Monday, June 14, 2021

Nepali media and FNJ election

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Noted journalist and former chairperson of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Kishor Nepal, wrote in a national daily that 'FNJ is mainly a professional organization, which is misused much. FNJ has no programme to help journalists gain knowledge of their profession. Another weakness is sheer lack of intellectual profile.'

The observation made by a veteran journalist and writer in the wake of election of the umbrella organization of journalists in Nepal, FNJ, bears huge significance. From his observation, various interpretations can be made- the misuse of such professional organization of journalists, which should play a watchdog role in society/country, means it is losing relevance and independence. It is guided or influenced by some interests.  More worrying- his next indication may be FNJ did not create the profile of subject experts from whom the new generation could learn a lot. Creating intellectual profile is imperative to FNJ. 

There are some 13,000 members with the FNJ. They are voting for the new leadership on April 7. Many journalists are vying for different posts making separate panels and wooing the voters with SMSes, phone calls, Facebook publicity, and visits to media houses and focused group gatherings. The journalists who generally are limited to their coterie are getting familiar with every journalist now.

It is therefore an apt time to discuss pressing issues of Nepali media with FNJ election round the corner. In addition to the observation of the senior journalist, the FNJ should mull various other issues- protection and promotion of freedom of expression, press freedom, journalist safety, and campaign to create free atmosphere for reporting, capacity building of fellow journalists in line with impact of IT and internet, inclusive media houses, and detachment from political influence.

One could vividly watch during the formation of panels before filing candidacies that journalists were bound to toe certain political line. This political allegiance was severely criticized in social media. Although every citizen irrespective of profession has the right to have certain political faith, the coming leadership must shun it and show professionalism and devote to journalists' rights. If the decisions are taken on the basis of political line, it is sheer violation of journalists' rights themselves and brings disrepute to the organization.

With the significant impact of IT and internet in media, the traditional practices of journalism are largely impacted. Citizen journalism, mobile journalism, and spurt of online media have increasing presence in recent times. It has been difficult for the people to sift real content from media. People's online presence is in need of stories that have undergone journalistic gate-keeping. So, social media and journalism should be differentiated well to dispel flurry of misinformation and disinformation. It is also related to professional capacity and safety of journalists- in print, electronic, and internet media.

Social media and journalism should be differentiated well to dispel flurry of misinformation and disinformation.

Financial and physical safeties are equally important. As Nepali media industry and journalists faced severe impact with Covid-19, it obviously dented financial and professional securities of journalists. Instances of job loss and job-hopping were rampant. Many media houses, especially the small ones are yet to restore to previous condition. According to a study report prepared by Freedom Forum, 38 percent of the active journalists lost their job due to Covid-19 in Nepal. At the same time, journalists blamed media houses that Covid-19 pandemic became an excuse to expel them from the job. It is really a worrying trend. Will FNJ, as a trade union, intensify collective bargaining to restore journalists' jobs?

Journalists are intimidated time and again for their reporting. Investigative reporters who expose corruption and irregularities are always targeted. How can political cadres and leaders at lower level be convinced that journalism is for public good and good governance in the country? It is worth mulling. Although politics and media claim that their goal is to build good governance and prop up democracy, why does politics emerge hostile to media persons and press freedom?

Moreover, it is still the situation that journalists are arrested under cybercrime for writing news. Laws and policies adverse to press freedom must be made press freedom-friendly. The concept of online media/journalism is yet to be recognized well by the state authorities though it has growing presence.

There are nearly 2,500 online media registered in the country, according to Press Council Nepal. It is an interesting shift from print to internet based media. It necessitates strong advocacy by the FNJ, CSOs on media and entire media fraternity for freedom of expression online. New laws and policies should be observed meticulously whether they are fit for new development.

Here also comes another issue- the misuse of media and journalists by political parties. As the country became federal, there are governments in seven provinces, a central federal government and 753 local levels. It has created a big decentralized platform for political parties and leaders to exercise power and work for the cause of country and people. But the employment of journalists as media advisors to people's representatives has received criticism in that there is high chance of journalists being misused for political purpose. It results in the death of news in the very field.

FNJ offices should be established as knowledge hubs for journalists and media researchers.

FNJ offices should be established as knowledge hubs for journalists and media researchers. Mere reading of journalism books does not make one a perfect professional journalist. Even the Covid-19 pandemic must have taught media houses that they need to have subject experts to write objectively on sensitive issues like health.

I remember only few media reports and books, leaving bookracks almost empty in the central office of FNJ. In addition to media/journalism books, the FNJ offices must have varieties of resources for media research and investigative reporting. For it to happen, FNJ can increase fund and utilize knowledge of past chairpersons, young researchers, academia, area experts and organize events for sharing international best practices. It fosters reading culture among journalists.

Encouraging women to join media house can be another area of focus. Nepali media is still dominated by males, and dominated by political news. Social issues are not given priority and also neglected are the stories about women. It is upsetting to mention that women are presented in stereotypical manner in media. This trend needs to come to an end.

It is right time to see whether the FNJ election campaigning cogitates upon these issues and translate in action after new leadership comes into place. It is time to make journalism a dignified profession by protecting and promoting journalists' rights and free expression.

Published on 4 April 2021

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