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Interaction on Media's role in rebuilding post-earthquake Nepal

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

30-31 August 2015, Thali, Gokarna


With an aim to review as well as press for the earthquake response,Friedrich - Edbert - Stiftung, Nepal organized a two-day interaction in Kathmandu on August 30 and 31. Senior journalists, resource persons, experts and FES representativesshed light on 'Media's role in Rebuilding Post - Earthquake in Nepal' during the event held at Gokarna Forest Resort.

On April 25, 7.8 magnitude of earthquake with its epicenter in Gorkha district had hit the country leaving 14 districts including the capital badly affected. As powerful aftershocks followed, the death toll reached nearly 9,000 and double the number was left injured. Even though the relief and rescue operation by the government in the initial days of the earthquake had taken momentum, later people could not be happy with the rehabilitationand rebuilding process. On the other hand, even media was gradually limiting its focus just to the political developments leaving the victims on their own. Amid this kind of negligence of the media and the state towards the earthquake related issues, the program held by FES was a stark reminder that the quake-hit Nepal is yet to be normal.

Welcoming the participants, FES Gender Coordinator SamiraPoudelsaid that the gathering is expected to be memorable both in terms of brain storming over the subject and its outcome, as well as their two-day stay in the captivating ambience of the forest area. She said that media's role is vital in bringing issues to the attention of the government and FES was organizing the program to get valuable inputs from working journalists as well as editors regarding the earthquake response. Poudel then briefly introduced the program schedule and urged all participants and presenters to make the sessions highly interactive and result oriented.

Then it was the turn of FES-Nepal Head Dev Raj Dahalto welcome the participants. After welcome note, Dahal entered the topic by highlighting the importance of media in the present world context. According to him, after the country was hit by the earthquake and its aftershocks, Nepali media showed its due sensitivity and well coveredthe people's plight. Further analyzing the nature of the Nepali media, Dahal said that the media are facing a tension between democratic freedom and traditional politics based on group recognition and identity.

He went on to categorize Nepali media into three groups - Instrumental media, Autonomous and professional media and Enlightened and mission - driven media. A gap between political acculturation and structural change in Nepal is already visible, which has been triggered by the instrumental media that is more controlled by corporate, partisan and geopolitical interest, he said.Dahal thendiscussed about professional media which has capacity to perform independently.

He stressed that the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal exposed the gap between unity in diversity of the citizens and disunity of politicians through media exerted pressure on the mainstream parties to expedite the constitution drafting process. It has entailed broad - based consensus on political, legal and policy matters and expedite national reconstruction processes through the organization of donors' meeting, formation of National Reconstruction Authority and formulation of strategies and polices to cope with the effects of earthquake, landslides, floods, and climate change, he said.

Towards the ending note, Dahal advised that media should be strong enough to act independently and be more result oriented. It should bridge the gap between the people and the government through effective communication.

Dahal expressed dissatisfaction over the lack of accurate assessment of the damaged houses and property even after months of the disaster. Similarly, he pointed out the lack of proper plan and policies to address disaster related problems. Dahalnoted that the national rebuilding process post-earthquake was not well discussed in the parliament. "That shows the sheer negligence of the leaders over the issue," he remarked. In the post - conflict and post - quake context of Nepal, media should impartially communicate and legitimate issues of statehood to the public and people should be transformed into citizens with equal rights and equal duties to muster their loyalties, he stressed.

Another presenter at the program was constitution analyst KashirajDahal. Since the country was then going through severe pain in process of drafting constitution, his analysis on 'Constitution making and post - earthquake management'quite hooked the audience.

Stating that every community in the country should own the constitution, he said that a country like Nepal, which is very small in size and yet is home to diverse communities, should gradually begin to accept each other's existence and celebrate the differences. Since constitution is the basic law that guides the country, it should ensure justice and equality. Even though it is very challenging to have a constitution acceptable to all, the state should be able to take the challenge and should ensure justice and equality through the constitution. Constitution is the basic law that guides the country, so it should be scientific, he stressed.

Stating that the real problem of the country today lies in the over ambition of people, hecriticized the political parties for selling impractical dreams to the people. Promising a lot without genuine assessment whether that could be achieved on time was a cheating, he said. Meanwhile, he stressed that constitution should unite people and not divide them.

He further went on to say that the new generation would never forgive the present leaders and lawmakers if they fail to end the conflict in the country. If there are weaknesses on the constitution, things could be corrected later on. However, if Nepal further delays to promulgate constitution, the opportunity might never come again, he warned. Stating that the media should to be sensitive towards the situation of the country, he urged it to play constructive role in shaping the country's future. Dahalmeanwhilealso appreciated the role of the media. Basically during the earthquake the media showed its maturity, he noted.

Under the topic 'management post-earthquake', he reminded the audience that one or the other country of the world has faced such disaster time to time. In context of Nepal, the country had experienced great earthquake back in 1934. Many have still not forgotten the pain given by it and Nepal had to face yet another destructive earthquake, he said.

The damage was huge and the response was indeed weak from the side of the government. Relief and rescue operation, though the state tried its best, could not go as expected. However, now it's time to think what further could be done for the victims, he said. What now should be the focus of the government is, rehabilitation, according to Dahal. Meanwhile, he maintained that the internal or external aid alone cannot be fruitful until there is proper work plan for the earthquake response and that is implemented well enough. For that, it needs strong will power, he said. Giving the example of Haiti which failed to yield positive result despite receiving huge international aid post-earthquake in 1911, Dahal stated that Nepal should be careful in this regard. "Post-earthquake 1911, Haiti got huge international support. However, instead of any improvement, the country's situation worsened," he said.

