Armed Conflict in Nepal and Nepali Press
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
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
We can classify the
news during these conflict years according to time and situation
- The suppression period on Maoists and situation
- The expanding activities of Maoists and
people's support to them.
- Cease fire and dialogue period.
- The State of Emergency and control on freedom
- 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
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
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.
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
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
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)