produces democratic stability, notwithstanding diverse nature of media in Nepal. In so doing media bring the attention of government and non-government agencies to address demands of society, create common ground for conflict resolution, increase the security outreach of the state and promote social peace. The fulfilment of the demand of Nepalese journalists for a democratic media environment is essential to strengthen the national integrity system of governing institutions.

Need for Communicative Action

It also becomes risky when media compete for sensational news and advertisement rate determines news circulation, media monopolize public opinion and partisan journalism weakens both the opposition and the voice of conscience expressed through public intellectuals and minorities. These tendencies undermine democratic nation-building. This is the reason Juergen Habermas has stressed the need for communicative action, an action oriented toward reaching understanding between various actors, resolving problems and maintaining social peace. Nation-building in a post-conflict setting like Nepal requires normative communication completely free of domination of vested interest groups. The Constituent Assembly of Nepal is precisely set up to rebuild this nation from below by communicating people's rights, needs and aspirations but suffered at the hand of professional politicians who left them without much role except to consume the tantalizing talk of a new constitution. Since nation-building is a mission-oriented job, Nepal's post-conflict context too requires mission-oriented journalism that is capable of bringing together the connectors of society for drafting constitution, accelerating development and stable peace.

Demos, Not Ethnos

The concept of Nepal, however, is organic, ancient and deeply rooted into the intellectual heritage of the concept of motherland. Nepali nation-state's enlightenment traditions stemming from Veda, Videha Janak and Buddha favored a much transcendental, value-based approach to nation-building than the one based on tribalism, ethnicity and native religious competition. These traditions saw human being, not isolated fragments from other species, but a cosmic web of life and articulated justice at ecological, social, gender and intergenerational levels. Nepali media and intellectuals have yet to communicate the interconnections of these values in an integrated manner because "much of its early history is shrouded in the absence of records" about national growth and decay but not dissolution.

In election, public opinion, education and social communication, Nepali media have played a vital role in harnessing democratic legitimacy of authority and an erosion of the special privilege of elites based on lineage, tradition, patronage and charisma.

Ethnicization of the nation-state undermines civic culture associated with the value of active citizenship while maximizes the ties with co-ethnics across the borders. The latter trend has, however, produced a tension between irredentist social forces and anti-irredentist state vitiating international relations like in the politics of Macedonia. Therefore, there is an important role for media to foster the value of civic virtues, nationality, conscription of natives and immigration control.

Education, culture, media and religions are cultural industries. They constitute soft power which provides historic vision for nation-building without being prejudiced to the modern sprit carried by technology and ideology-driven communication, such as human rights, democracy and justice.

New technology-driven media far from becoming the sole democratic space are disconnected with the rural life and became vulnerable to various international intelligence agencies' manoeuvre to control data, information and knowledge. Public sphere requires protection from the commercialization, commodification and undemocratic control.

Only a robust and democratic media environment can foster the arteries of communication and can rationally regulate the government as a watchdog agency-the regulator of power, resource, identity and ideology in society. Public sphere is a sphere of informed deliberation, public opinion, will-information and agenda-setting as well as defining the universe of democracy, development and peace.

Certain pre-modern social forces of Nepal are struggling to re-tribalize Nepali society while post-modernists are struggling to deconstruct national identity seeking to accelerate mini histories. In Nepal, it is essential to make a content analysis of media, both conventional and digital, as to how far their news, views, opinions and editorials contribute to nation-building or on varying degrees provoke the cleavages of Nepali society for its unravelling succumbing to the exogenous process of social engineering.

A cursory look at media culture unfolds that there are many challenges to their autonomy in Nepal: heavy base of revenue of media through advertisement has curtailed their freedom of expression; ownership of media by interest groups of society, political parties and business tycoons has eroded the efficacy of media to defend human rights of the public and propelled thought-control; insecurity of journalists from non-state armed actors, party dons, criminals, security agencies etc enforce their self-censorship lacking freedom to properly communicate; job insecurity of media persons, financial instability and lack of career prospects also hamper their professionalism; and financial temptation of journalists especially paid news, incentivized articles, partisan reporting and lack of boundary between fair journalism and indoctrination have eroded the credibility of many journalists. Nepali media have exposed their catch-all character and helping them to adopt perspective transformation.

