State of Media and
FES-Supported Activities in Nepal in 2001
I. Media Status
For the first time since the restoration of
multiparty democracy in the kingdom in 1990, the press in Nepal
has had to exercise considerable self-censorship on account
of the declaration of a state of emergency by King Gyanendra
on November 26, 2001. Recommended by the democratically elected
Nepali Congress government headed by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur
Deuba, the state of emergency, aimed at quelling the armed Maoist
rebellion in various parts of the country, will last for at
least three months, i.e. till February 25, 2001. It can, however,
be extended if endorsed by two-thirds of the parliament within
three months of the declaration of the emergency. (More than
2,500 people have been killed in the course of the Maoist rebellion
that started in 1995.)
I.1. Media Environment
The Terrorist and Destructive Activities (Prevention
and Control) Ordinance 2001 states: "Despite the emergency,
expression of views, running of presses and publications, migration
and operation of communication systems can take place as usual
without however infringing the Terrorist and Destructive Crimes
Control and Punishment Act and the Constitution of the Kingdom
of Nepal." But there is also a clause in the directives
which mentions that "the government can declare a terrorist
affected area or terrorist individuals", which thus gives
the government sweeping power for arrest and other forms of
action. In the course of the emergency, several journalists
have been arrested. Some of them have already been released
and others continue to be in detention. Several have gone underground.
According to some of the journalists arrested but released later,
they were treated shabbily. Most newspapers that were considered
close or sympathetic to the Maoists have stopped publication
and a number of their editorial staff either continue to remain
in detention or have underground.
Journalists have been "advised"
not to write anything that might "lower the morale of the
army" or " boost the morale of the Maoists".
As a result, there is hardly any reporting on Maoists activities
and the army action against the Maoists, except for regular
news releases issued by the Defence Ministry. The broadcast
media, except for FM stations with highly limited reach, are
government-controlled. As such, there are complaints from various
quarters of the civil society and professional organisations
that the media need to work harder for more news pertaining
to the Maoists instead of relying wholly and solely on government
sources alone. Several of the broadsheet dailies and also the
government-owned media have their own correspondents in most
parts of the country. These correspondents have had to virtually
fold their hands as far as the Maoists activities are concerned.
They and their seniors at the news desk fear that they might
be arrested on charge of "boosting" the morale of
the Maoists or "lowering the morale" of the army.
Photos and visuals of the army in action or of Maoists, either
dead or alive, are not carried. Likewise, newspaper articles
and editorials remain silent on most key issues related to the
Maoists, unless the comments are in support of the government
action. The Ministry of Information and Communication had issued
a list of do's and don'ts for the media. Human rights organisations
and senior advocates were to speak against such directives.
But the directives have not been withdrawn.
The recent change in content, style and practice
of the newspapers is in marked contrast to the earlier times
when noted that these very media used to publish articles and
statements signed by Maoists leaders, allocating prominent space.
Human rights organisations have also expressed concern over
the existing state of media situation. It seems that the present
media environment will continue till the state of emergency
is lifted. How long that period might be is only a matter of
conjecture at this stage.
I.2. Public Dissatisfied
Sections of the public are complaining against
the failure of journalists to inform them about the various
details concerning army operation against the Maoists and the
actual situation of the rebels. At seminars and talk programmes,
various speakers have urged the journalists not lose sight of
their professionalism. Their emphasis is that professionalism
allows a lot of room for journalists to report accurately and
yet responsibly even under a state of emergency.
II. News Media
In sharp contrast to the situation till ten
years ago when there were only two broadsheet news dailies,
there are now as many as ten such publications-all brought out
from Kathmandu and four of them in English. Four of these large
dailies-two in Nepali and two in English-were launched in 2001.
Likewise, the number of newspapers and magazines published from
not only the capital but also in other parts of the country
has also increased dramatically. The main reason for the upsurge
is the existing Constitution and laws that guarantee that no
newspaper's licence will be cancelled nor any press be seized
for publishing materials that might not be liked by the government
of the day. This is true even during the state of emergency,
although during such a crisis newspaper editors can be arrested
and newspapers stopped from publishing certain reports and/or
Heavy investments have been made on the broadsheet
newspapers. But no less than half of them are doing with less
than 20 per cent of their space being filled with advertisement.
