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In the News
Last Updated: 05/09/2005
Nepal and the Media
Kamala Sarup

As in any conflict, the media continue to play a significant role in Nepal’s struggle with the Maoist insurgents. Nepali Kamala Sarup provides perspective on the role of the media in the conflict, as well as background on the dangers journalists face in covering the story.


The media are vital to peace when they inform readers and viewers about current events and their consequences. But when the media take one side on controversial subjects and events, it limits the information presented to the readers, who will then take misinformed and incorrect actions to improve events. Accurate news is the utmost priority of responsible media because media must live up to higher values and serve the interests of truth, justice and peace. The media's pervasive and positive persuasive influence can be used to strengthen the peace building processes.

 

We can't forget how the media can work to deflate rumors and propaganda that promote ethnic cleansing, ethnicity, selfish hegemony, reprisal, repression, racism, and genocide such as was in Rwanda, says Monica Kozawolowski, a New Jersey based journalist. So, Media must play a very constructive role in educating the people about the military solution, sincere dialogue among peoples, about alternative structures of government to accommodate our multi-ethnic, multi-religious situation.

  

The media has a growing role in highlighting terrorism and violence against people. It can stress the need for creating awareness among victims, women, and children on their rights, so that they can protect themselves. The media also have a duty to report accurately on acts of violence against people. The media can take a role in Nepal by highlighting the injustices meted out to people by the Maoists. This conflict, however, appears more dangerous than any other.

 

Nepali media organizations can also build a better case for monitoring and early intervention, and can encourage appropriate support for peace. Consider British operations in Northern Ireland, and the role that impartiality played there. Or look at the media coverage during the Vietnam War, and the media coverage in Bosnia and Kosovo and how media in India and Pakistan helped prevent the conflict.

 

A key function of the media is to give the public the information necessary to make good decisions. The media can create pressure to address the conflict. The media may also help maintain a balance of power between the political parties in Nepal.

Currently, however, much of Asia's media (In Nepal too) is either partisan or outright controlled by, for example, the government, political parties or political leaders. Some examples: In Thailand, the Army owns a national TV station; In Sri Lanka, the largest English-language daily is government-controlled; In Indonesia, the largest English-language newspaper is pro-government.

 

Even the U.S., Australian, and some conservative British media probably sometimes portray conflict as necessitating intervention. In Europe, we see much less of that perspective. Generally, when we Nepali people speak of "western media", it includes both U.S. and European (as well as Australian) media. The US and European news providers differ in that there are probably more conservative sources in the US, as opposed to Europe.

 

To some extent the media can bring conflicts to people's attention, which can help encourage peace. It said the northern European countries of Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway were a "haven of peace for journalists.

 

When it comes to the Nepali conflict, closing the door on dialogue with the Maoists is not politically acceptable. Nepali media have called upon both the government and Maoist rebels to immediately seek a cease fire and resume peace negotiations in the country. But the Nepali media had still not played an effective role in minimizing the Maoist conflict.

 

Media advocates make a serious mistake if they approach issues of justice as if they were non-negotiable matters. Justice without reconciliation is an oxymoron and so is reconciliation without justice. Even the Nepali media are facing huge challenges, including a lack of infrastructure.

 

What the media can do is to keep writing and keep publicizing the problems of Maoists and violence to get more people s attention and put pressure on decision-makers, political parties, and human rights organizations pressure to begin peace talks and to work honestly for the betterment of the country and its people. If the media play an effective role as a last resort, dissatisfied readers can change their government representatives at regular voting intervals to keep events consistent with their views.

 

On the other hand, the deliberate and indiscriminate killing of media people by Maoists in Nepal violates the basic principles of international humanitarian law. Nepali journalists have been subjected to threats, arrests and other untenable actions by both the government and insurgents over the past year. The frequency and severity of such assaults have increased in recent years. A number of journalists have been killed or made to disappear. Last year, the Maoist rebels brutally killed Dekendra Raj Thapa, a reporter with the state-run Radio Nepal in Dailekh district. A Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, said it was shocked and revolted by this barbaric murder. Then on 2 September 2004, Bijaya Mishra, a reporter with Kantipur Daily in Siraha, received death threats from Maoists for allegedly not reporting the arrest of a local Maoist leader. Mishra was told he would suffer the same fate as Thapa.

 

Another journalist, Gyanendra Khadka, with the government news agency Rastriya Samachar Samiti, was killed by Maoists sometime back at Jyamire in the eastern Sindhupalchowk District. Maoists threatened to kill 10 journalists in Dailekh and Achham districts. It is all too obvious that the insurgents will turn into a gang of criminals if they do not correct their behaviour in time.

 

Nearly two months ago, a group of unidentified assailants entered the office of the Dharan Today newspaper in the eastern district of Sunsari and shot its editor, Khagendra Shrestha. Shrestha later succumbed to his injuries while undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Siliguri, India. Security officials blamed Maoists for the incident while the insurgents haven't said anything regarding the shooting as of yet.

 

Any journalists covering war should be able to report effectively and safely on violations of the rules of war, including war crimes, especially, because a number of provisions of the conventions apply directly to journalists. Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, journalists must be treated humanely. Maoists should remember that media can be an instrument of conflict resolution. What is needed is a media that reduces conflict and fosters human security.

 

Related Links:

World Press Freedom Review 2004, International Press Institute

A report on world-wide freedom of the press that compiles incidences of crime committed against journalists in the last year.

A research scholar, Kamala Sarup has completed her masters degree in investigative journalism. She is also the editor of www.peacejournalism.com.


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