Media must speak truth

Media can play a role if they speak truth to power rather than follow power pattern and consent manufacturing. In this context, transitional justice to conflict victims can provide them emotional satisfaction. The social learning capacity of power elites, however, remains very weak as they and their intellectual cohorts are conditioned by external knowledge and geopolitical rivalry.

Conclusion

The universal consciousness of modernity fostered by communication revolution has provided Nepali citizens and leaders to explore opportunities in a corresponding manner to maintain Nepali identity. Nation-building requires the liberation of human energies to make a leap into modernity through the use of analytic, discursive and problem-solving approaches furnished by Nepali media. Nation-building cannot be stable if it does not reflect the historical potential of its culture, social capital and practices and acquire an ability to conduct diplomacy at multi-polar fronts. The globalization of grassroots citizens through the revolution of communication, human rights, democracy, popular sovereignty, social inclusion and principle of affected defines the mode of nation-building as horizontal, bottom-up and lateral processes. These principles are also crucial for boundary condition of inclusion of nation-adherent and its foes. But the exclusion of opposition, minorities and system-critical forces erodes the dynamism of the nation and its ability to foster social cohesion instilling awareness for building democratic community rooted into accountable, transparent and trustworthy governance.

The informational revolution has unleashed the aspiration of participatory democracy and development in Nepal that stresses on citizens participation in public life, improved governance steering, coordination and collective action in the delivery of public goods and services, civic renewal and citizenship building, judicious role of non-state actors and justice-promoting development measures. Media's autonomy from the government, commerce and geostrategic interests is fundamental to increase public access, participation, ownership and influence and contribute to viable nation-building.

It has the strength to catapult the powerless to the centre. If the media give a new knowledge and correct information to the people on the contents and process of the constitution-making, it will help in realizing the nation building agenda.

Yubaraj Ghimire, senior journalist

Journalist are the ones who communicate with all sections in a society or a state- rulers and ruled, establishment and rebels and with different groups with each other - and may be they all share their viewpoints with us because they expect us to represent their views fairly, truthfully, objectively and accurately. In Nepal's case, however, the post-conflict context requires more sensitivity to the projection of issues so that media really become a medium of conservation between rival groups. That also means they do not expect us or in other words, they understand our work is not to be partisan to one or the other group but be messenger of objective truths as they see it. The public is our reference point and measuring of our judgment. But the public is a citizen of a state. Therefore, the consequences of a journalists losing faith or trust of society will be far more serious than a political leader in power or opposition losing that. One thing journalism cannot do is shunning informed debate, informing the public and enabling them to make meaningful choice on public matters. Our works influence political process, constitutional process or the process of national consolidation that if seen positively, help in making government accountable and strong in discharging its responsible and become responsive.

Democracy will require larger participation and inclusion of citizens in the process of nation-building, instead of limiting it to elite's participation. Absence of participation in a wider dialogue with different sections of the society deprives them of the ownership in the outcome of the nation-state and its policy initiatives. Promoting this culture of participation on one hand, and their role in making the citizens informed are two major contributions, are two ways in which journalists contribute towards state building exercise.

In the context of Nepal, nation building requires the harmonization of their values, interests, ideologies and building a shared stake in their common future or future with togetherness.

Yubaraj Gautam

The journalists are on tenterhooks. Their condition is like a stuff being baked inside a pressure cooker. When its upper-lid whistle blows, its sound reaches far and wide. Media should make a self-criticism. The journalists should be free from the pre-occupied mindset. It is time to give second thought to the sponsored articles and news being published in the media outlets. Have they served the national interests? Or is it media ethics to publish them?

Suresh Acharya

We need to specify the topics to discuss here. The media should focus on the prioritized agenda but they are running after what the leaders say instead of pressing them to be specific on the core issues. The media are not helping build public opinions. For example, federalism is the most contentious topic and debate should be on this issue, thereby contributing to the nation-building process. Corporatism and party-affiliated journalism has killed objectivity. Objectivity is the key to media freedom. I think politically-affiliated journalists are accountable not only to their parties but they are also honest to their professionalism.

