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Armed Conflict in Nepal and Nepali Press

Shobha Gautam


Background:

In 1996 February, a group of disgruntled political activists put forward a 40-point demand comprised of various reforms ranging from land right and reform to good governance. The government did not show any leniency towards their demands. As a result the group went underground and started working as Maoist Guerillas. Since then The Guerillas, understood as 'Maoists' in the society now have been using media as a tool of their publicity.

In the beginning the Maoists on the name of 'Public Punishment' attacked people, shops and factories in Rukum, Rolpa, Jajarkot, Sindhuli and Gorkha district. In a retaliatory move, the government forces started to punish the whole village and community on the name of searching the Rebels. In this game of attack and counter attack, there has been series of brutal murders and hair-raising cases of punishment in the country.

In the early days of Guerilla activities, the government pushed few groups of journalist to the Maoist affected areas to investigate reports, in a bid garner popular support against the rebels. It could be because the reports of Maoist activities and their 'public punishment' were coming in media from people's perspective but somehow they were one way or the other went in favor of the government. It can be said that the government was not courageous to get into illegal detention and increase suppression.

If we analyze news from those days, we will find a serious lacking of news from humanitarian perspective. Most of the news were carrying ideological or political point of view; giving inputs to suppress the Maoists. At that time series of visits of Human Rights activists took place on the name of fact-finding mission. They also expressed the human rights as political rights and what was happening in the Maoist affected areas, were political rights violation. They also did not bother to analyze the situation form social rights angle and the rights of women and children. As a result the problem of women and children, who were more vulnerable in the society, could not come forward.

In this context, in 1997, Sancharika Samuha, a women group realized the seriousness of the situation and decided to go to those areas and find out the real situation of women and children. They sought consultation with Sushil Pyakurel, Chairman of INSEC and left for the places.

The initiative has been successful to bring the real situation of women and children during the conflict. The news published by the member of the group put significant pressure on government to give second thought to its activities. The irony to this development is that some journalist with ulterior motives published article against those journalists blaming that they were working in favor of the rebels.

Soon after the mud-slinging among the journalists, the Government started another operation "Kilo Shera two"; the result of which is the situation we have been facing today.

Classification of News in 9 years of Maoists conflict:

We can classify the news during these conflict years according to time and situation as follows:

  • The suppression period on Maoists and situation of news.
  • The expanding activities of Maoists and people's support to them.
  • Cease fire and dialogue period.
  • The State of Emergency and control on freedom of expression.
  • Second cease-fire and dialogue period and revival of freedom of expression.
  • Present situation (after the cease-fire when the peace talks failed).

The first phase starts from 1996 until the Middle of 1999. In which more innocent rural people were victimized, suppressed, tortured and sexually harassed by the government side. At that time government media and other media were publishing news against Maoists; most of them were the news generated by government. This situation was somehow favorable to Maoist as it was giving some justification to their 'cause'. The people used to hear the exaggerated reports from the government media came across the Maoist newspapers banned by the government, explaining the 'real' situation. It also contributed to the people from the affected area to be influenced by the rebels. On the other hand the government was so stern against the Maoists in conflict ridden areas that even the newspaper vendors had to be always ready to go to jail for their 'crime' for selling newspapers believed to have close connection with the Maoists. It also contributed to Maoists 'popularity'.

At the time of Democratic government, Janadesh and Janaawhan weekly and like others were also banned and journalists were illegally detained. Moreover even Kantipur daily's circulation to the districts were controlled. These days the party leaders (representing the successive governments) neither remember the violation of Constitution and Human Rights nor is the situation in favor of them to raise such issues. To be precise, at that time neither the state of emergency was declared nor was terrorist act passed by parliament.

Second phase: This period was the more or less psychologically and morally winning period for Maoists, which was supported by most of the newspapers. The period was between mid 1999 to beginning of 2001. At that journalists were competing with each other to become closer with the Maoists for information source. If we get into detail, we will find that the newspapers have given priorities to the news related to Maoist activities.

Third phase, 2001 Cease- fire and first round of Peace talks: if we analyze the newspaper coverage of that period, we will find the news of Maoist side is given highest priority. The members from civil society were also willing to show their close contact with them. Common people, who did not know any thing, were looking Maoists as strangers and were attending various public meeting. Some time they were attending the meeting willingly and in some instances, forcefully. Journalists as well were competing with each others to cover the activities and events.