Three other broadsheets folded up in the recent years. Perhaps
some of the existing ones, too, will meet the same fate. Here
are also rumours that some of these publications have a strong
political backing and hence finance might not necessarily be
a major problem. It is credibility they are after. Two of the
existing Nepali broadsheets-Nepalko Samacharpatra and Kantipur-started
their eastern Nepal editions from Biratnagar in 2001, enabling
them to increase their circulation sharply while their rivals
from Kathmandu arrive late in the afternoon in most of the eastern
region. These publishing houses are also thinking of bringing
out western editions from Nepalgunj. Local newspapers in these
regions are worried that the big dailies, printed locally, will
eat into small newspapers' circulation figures.
For a country with only about 45 per cent
literacy, there are surprisingly a large number of newspapers.
According to the latest report issued by the Press Council of
Nepal, there are 205 regular news publications in circulation-35
dailies, 147 weeklies, 10 fortnightlies and 13 monthlies. A
large number of others also came out on and off. If there were
481 news publications registered till 1989, there are as many
as 1620 such publications now. Needless to overemphasise, more
than half the registrations are in Kathmandu, which also takes
the major share of regular publications in any single category.
All publications with nationwide reach originate in the capital
city. All "A" category publications listed by the
audit bureau of circulation originate in Kathmandu.
No newspaper has been registered in 19 out
of the kingdom's 75 districts. Even in districts recording registrations
of newspapers, publications are confined to mere presence of
registration with the licensed publication either out of circulation
or coming out erratically. Because of poor road and transportation
network, national newspapers reach only one-third of the district
headquarters within 24 hours after publication. Nearly one-third
of the other district headquarters has to make do with several
days old papers.
According to the Press Council of Nepal report,
the spurt in the number of newspapers in the last 11 years or
so has not been equally matched by quality. "Most of them
have not been able to achieve quality. The condition of small
newspapers is of greater concern.
While the government continues to monopolise
the only radio service with nationwide network, the private
sector has been allowed to run private FM stations, each with
very limited reach. Prior to 1996, there were no private radio
stations of any kind. So far, licences have been issued to operate
25 FM stations, out of which 16 are operating. The distribution
of these stations leaves much to be desired. Half of them operate
in Kathmandu Valley, and four in Pokhara (the headquarters of
a western district) and the remaining three in three districts.
Thus, hardly half a dozen districts in a country composed of
75 districts have FM stations. The basis of issuing licences
is not clear and many conditions are placed on the existing
private stations-conditions not applicable to the state-owned
radio services, including FM radio. Radio Sagarmatha, run by
a group of journalists devoted to environment, is the first
FM station in the private sector in not only Nepal but in the
whole of South Asia. It is five years old and runs quality programmes.
A non-profit making service, it is in constant shortage of funds.
The private stations are not allowed to broadcast
their own news bulletins. Instead, it is mandatory that they
broadcast the state-run Radio Nepal's news bulletin at least
once a day. Now, there are government plans to ensure that the
private stations allocate 25 per cent of their total airtime
to broadcast the state-owned Radio Nepal's programmes. There
are many other applications from private parties seeking licences
to operate FM stations. Decisions on these applications are
delayed and no explanation is given as to the reason for delay.
Allowing the private sector to operate nationwide radio service
remains most unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Several private sector agencies have applied
for licences to operate their own television services. So far,
the government's response has been lukewarm. Two private companies-Shangrila
and Spacetime Television Network-have obtained licences as cable
networks, with a lot of restrictions-restrictions not applicable
to the state-run Nepal Television. Spacetime, wanting to spread
its service nationwide, wanted an uplink facility in Nepal.
It purchased the necessary equipment and, when it was about
to go on air, the government rejected the application after
months of indecision. The explanation from the government has
not been convincing. Instead, Spacetime went satellite shortly
before the state-owned Nepal Television did the same. But without
uplink facilities, Spacetime's service has been severely restricted.
It sends pre-recorded programmes on a Thai air service daily
and telecasts the same from Bangkok. This has increased the
costs and troubles of the network apart from restricting its
ability to run timely news-oriented programmes. The government's
policy seems to be to ensure its monopoly over television news.
However, cable networks offering various foreign
channels are thriving-spread as they are in most urban parts.
But they are prevented from extensive reach since less than
14 per cent of the population has access to electricity supply.
Additionally, according to the highly underestimated official
figure, more than 40 per cent of the population lives below
poverty line. Television viewers in Nepal spend more time watching
foreign channels than local channels simply because local channel
basically means Nepal Television.