Ashmita Bhandari

We should evaluate the role of freelance editors. This is also an occasion to assess the government policy towards the journalism. This interaction should outline the areas wherein the media can play their role so as to contribute to the nation building initiatives from their sides. We need to see the media sector from a gender perspective. How many women editors are there? Even in the politics, women need supports to rise from the rank to prominence.

Keshav Paudel

I think the seminar will help us to be enlightened on the burning subjects of the transitions and statute writing process.

Kanak Mani Dixit

The Nepalese media are becoming mature. They had to work by staking their life during the conflict period. The media sector should give direction to the nation in transition. It is difficult to fight against populism than against the monarchy and its cronies. The media failed to build strong public opinion in the favour of the local elections. It is an irony that our lawmakers clapped in delight when someone from outside the nation said that Nepal is a sovereign nation. The media should prioritize their issues. At the moment, they should give specific focus on fleshing out the contentious issues of the new statute- federalism and form of government.

Namrata Sharma

The Nepali media are going strong within a short period of time following the advent of multiparty democracy. They should focus on the issues of marginalized groups, dalits and women and play their role to incorporate their concerns in the new statute.

Tikaram Rai

The people in the villages say that the national media give short shrift to their concerns. Why is this happening? We must think about this. The new statute will be the outcome of the compromise between the elites. The notions of pluralism and secularism must be strictly implemented.

Hari Bahadur Thapa

Our all vital national institutions have virtually collapsed. Their credibility is on the wane. Widespread frustrations have gripped the people as the statute writing process failed to gain momentum. The creative destructions will further exacerbate the situation. Although the media are described as a watchdog, they find it difficult to play their role as they are hemmed in by different vested interests.

Kiran Pokharel

The state must be strong enough to implement its policies. The media should inspire the CA members to draft the statute. The CA is and should be a locus for the statute writing. The participation of the people in the statute should be increased. The media should act to bridge the gap of the parties' differences on federalism and the form of the governance.

Umesh Chauhan

Before being engaged in the nation building project, the media should themselves be strong. How do the media industries run? From where does the money come? How is about their profits? Have they used money in the benefit of the employees? These question need to be addressed before jumping to brainstorm the nation building topic. The credibility and moral authority of the media is tumbling down. How can they set the agenda when they themselves lack moral fibre?

Sita Ram Agrahari

The media will have a critical role in next 5/6 months. They can play an important role for peace, prosperity and national unity. Our sanatan dharma has emphasized on co-existence and co-work since the time immemorial. Buddha had advised to follow golden mean to liberate from the bondage. This philosophy should be reflected in the current state-restructuring campaign. The ruling parties need to take this wisdom under advisement. Indian PM Modi has revealed the truth. In India, when the Muslim League was suppressed, it stoked up for partition. The mainstream media should work to connect the nation.

Kiran Nepal

The media are focusing on the statute writing but they have kept mum on the fact that the politicians are engaged in buying time. The debate should be also on distinguishing between the interim statute and the one to be written, excepting federalism. Madhesi leaders are projecting themselves as the messiah of the Madhesi people but what they have actually done for the poor and dalit madhesis needs to be analyzed. The media should push for the middle-of-the-road course to create an ambience for consensus among the parties.

Lal Babu Yadav

If there is no inclusion and participation, it creates a sense of alienation that results in rebellion. We should foster a qualitative inclusion. I here prescribe 3R- recognition; resource access and representation of different classes and communities.

Monteshwori Rajbhanadari

I think politically-affiliated journalists are not fair and professional. We should focus on qualitative journalism. The public life has not become a beat for the journalists. The politics should be for the people and it needs to be separated from the journalistic performance.

Journalist from Avenues Television

I am not affiliated with any party. I think media should not have political bias for the editorial freedom. Even the total freedom is not good. There should be a minimum basic qualification to join the journalism sector.

Om Sharma

There is the domination of the corporate media. We have to examine how much profit the corporate media houses have spent in the newsroom. They allocate a paltry 10 per cent for the newsrooms and the remaining 70 per cent goes into their pocket. We need to correct this dichotomy for the better performance of the journalism. There is the need for mission journalism so as to contribute to the nation building task.

