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Mission of Journalism: Democracy and Peace

Hiranya Lal Shrestha

Nepal has been going through what is known as the 'people's war' launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) since February 1996. About 9,000 people have lost their lives owing to the conflict between the government and the Maoists. Most of the victims are innocent civilians. After the king started to rule the country through nominated prime ministers and the council of ministers after dissolution of the parliament and elected government from October 4, 2003, conflict has increased between the King and the parliamentarian parties also. The insurgents have broken ceasefire and both sides have intensified military activities. In the recent battles in Bhojpur and Myagdi, the insurgents have used new weapons including AK- 47 rifles and other heavy weapons. There are bomb explosions and killings even in the capital and other cities in different parts of the country. Frequent bandhs and blockades added hardship to the commoners. The humanitarian laws and human rights have been systematically violated. Women and children have fallen worst victims of the conflict. The ratio of the internal displacement is increasing. Murder, kidnapping and detention of journalists by the government and the insurgents are growing. The Nepalese people want peace and settlement of the armed conflict through social- economic transformation. They want to build peace instead of the culture of guns. In this process, media can play vital role, because an aware and vibrant journalism can multiply the strength of the peace campaign.

In the context of present day Nepal, the only mission of journalists is to create favorable people's opinion for a durable peace by helping bring about ceasefire and effecting a social transformation through dialogue and consensus. It is to create people's pressure against the option of military solution. The preamble of the constitution of the UNESCO stipulates: " Since wars begin in the minds of men that, the defenses of peace must be constructed." The journalists, therefore, must nurture the culture of peace based on humanitarian laws and human rights instead of glorification of war.

The Clause 8 of the Code of Conduct for Journalists 2060 drafted by the Press Council in consultation with the Nepal Journalist Federation stipulates: "Violence, terror and crimes should not be encouraged. The news, ideas, photographs and scenes of war should not be presented in a way the destruction, violence and crimes are provoked." Similarly, the clause 9 of the statute says: "The gruesome pictures likely to provoke hatred and incite passion should not be published. Pictures showing badly mutilated bodies should not be published in an irrelevant, obscene and provocative manner." These clauses direct journalists to stand against violence and murder and to show that the mission of the journalists is peace.

Although democracy was formally re-established in 1990, no socio-economic transformation could be brought in the country. No significant change was brought in the semi-colonial and semi-feudal status of the country. The status of the common people, specially those of the women, indigenous people, dalits, exploited and the oppressed remained unchanged. The gender discrimination too, remained intact. The people of remote areas and the Terai remained in the sideline. Banking on these contradictions, the CPN (Maoist) launched a revolt under the attractive slogans of radical change. The rulers, in turn, took up the path of suppression instead of going in for political way-out and socio-economic transformation. Despite being a least developed country, Nepal is turning into a market for weapons. The state is openly acquiring weapons, training and logistics from outside. The insurgents, too, have been bringing in weapons clandestinely from the money they have accumulated by looting banks and extortion from the people. The possibility of Nepal receding to the status of a "failed state" has started to loom larger. Instead of forging understanding and unity to bring the insurgents to negotiating table, the constitutional forces are engaging themselves in the cold war pushing the chances of peace farther away. This has worried the common people and the civic society which are creating popular pressure for the fresh ceasefire and peace negotiation. The lust for power and the culture of violence cannot be challenged until an effective peace movement is built at the people's level. The media people should play a role of vanguard in this peace movement. It is necessary to stand for freedom, equality, democracy, justice and all-round prosperity to build the culture of peace. All three political forces should be able to move towards dialogue accepting mutual co-existence.

We should be alert against the schemes of vested external powers 'to fish in troubled waters' and expand their grips in Nepal. Realizing sensitive geopolitical location of Nepal in between two big competing neighbors, India and China, we should not allow interference of any external powers who have strategic interest in Nepal. Rather, we should prefer UN's role in peace keeping and peace-building in Nepal. So we welcome and appreciate UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's recent appeal asking the government and the Maoists to immediately bring the military operation to halt and resume the peace process with the participation of all parties and the civic society. All political parties including the CPN(Maoist) have expressed consent for possible UN role in peace process in Nepal. It is HMGN's turn to appreciate and explore the prospect of UN assistance in peace process as facilitator and mediator. Since Nepal has been helping the UN to establish peace in various parts of the world, it is the responsibility of the UN to help Nepal acquire peace by resolving conflict. As Nepal is one of the members of the UN, it is natural for it to try to save a member country from becoming a failed state. The Nepalese media have, in fact, accepted the UN's role in peace building by highly appreciating the appeal of the General Secretary of the UN. Nepal wants to take advantage from the rich experience of the UN in peace keeping.

The mission of Nepalese media at this critical juncture is to stop militarization and encourage dialogue, consensus and national reconciliation. It should be realized that durable peace can be established only if the society can be transformed through forward looking reforms instead of going in for retrogression and status quo. Peace in absolute term, therefore, is not feasible. It should always be linked with freedom, equality, justice and democracy. Journalists should stand firmly to say 'No' to the cult of violence. There should not be dictation of weapons; reasoning must prevail. We can enjoy freedom of press only in peaceful and democratic atmosphere. Free press should stand as a defender of peace and democracy.

(The author, former Member of Parliament, freelancer journalist and political analyst, presented the paper at a seminar organised by the Editors’ Society of Nepal in cooperation with FES Nepal on “Democracy, Conflict and Press Freedom” on March 28 at Radisson Hotel Kathmandu.)

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