A number of private companies have applied
for licences to launch television services. Decision remain
pending, with uncertainty as to when it will finally be made.
III. Key Media Issues
III.1. Access to Information
The Constitution of Nepal is among the few-and
the only one in the whole of South Asia-to guarantee right to
information to its citizens. The constitutional provision guaranteeing
access to information has drawn appreciation by many both within
and outside Nepal. However, access to information for most Nepalese
and most of the time is confined to mere promise and constitutional
provision. Government agencies and public institutions plead
that they do not which information "to give and which to
withhold," in the absence of a Right to Information Act.
Even twelve years after the promulgation of the Constitution,
the much-awaited Information Act has not materialised, despite
constant pressure from the media.
In deference to the prevailing situation and
demands from different quarters, FES in the recent years supported
seminars on the right to information. The resultant debate and
discussion persuaded the government to announce that such a
bill would be introduced in parliament. However, the bill could
not be introduced since the last two sessions of parliament
saw incessant interruption by the opposition and very little
business could take place. There are hopes that a bill on right
to information might be introduced in parliament sometime in
the year 2002. But there is still a nagging question as to content
of the bill in terms of its content guaranteeing extensive access
to information of public interest. The press feels that adequate
access to information would enable journalists to produce more
III. 2. Code of Conduct
Implementation of a Code of Conduct formulated
by the Press Council of Nepal some five years ago has found
difficulty. There are frequent complaints from both the public
and sections of the press that many journalists have not honoured
the Code of Conduct in practice. The code was formulated in
consultation with the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, the
largest journalists' body in Nepal, with nearly 3,000 members
from all over the kingdom. There are also suggestions that the
code need a thorough review to give it a more comprehensive
III.3. Working Journalists' Grievances
Although a Working Journalists' Act was announced
five years ago, it remains virtually unimplemented. The management
at various media organisations have not shown any enthusiasm
in following the obligations laid down in the Working Journalists'
Act. The government, too, needs to take firm initiative in ensuring
the Act's implementation.
III.4. Partisan Press
The news media are highly partisan. Most newspapers
are close to one political party/faction or the other, seeing
everything right with the patron and seeing everything wrong
with the rest. Such politicisation has affected the credibility
of the news media. People have to read several newspapers to
get a relatively accurate assessment of an event or development.
III.5. Community Media
Media experts at various forums have been
stressing on the need for developing community media, especially
in the radio sector. They feel that community FM stations should
be developed so that the local people are better informed about
local events, developments and processes. The handful of community
radio in operation currently are facing constant paucity of
resources but the programmes they broadcast generally draw appreciation
from the discerning section of society.
There is ample scope for district newspapers
to give wider coverage to local events and personalities instead
of aping their national counterparts published from Kathmandu,
whose focus is heavily on politics.
III. 6. Media and the Socially Deprived/Oppressed
Various orgtanisations have stressed the need
for the media to focus more on the socially deprived and oppressed
sections. They recommend extensive coverage of the related issues.
Gender issues and portrayal of women in the media are among
the other issues in this category.
IV.1. FES-supported Media Activities/Programmes
Various media-related activities/programmes
were undertaken with FES support in Nepal in 2001. A few of
the originally planned programmes had to be dropped when the
partners concerned expressed difficulties in undertaking the
same. But they informed FES on time about their inability and,
as a result, FES offered support to other partners, which had
been seeking such support. The media activities/programmes included
seminars; workshops; conferences; material help; participatory
programmes of Nepalese journalists/IT expert at international
conferences in New Delhi, Hong Kong, Stockholm, Geneva, Qatar
and Calcutta; and study and publication.
The main focus of FES support for media-related
programmes was to ensure that media inform the society accurately
and responsibly, thus contributing to the democratisation process
of the country.
IV.2. Media Activities/Programmes in Brief
A brief summary of the various media activities/programmes
that took place with FES support is as follows:
1. Partial financial support was extended
to 12 publishers/managers and editors of Nepalese media who
attended the International Press Institute's World Congress
from January 29 to 29 in the Indian capital of New Delhi. The
support was more or less equivalent to an airfare to and from
New Delhi. It was an extremely rare opportunity for the Nepalese
media-related people to take part in the IPI meet which attracted
media managers, publishers and editors from all over the world.