Pushparaj Pradhan

Both the media as well as politics have failed. The condition of the state organs deteriorates after 1990 political change. The political intervention in the public enterprises such as Nepal Airlines, Gorkhapatra, The Rising Nepal etc ruined their performance and quality. It seems that the statute is not going to be drafted given the irrational activities of the parties. Even if the CA promulgates it, there is no guarantee that all will accept it. Therefore, a considerable uncertainty hangs over the political landscape of the country.

Kosh Raj Koirala

The traditional media have been overshadowed by the social media. The social media should be roped into nation building project. In the similar manner, the critical masses needed to be brought to the nation-building process. Civic education should be expanded massively. This will make us to take pride in the acts of our forebears.

Rajan Sharma

Journalists have limited opportunities. We should devise our agendas. An extensive debate on federalism is the need of the time. The media have played their important role in weakening single ethnic identity-based federalism. The media fraternity is itself divided. We should narrow down the issues to arrive at a concrete conclusion.

Tikaram Rai

It is not that the nation lacks a system. It is the actors, who are not fulfilling their duty. Merely a system in place does not ensure a political and social order. The big media houses are imposing their agenda. We should look at reality through a binary code of opposition. Journalism sector offers both challenges and opportunities. There is a need for rising above ism. Focus should be one quality.

Manoj Dahal

Our journalism is running on ad hoc basis. Its edge has been blunted. It requires a shift from bluntness to sharpness. It should be engaged in exposure campaigns. Journalists set the agenda and strengthen the ideas. They must be competent and strong but not aggressive.

Sitaram Agrahari

The issues have cropped up here in parts but they should be raised in an integrated manner. We are in the process of nation building. We cannot build it forcefully. Journalists have also identified with political groups one or another way.

Aarati Chataut

There has been a dangerous trend of the decline of daughters' population. Ten years ago, daughter-son ration was 6:4 but now it is 7:3. If the daughters are killed in their foetus, where will this situation take us? The mainstream media have failed to heed this sensitive matter. Capacity building is a long-term issue and the agenda of inclusiveness must not be weakened on the pretext of the lack of capacity in women. Is that all females are competent? Seen from gender perspective, there is still a yawning gap in the education field. Female participation needs to be increased in education sector. The root cause of conflict is the lack of inclusiveness.

Yuba Raj Ghimire

The statute writing process should be inclusive but in practice it is becoming exclusive. If the dissenting voices are not heard, it will be a travesty of democracy. The divergent voices should be articulated. Conscience is the bigger law. There is the need for being sensitive about history. Some are trying to destroy it. The media should not be influenced by the politics. The process must not be undermined. If we blindly support our actors in good faith, the nation might plunge into disaster.

Dev Raj Dahal

Freedom is law-based. Loktantra is not above constitution. The politicians must have unswerving loyalty to the public. Politics is not a private phenomenon. Politics is not a bad thing. We should formulate our policy ourselves. The more the public is enlightened, the more social cohesion this will create. This will also make the people active. The state should regulate market. The market forces should not be let go freewheeling.

Day 2

Kashi Raj Dahal, Chairman of the Administrative Court

There are different methods and procedures to write the new constitutions. CA is just method of writing the main law of the land. If the parties solve the political questions and set the principles before embarking on the statute writing, they write the statute in time and such a statute will become durable and ensure reconciliation in the society as seen in South Africa. The people must own up the statute. Since the CA dissolution in 2012, the parties have not moved even an inch further towards resolving the contentious issues. The statute should be the vehicle of the reconciliation, not the one that sows the seed of conflict. The media should focus on the inner contents of the statute. Only the 30 per cent people understand the language of statute because of its high technicality. It is a formulaic document so it is not rational to cram everything in it. The main thing is to consolidate Loktantra. Even after the promulgation of the statute, many countries have plunged into political instability. This compels us to rethink democracy. The social power should be strong and we have to learn from those countries that show both failed and success stories. The media should educate the people about the constitutional matters. The parliament is a platform to solve the people problems. So, the honest and good representatives should be sent to there. Loktantra is about ensuring accountability in the governance system. The government must be held accountable to the people. The judiciary is the last bastion to protect the people's rights. It must be impartial and competent so as to deliver justice in time and fairly. The civil society and media need to mount pressure on the parties and the CA until the cycle of political process for constitution, peace and reconciliation comes to a conclusion. The new statute must be able to promote constitutional culture. The nation building task has taken a back seat as the leaders indulged in building their own personal life.

