Development and Media
Paper Presented by Shrish S. Rana
at a seminar organized by The Telegraph Weekly and FES in Kathmandu
on December 3, 2003
The terms democracy, development and the
media have been so used over the past years that the need to introduce
this paper with definitions and terminologies on them perhaps
becomes redundant. In the Nepali context, it will perhaps be more
fruitful to use this opportunity to ask ourselves serious questions
on our experiment with democracy, development and the media to
determine where we err in our interpretations and why.
To this scribe democracy and development are
interlinked. Describing development as a positive movement from
one stage to a better stage, we can ask ourselves how this can
be achieved in the societal context without the participation
of the bulk of society. For development to take place, therefore,
participation becomes crucial. For that section of society to
participate, an adequate degree of identification among the
populace, a felt need to participate would seem mandatory. The
key words here, then, become identification and participation.
These two terms are applied very much in definitions of democracy.
For a population to identify adequately enough to participate,
they must find the right incentive. What better an incentive
than the notion that they participate for their benefit, for
their development, in the type of development they seek at the
very policy levels through their public representatives who
they themselves elect?
As much as this should make clear the linkage
between development and democracy, it should also perhaps help
set the parameters for judging our democracy. We have elections
to public office under the constitution no doubt. How much do
we identify with the policies of a government elected by us
and how much do these policies attract our participation? How
well have these policies contributed to government? And what
of good governance?
In another manner of speaking, democracy is
also development. It is political development. Just as the goals
of development become a continuum- development from one stage
to another better stage having been achieved, there are more
targets set automatically and the achievement of yet another
better stage is targeted or aspired for-it is thus a continuous
process. The more developed countries are also developing and
the consensus is that they are developing faster than us in
the developing countries. Likewise, if one watches the political
development of the more developed countries, they are still
democratizing. Take the British system as example - we tend
to build our democracy in their model constitutionally at least.
The revival of parliament in Scotland is a recent innovation,
the Welsh experience is underway and the manner of settlement
of the Northern Ireland problem is continuously impacting on
the British democratic system.
The American System is developing still. How
the U.S. coped with the black problem, the Hispanics and, now,
their attempts to approach the Asian émigrés,
how the U.S. is taking up minority issues outside race such
as gender certainly impact on the functioning of their democracy.
These experiments have their own barometers of democratic success--
identification and participation in development and its impact
on development, socio-economic and 'systemic', become handy
measurements to gauge their impact on political development,
These are, again, useful parameters by way
of judging our democratic and developmental performance. Among
other things, the fact that the constitutions in these countries
have by no means become impediments to incur these developments
should perhaps set us thinking as to why over the past fifty
odd years of our experiments with development and democracy
in the modern sense of the term we are still embroiled in the
constitutionality of it all? To put it the other way around,
we might well ask ourselves whether our seeming political obsession
with constitutions has been productive to democracy and development.
Constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights,
of course, become part of that now accepted need for identification
and participation for development, read also political development,
i.e., democracy. But latter day political analysts now concur
that the inclusion of these in a constitution and, even, the
use of elections as a means to validate democracy can go awry.
We now have 'electoral' democracies and 'developed' democracies
in our terminologies. Even among the 'electoral' democracies,
there are 'mature' and 'immature' qualifications. The Indian
model for example is considered an 'electoral' democracy by
some analysts while the consensus is that it being in practice
for over half a century now makes it a 'mature' one.
Since the 1950s, Nepal has embarked on a course
of political development that insists on a representative system
of government based on elections. This cannot be disputed. We
have also embarked on a course of constitutional development.
We have had several changes in constitutions emphasizing representative
electoral governments. The prevalent constitution is yet another
manifestation of this development. In course of this search
for development from one stage to another conceived better stage,
the Maoists are currently conducting an armed insurgency advocating
what essentially constitutes yet another constitution.