The cost-sharing experiment was highly successful since there
were quite a few others who wanted to attend the New Delhi conference
with partial support from FES but FES decided to limit the number
to 12. The goals and objectives of IPI impressed the Nepalese
participants. In fact, the Nepalese members have submitted a
formal request to IPI headquarters to accord recognition to
the Nepal Chapter of IPI, which was formed by the participants
of the New Delhi IPI conference.
The Nepal Chapter of IPI also organised a
FES-supported seminar on "Media Freedom" (September
30). There were about 40 participants, including some senior
journalists. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba made an inaugural
address to the gathering, which emphasised the need to exercise
media freedom with a sense of social responsibility.
Support was also provided to an IT expert
to attend INET 2001 Conference on IT in Hong Kong and Stockholm.
The participant at the Stockholm subsequently proved resourcesful
in coordinating the FES-organised ICT Conference in Kathmandu
in November 2001.
FES also extended assistance to Nepalese IT expert and journalists
to attend WTO conference (Qatar) in November and another conference
on news reporting in times of crisis ( Zeneva) in December.
2. Press Chautari organised day-long interaction
programmes on "Pre-requisites of an Informed Society"
in Pokhara ( March 18) and Kathmandu (April 27). There were
more than 45 participants in each programme. The conference
in Kathmandu attracted participants from various districts.
Discussions were held on various aspects of the overall Nepalese
media, including the strengths and shortcomings of the media
operating in Nepal.
Press Chautari also organised a day-long seminar
on "Information Flow and Professionalism" in Kathmandu
(December 28). About 40 participants attended the programme
and discussed ways and means of promoting timely flow of information
to the public in a professional manner so that media credibility
could be high. Leader of the main Opposition party in parliament,
Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal made the inaugural address.
3. Federation of Nepalese Journalists, the
largest and most influential media organisation in Nepal, organised
four seminars of one day each on "Right to Information
and Good Governance", one of them in Kathmandu (June 20)
and the rest in other parts of the country-Ilam (March 20),
Baglung (April 18) and Dang (May 8). There were 35-40 participants
in the seminars, with the main focus on the significance of
access to information for good governance. The resource persons
and participants included not only journalists but also political
scientists and political figures. They also strongly called
for a Right to Information Act. The Minister of State for Information
and Communication, Mr. Pushkar Nath Ojha, made the inaugural
address in the Kathmandu seminar. The general consensus among
the participants was that access to information was essential
for good governance, and the media can serve as an important
component in promoting good governance and making the government
and public institutions in particular transparent and accountable
to the public. FNJ's Dang district unit was associated with
FES-supported half-day interaction programme (November) on "Channels
of Communication", with the focus being on community communication.
4. Nepal Press Union organised a seminar on
"Working Journalists' Act: A Review" in Biratnagar
(May 24), the country's second largest industrial town. The
Working Journalists' Act is about five years old and yet it
has hardly been implemented properly in almost all media organisations.
The review raised the issue in Biratnagar. The Nepal Press Union
also organised a conference on the same topic in Kathmandu (November
12), during which the issue drew a lot of attention for various
quarters. Both the activities drew about 40 participants each.
5. Nepal Association of Media Educators organised
two workshops on "Depth and Interpretive Reporting"
in Janakpur (February 9-10) and Chitwan (March 23-24). The proved
very successful as they imparted skills on reporting beyond
the general news reporting. It was the first time that such
a topic was incorporated in a workshop and the demand for similar
workshop has come from other parts of the country. About 35
journalists attended each workshop.
NAME also organised two conferences, one
on "Public Service Functioning of Radio" in Pokhara
(November 5) and the other on "TV and Its Impact on Nepali
Society" in Kathmandu (August 10). Both the programmes
attracted about 40 participants each. All the four FM radio
stations in Pokahara were represented in the Pokhara seminar
and the Kathmandu meeting also recorded not only representatives
from Nepal Television and Spacetime Television Network but also
from other sections of the media, including media academics.
The thrust of the discussion was on "the public service
role" of the broadcast media.
6. Nepal Institute of Mass Communication organised one-day workshop
on "News Editing" in Pokhara ( April 24). Various
aspects of editing, including use of words, word economy, headline
writing, news selection, page design, were among the topics
discussed and illustrated. About 30 senior journalists participated.