Development should be focused on right direction. In context of Nepal, it is in need of massive infrastructural development. With strong will power, Nepal can change this moment of crisis into an opportunity to rebuild the nation, said Dahal. If the rehabilitation, reconstruction and rebuilding is done with proper plan, the country is sure to see brighter days. With the support of the engineers and experts best technology could be ensured for the construction of bridges, airports, bus parks and so on. Similarly, city and town planning could be redefined in order to get prepared for such disasters in future. Dahal further stressed that the state should be strong enough to set criteria and standard for donors and organizations willing to support the rebuilding process. He then pointed out to the housing sector in Kathmandu and other towns of the country. There is need of integrated community planning, he said.

Stating that the lack of proper residential planning is highly responsible for the serious devastation in the capital, he said that the country should be smart enough to avoid such mistakes now onwards. The government should bring strict rules and regulations regarding building constructions and those should be implemented sincerely, he said.

Talking of the role of media during and post-earthquake Dahal said that the media has been active in disseminating stories about the victims and the overall situation. However, the media still needs to work harder to make the state responsible. Dahal then reminded the participants of a belief 'Where there is well functioning media and civil society, people do not die of hunger'.
He ended his presentation by drawing the listeners' attention over the current situation of the country urging for unity among the people, different bodies and the government so that the challenge to rebuild the nation could be well met.

On the second day of the program, renowned journalist and editor of Annapurna Post YubarajGhimirecaptivated the participants with his insightful presentation on the media and state's earthquake response. He began with the explanation of democracy and its major components. Though there are several separate bodies to keep things in order and ensure quality life of people, media's role is prominent in constantly checking whether all such things are going well in the country or not, Ghimire stated.

He then entered the 'rebuilding' topic by stating that a country has to ensure its citizens' right to life and, dignity and opportunities'. And the government indeed failed to do so, according to him. Similarly, Ghimire also pointed out where even the media fell short of expectations in responding the disaster. "Even though the devastating earthquake and its impact were not preventable, media should definitely take the blame of not doing enough to save additional lives claimed later by landslides," he said. The situation demanded media's more powerful role in order to avert the losses caused by the landslides which were triggered by the cracks caused by the earthquake on the ground.Somewhere, somehow, the media had failed to alert the government regarding the impending danger. Remarkably, landslides in Gorkha and Nuwakot, among other districts had killed dozens of people and rendered many homeless post-earthquake. Despite experts' warning to vacate some areas in view of major cracks some of the hilly settlements, nothing much was done beforehand to save the life of the people, Ghimire said.

The media's role is to inform, warn and pressurize the government for the welfare of the people and the country. It should serve as the effective tool of communication to bridge the gap between the government and the people. Right and timely information is essential for its credibility and credible media ultimately empowers people, Ghimire shared.

During his presentation, Ghimire also talked about the tough task of media persons and how they behave when they themselves are hit by natural calamities. The role of the media persons turn highly challenging when they are equally emotionally and physically affected as any other member of the society and yet, they have to report about the situation.

Answering a query of one of the participants, Ghimire said that even media persons might be needing support, counseling and special treatment during disasters, however, that is what they least get at the time of emergency as they are always in rush to keep others informed about the developments. He then remarked Nepali media's role during the disaster as exemplary for reaching out to the remotest zones through risky routes to cover stories of the affected people. Despite limited sources and technology Nepali media have, it played an effective role in disseminating information at that time, he said. Ghimire maintained that media's reporting plays vital role in alertingthe government of the situation during natural disasters and until things get back to normalcy. Post - earthquake, Nepal needs media's proper guidance and support for the nation's reconstruction process, he said. Till and when the country is politically fragile and further hit by natural disasters, media's active role in its reconstruction cannot be undermined, he concluded.

After the discussions on the earthquake, media, democracy, constitution and rebuilding process, it was the time for the participants to view everything with the 'gender lens'. Senior officer at Nepal Television and gender expert AaratiChataut began her presentation with the reminder male and female are different in several terms. During emergencies, care should be taken that women are treated with extra sensitivity. But the media generalized the victims even then, she noted. "And that was not surprising," she said adding that the male dominated perspective in the media looks obvious in view of the insignificant number of women in media. For a just society, media, in fact, has to work in balanced and mature way and that that cannot happen until the media is gender sensitive, she remarked.

Chataut then talked about the different biology and health of women and girls which is why they need special treatment during and post natural disasters. Those menstruating, pregnant and new mothers need special attention whether they are living at home or under tents. Or else the impact could be serious and long lasting, she reminded.Meanwhile, she shared that the government relief packs did not include things like sanitary pads and other essential items for girls and women. It was only after some organizations took initiative, women and girls living under tents received soaps and sanitary pads. Similarly, the government also lacked special packages for new born and their mothers. In temporary shelters, babies and their mothers face numerous problems unlike others, she said. Chataut cited the government data that 72 percent among the deceased and injured due to the earthquake are children and women. "And the figure speaks louder on why women and children fall in the vulnerable group," she said.

Her presentation included half an hour long compilation of video clips focused on the earthquake and women. The engaging video commanded pin drop silence in the hall occupied by over 50 participants. Interestingly, meanwhile, debate triggered on whether or not to call a journalist 'a male journalist' and 'a female journalist'and this drew mixed response in the hall largely dominated by males. All this had started after some journalists were not happy to be called 'female journalists'.The participants further went on arguing that women's issues are not generally covered by male journalists. And this very statement enraged some 'male journalists' who were not ready to buy the argument. According to the present male journalists, the bias attitude of women makes things difficult for them. "It disheartens us," some stated. The entire story quite clearly reflected gender gap in the media sector.

Interestingly, finally, it was agreed that women's issue is not merely women's issue. Rather it is social or national issue and Nepali media needs to really grow in this aspect and be more gender friendly.

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