Lal Babu Yadav

If the press freedom is curtailed, there will not be democracy. The media should check the wrongs of the government. I have a hunch that media are not giving priority to the nation building agenda. In order to contribute to the nation-building tasks, the media should have strong credibility. The journalists write many reports but there is no response and action on them. This shows there exists credibility deficit in the sector. There are two ways of nation building. One is the ethnicity-based state building and another is the civil nation building. The former is fissiparous and sows the seeds of conflict while the latter promotes cohesive elements and strengthens the state. We should promote national identity. This is where the media can play their creative role. The media should promote national identities instead of parochial ethnic ones steeped in divisive elements.

The function of the statute is to connect the society and the people but our interim statute has divided us between pahade (hill-origin people) and Madhesis (residents from the southern plains). We are first Nepali and then only Madhesis, Newars, Bahun and Lumbu. Nepal's unifier PN Shah had a far-sighted vision when he made Kathmandu the capital of the nation instead of his Gorkha kingdom.

Pratik Pradhan

Journalism must free itself from all sorts of shackles. Then only can it serve all the humanity. There will not be journalism if we seek orders from the owners about the contents of the papers. We should be honest. The media is a watchdog, not a referee. To enhance credibility, we must increase self-respect. The politics has affected journalism too much. This higher dose of influences must be minimised.

Gun Raj Luintel

The media's job is to reveal the truth and inform the public. I think the media have helped develop system. It is matter of open question as to how much the media are independent of the parties and corporate influences. We should listen to the voice of conscience so as to discharge our duty independently. Now several platforms are available to pursue journalism thanks to the boom of the information technology. Transition is also an opportunity for the journalists to learn and write.

Keshav Poudel

New media have also vital role to play. But, we are facing the kind of news that tends to subvert the state. We need to assume historical perspective in the statute-making process.

Tanka Panta

We should make positive contribution from our respective places. We should ask ourselves how much we are professional.

Pawan Acharya

We have been unable to conscientize the concerned bodies that the media development must precede the nation building project. Press freedom should be seen in relative terms.

Ram Krishna Bhandari

The media should help in ensuring the citizens' rights. Majority of media outlets have not come out of the influence of the politics. The politicians do not listen to the voices of media. The situation is getting worse since the April movement. We should put moral pressure on the parties to strengthen democracy.

Shiva Gaunle

Over-politicisation of the issues is also a problem. In order to contribute to the statute writing, the media should tackle the contentious issues head-on. We should ask the political parties about their opinions on the key contents of the statute- federalism, form of the government and electoral system. If we give focus on the specific topics and attempt to draw conclusions from discussions, this will provide a sense of direction to the seminar. The journalists that show their allegiances to the different political ideologies are more accountable to their profession than those, who come from non-political backgrounds.

Kanak Dixit

At the moment, the statute writing forms the basis of nation building. No meaningful dialogues are taking place. It is claimed that around 80 per cent of task of constitution writing have been solved but we should not come under the illusion of this claim as a single dispute can lead to the collapse of the entire process of the constitution writing. To date, no guiding principles of the state have been agreed upon. The media should generate awareness among the people on the statute writing that is not still out of shoals and the media should identity and help remove them.

Mahendra Bista

There is higher portion of political elements in the media sector. This obstructs to form unanimous voice on the major issues. Commercially controlled media are more dangerous than the one politically guided ones. It is time to assess how much journalists exercise the editorial freedom. Capacity building of the journalists is necessary for the state building. The media should play their role as the watchdog during the transition.

They should bring the statute writing debates in the CA to the public.

Khagendra Khatri

This is a time to pursue a positive journalism. If we see every issue negatively, it will have negative impacts on the society. To spread positive thinking in the society, the leaders should also study books. They should not only depend on the newspapers to keep abreast of the current affairs and developments but also go for the books for imbibing deep insights and analytical perspective.

Manohari Thapa

At the moment, the priority should go for the statute writing. The nation is unable to take a pace in development fronts in the absence of the constitution. We should make self-evaluation as to how much we contributed to the constitution writing. The tendency to take decisions in a smoke-filled room by the politicians must be discouraged. The state-run media suffer from the self-censorship. The seminar should make concrete conclusions on the role of media on the state building.

 
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