Forth Phase, state of emergency: In reality the state of emergency was really a emergency to common people after the cease-fire and peace dialogue were broken. But it was seen more an emergency for those writing about the emergency or those victimized by it. The slogan of voice to the voiceless became its self 'voiceless'. The journalists, who were supposed to be disseminating the news of disappearances of the people, illegal detention, torture inside and outside of custody and rape of women, control to freedom of travel themselves were indirectly banded to exercise their duties.

Fifth Phase, Restoration of freedom of expression together with second cease-fire and peace dialogue period: This period also saw the similar environment; people eager to go to mass meetings and journalists competing among themselves. If we analyze the newspapers reports from that period, we will find that more news and views were published in media about Maoists and their leaders. Slowly it grew up to the level of peace process and achievements. At that period media has raised successfully the agendas of dialogue, which were raised by different groups from their own perspective. It has covered the violation of code of conduct, which was passed by both sides involved at the meeting.

But between those phases, there was increased constitutional crisis in October 2002, which was covered by media intensively. At that time it was not two-way conflict, but conflict was growing up from three sides and crisis loomed-in in Kathmandu. Since then the media has been involved in in-depth reporting on Constitutional crisis, the movement of political parties to restore multi party democracy and finally the attitude of King and government attitude.

Sixth Phase; Present Situation: After the failure of second round of peace talks, Maoists have focused their activities around personal and in humanitarian side. Moreover they have concentrated their activities to attack district headquarters. Because of this reason, more civilians are getting killed in crossfire. Media have been reporting those incidents. Because of fear from government and Maoists side media is resorting to self censorship. This time Maoists cruelty is seen more in villages. But Security forces also do not have very clean hand in such activities.

The Difference:

Media is very effective tool to change the society. If we evaluate the news pattern since early days of rebel activity to present, we will find that most of time media itself could not play the role it was supposed to play, during the conflict. Because of that, from time to time it has also contributed to increase the conflict. But the successive governments after 1996 are more responsible to increase the conflict within this 10-year period. When they hold power, no successive governments have given a responsible thought to the people and their problem. Always they were worried about their 'chair' not to people's problem. Ever since the restoration of multi party system in 1990 and they got into power, they treated people as their subjects and using the popular mantra 'democracy'. The political parties and their respective governments were never serious to change social, economical and cultural situation of people. They could not identify the real problem of the people and never ever tried to go deep into the root causes and consequences of Maoists conflict. They always tried to suppress and eliminate the ideology. In such situation media could have played the role of a watchdog and could have underlined the problems so that the government would be forced to correct mistakes. But most of the times media toed the government's 'line'.

In this situation, the problem of media could be analyzed in the following way:

  • Journalists sat on the laps of different political parties ignoring their professional ethics.
  • The media houses were run by non professional people and used such publication houses as a milking cow.
  • For their personal benefit media persons were hiding some news and exaggerating some.
  • The news related to women, dalits, ethnic minorities and marginalized communities were thrown in the shadow.

Conclusion:

Bringing the situation in a nutshell, the journalism before 1990 can be termed as Mission Journalism, which was the main cause to hinder to develop professional Journalism. It is their hangover from those days that the Maoist conflict was not accepted in journalism.

In the past three years, Journalist dedicated to publish the news of Maoists activities, whether they are good or bad, media is giving space. On the other hand journalists are engaged in in-depth reporting on impact of Maoist insurgency in society.

Media and journalist are giving priority to Maoist news, sometime by giving good side and sometimes reporting on the gloomy side. Tips or hints given by the media sources are not taken very seriously by the government side. Instead of working, on the recommendations provided by the journalist, they are engaged in torturing, killing and abducting the journalist themselves. Along with this Maoist too are engaged in killing of the journalists if they are found libel to publish the news, not comfortable to them. Journalists are abducted, killed or punished and sometimes the family too are kicked out form the villages. This situation should be stopped and stopped for good.

(The paper was presented at a seminar on “Democracy, Conflict and Press Freedom” organised by the Editors’ Society of Nepal (ESON) in cooperation with FES Nepal, at Radisson Hotel, Kathmandu, on March 28. The author is the chairman of the Institute of Human Rights Communication, Nepal (IHRICON)

 
Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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