7. Editor's Guild of Nepal organised a day-long
seminar on "Prospects and Problems of Weekly Papers"
in Kathmandu (May 24). There are more than 100 weekly papers
that come out regularly from various parts of the country. Weekly
papers, more than any other category of news publication, played
a very important role in championing the cause of multiparty
democracy during the now-defunct partyless Panchayat days. The
weeklies, however, face many constraints and hence the various
issues discussed at the seminar, which attracted very senior
journalists, mostly working in national weeklies.
8. Department of Journalism and Mass Communication
(R.R. Campus, Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu) was the beneficiary
of FES material support in the form of books on journalism and
mass communication. R.R. Campus is Nepal's only institute that
offers Bachelor level course in journalism and mass communication.
DJMC was supported to write a book on professional
journalism. The manuscript has been completed and submitted
to FES. It also organised seminars of one day each in Kathmandu
(August 15) and Dharan (December 28) on "Media Education".
Till the year 2001, only one university campus offered a Bachelor's
level course on journalism and mass communication. Although
the academic course of journalism and mass communication at
B.A. level was introduced in 1979, no campus offered any course
at the Master's level on journalism and mass communication.
In the course of the DJMC seminars, most speakers pressed for
introducing M.A. level courses on journalism and mass communication
but with adequate trained manpower, library and laboratory facilities.
Leading media educators were among the 40 participants in the
seminars and the suggestions from these programmes did have
a bearing on the academics concerned in that three campuses
in Kathmandu are introducing M.A. level courses on journalism
and mass communication from the first quarter of 2002. While
two of these campuses are in the private sector, one is a public
campus-Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus--affiliated to the kingdom's
premier university, Tribhuvan University.
9. Women and Development Communication Centre
organised two workshops of one day each on "Community Radio:
Opportunities and Challenges" in Kathmandu (December 19)
and Hetauda (July 5). About 40 participants took part in both
the workshops, underlining the need for utilising all available
opportunities for promoting community radio in a country like
Nepal where literacy is low and radio constitutes the most effective
form of mass communication. Training for radio people is essential,
they said, adding that the government should offer incentives
to community radio in terms of reduced annual fee and permission
to broadcast news bulletins as well. The workshop in Kathmandu
drew representatives from all the eight FM stations in Kathmandu
Valley in addition to Radio Nepal.
10. Sancharika Samuha Nepal organised a conference
on "Role of Media in Empowerment of Women" in Chitwan
( July 24). More than 35 participants took part in the programme,
which noted that the media focus on the need for promoting empowerment
of women had increased in the recent years but they need to
make greater efforts to highlight relevant issues pertaining
to women's empowerment.
11. People's Campus, which offers journalism
course at the Certificate (10+2 level), received material help
by way of books on journalism and mass communication. The various
titles of books have considerably improved the library stock
of books on journalism and mass communication. The campus has
been conducting journalism course since 15 years.
12. Media Point received FES material help
in the form of an overhead projector. The organisation, a training
institute offering basic journalism course, whose products work
in various media houses, is known to be utilising the overhead
projector in its training classes. It trains 25-30 persons during
its ten-month course.
13. National Union of Journalists was extended
a modest support to meet the expenses of its resource persons
only for a seminar organised on "Media in Times of Crisis"
in Kathmandu (December 10). Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba
and four other senior leaders of four major political parties
were among those who addressed the opening session of the programme.
14. The Telegraph Weekly organised a half-day
seminar on "Role of Media in Enhancing Good Governance"
in Kathmandu (December 20). About 50 participants, including
some senior journalists and academics, took part in the programme,
which was described as timely and relevant at a time when the
cross-section of the Nepalese society has been pressing for
15. Press Council Nepal organised a half-day
seminar on "Challenges of Professionalism in Present Context"
in Kathmandu (December 27), with special focus on media functioning
during the existing state of emergency in Nepal whereby the
media have been issued certain directives by the government
to ensure that they did not carry news or comments that "boosted"
the morale of the Maoist rebels and "lowered" the
morale of the army which has been deployed to quell the rebels.
16. The National Forum of Environmental Journalists
(NEFEJ) organised a day-long seminar on "Documentary and
Development Film Making in Nepal" (November22). Leading
film makers were among the participants who emphasised the need
for more quality films and screening outlets in order to demonstrate
that development films can serve as effective catalyst for change
17. FES published a book containing various
papers submitted by experts from different parts of the world
in connection with the ICT conference that FES organised in
Kathmandu (November 29-30, 2001.
Note: FES has also been associated with other media-related
activities such as counselling and providing media-related publications