Conceive of the fact that the developed countries
which are developing faster than us could achieve development
with a dissimilar emphasis on constitutional development and
then we might ask ourselves whether constitutional development
is at all development. We might then come to the conclusion
that democracy, as another term for political development, is
not merely constitutional. It is in the practice of constitutions
that development occurs. Democracy, after all is behavioral
and, while constitutions may prescribe the structures and functions
of state, it is the actors of state, principally the population
and those that act on its behalf that define the behavior. Going
by this argument, we can conclude that the Nepali population
will 'develop' when change for the better occurs in our behavior.
Whether our behavior is better thus perhaps should stand scrutiny
more than constitutions in a discourse on democracy, development
and the media in Nepal.
Since development by its very definition connotes
change and since it is safe to conclude that we cannot develop
until our behavior changes for the better, the determinants
of behavior, our values and belief systems, would also have
to undergo a relevant degree of scrutiny. Have they changed?
Have they changed for the better? In other words, for us to
achieve 'development', also 'democracy', more than constitutional
change, it is behavioral change that is required for which a
suitable shift, for the better, is required in our values and
Again, since our values and belief systems
affect our political behavior and since our political behavior
affects our democracy and since democracy here has been so interlinked
with constitutional development, it is clear that our values
and belief systems affect our constitutional practice, whatever
the shape, size or content of the prevalent constitution. In
so many ways therefore, it would be relevant here to question
the extent to which our constitution reflects our values and
belief systems since it is change in the values and belief systems
that, in accordance to this argument, will bring about development,
political development as well. Conversely one might argue that
the further we are in our constitutions from our real values
and belief systems, the further away is the chance that we will
be able to bring about change in the values and beliefs and
the further we will be away from 'development'.
It is at this juncture that one would like
to bring in a discussion on the Nepali media and its performance.
Keeping away from the by now habitual discourse on definitions
and functions of the media, one would suggest that the Nepali
media also reflects these values and beliefs since they are
part of the same population. Concluding that the same values
and belief systems that reflect upon our practice of the constitution
is reflected in the media may not be out of place here.
Of course, a torrent of protest from the media
sector on such a seemingly mundane conclusion would be justified.
By its very nature, the media is manned by the educated or,
at least, the literate whose access to 'development' is higher
than the rest of the population and their orientation towards
development is expected to be higher than the bulk 'underdeveloped'
population. Their values and belief systems would be better
primed to accept development. Indeed, in so many ways, they
would be better motivated to be in the vanguard for helping
transform our values and belief systems towards development.
Many a discussion on the role of the media gives it this responsibility
But, then, similar roles have been prescribed
to other change agents. The bureaucracy and the political sector
by and large are manned by similarly advantageously equipped
personnel. The fact that our developing country has select urban
elite manning key decision-making positions is by now a standard
critique of our democratic and developmental experience. What
makes the media of a different genre? It is by no means, given
the literacy or educational qualification which is still in
the peripheries of the advantaged, representative of the population
at large. The Nepali political elite which has for decades now
mouthed development and the Nepali bureaucracy which monopolizes
its implementation is not much distant in the nature of its
manpower from that of the media. Moreover, the Nepali media
is now widely understood to have its linkages with the political
sector to its own embarrassment. If the political sector can
fall-- and must in a democracy emphasizing people's participation-prey
to the prevalent values and beliefs of the masses that compose
our democracy, can the media be an exception?
It would serve the purposes of this paper
well, therefore, if discussions in this seminar turn towards
the performance of the media in reflecting or at least recognizing
the role these values and beliefs have in the practice of democracy
in the country.
Has the media identified these determinants
of our political behavior at all? After all, political reportage
that constitutes the bulk of media coverage here and political
analysis would have to take cognizance of these determinants
to come close to the facts. Should or should not we in the media
judge our performance on how close we come to Nepali realities
in our portrayal of facts?
One might well conclude with these questions
on the media in gauging its performance and role in our democracy.
The sea change that the media sector has seen since the introduction
in 1991 of the present constitution-- increase in numbers, in
frequency, in media type and services, technology-- have all
been grist for many a media seminar to elaborate upon here.
Is it not time for us to begin building real parameters regarding
media content to gauge its actual contributions to our democracy
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