A cursory observation of Nepal’s media

Published on Mar 27 2017 // Featured, Nepal News, Opinion

Bibek Sharma

Journalism is an important aspect of how a country runs. For a country like Nepal, this activity acts as a medium between the state and the people. The people rely on it to provide them information regarding the various happenings of the country. It is interesting to think how did journalism develop in Nepal because if you look at the amount of newspapers, television channels, radio stations and online news portal today, then our guesses will never match the correct amount.

We can do this in various ways. We can break down the history of each media sources such as television, newspapers, radio and online sources but that would not be interesting. What we can do is base the history of media with the political context of the country because everything is parallelly moving with politics in this country. Another interesting thing is that journalism has developed as politics has developed in the country.

The first phase is the period of traditional communication. In this period, there were no forms of modern media. This is during the phase when Nepal was not unified as Late King Prithvi Narayan Shah was on the verge of uniting the country. The society was very classical and traditional in the sense of their culture and religion. There were practices of communication in the form of ‘Katuwal Karaune’, ‘Jhyali Pitne’ and ‘Karnal Phukne’. These practices involved officials from the government shouting information in public places. Katuwals were particularly influential in this age because there were efficient in spreading information all over the villages. However, due to the illiteracy and lack of awareness of the public, the idea of journalism had not kicked in yet.

Moving on to the second phase which is the Rana Regime. This regime lasted a total of 104 years starting from 1903-2007 B.S. This was an autocratic system where the whole power of the country belonged to the Rana family. Despite having a lot of critics, it is in this period that Nepal began to taste what journalism was. Jung Bahadur Rana, the first and most influential Prime Ministers in this regime as well as that of the country introduced the first ever Press Machine named ‘Giddhe Press’ in 1908 B.S. He bought the machine from his much talked about visit of Europe. During this regime, a lot of newspapers started to come into the country with the first being ‘Gorkha Bharat Jeevan’ in 1950 B.S. This was a literary newspaper which was published monthly and came from India. Motiram Bhatta and Ram Krishna Verma were the editors and some even consider Bhatta to be the first journalist of the country. Next to come was ‘Sudhasagar’ in 1955 B.S. which was edited by Nar Dev Pandey. This was the first media publication that was inside the country in Kathmandu. After three years in 1958 B.S. Baisakh 24, ‘Gorkhapatra’ was officially born under the Prime Minister Dev Shumsher. He told Nar Dev Pandey to look over the paper. Gorkhapatra started as a weekly newspaper and story has it the reason for Gorkhapatra to be established was because of a British General’s habit of reading newspapers which was fulfilled by the Rana leaders. Another interesting point is that Giddhe Press was used for media purpose for the first time after fifty years in the printing of Gorkhapatra. There was a total of 12 publications in the country during this period and if you look at the publications, they were very diverse from women’s based paper to industrial basednewspapers.

Print media was not the only source that started to develop during that time because radio was also slowly coming to prominence. It is said that during 1980 B.S. Nepal started to hear about radio as only the elite could afford these sets. But it was in 2004 B.S. that then Prime Minister Padma Shumsherstarted broadcasting radios on a trial basis to the public mainly religious programs in Tundhikhel.

After the long list of achievements of journalism during the Rana period, Nepal entered a new era from 2007 B.S. to 2017 B.S. 24 hours after democracy, the first daily newspaper was published called ‘Aawaj’ in Falgun 8, 2007 B.S. under the leadership of the eminent poetSiddhicharan Shrestha. There were a lot of firsts in this period in terms of journalism in the country like the first English daily newspaper ‘The Commoner’ under the guidance of Gopal Das Shrestha in 2012 B.S., the first Newari language newspaper ‘Pasa’ published by Asha Ram Shakya in Karthik 2009 B.S., ‘Nepal BhasaPatrika’ under Fatte Bahadur Singh in Ashoj 16, 2012 B.S. being the first Newari daily newspaper, the first Hindi newspaper ‘Taranga’ under Bhejbahadur Singh in 2008 B.S., under the guidance of BarunShumsher JBR the first English monthly publication was established called the ‘The Nepal Guardian’ in 2010 B.S. and alsoBirgunj became the first place outside Kathmandu to print newspapers. Due to the influx of democracy, there was lot of freedom in the way people wanted to express themselves as they had been living under an autocratic leadership. Nepal saw nearly 170 newspapers during this 10-year phase which is a significant increase from the 12 during the Rana regime.

Radio Nepal began its live broadcasting from Chaitra 20, 2007 B.S. Radio was growing popular during this phase just before democracy, Nepali Congress were using radio sets to send messages regarding their political stance on the country’s situation. In 2016 B.S., the first news agency of the country was formed called ‘Nepal Sambad Samiti’ which later was followed by the ‘Sagarmatha Sambad Samiti’ in 2017 B.S.

After Nepal, experienced democracy in 2007 B.S. and then in 2015 B.S. a general election was conducted where Nepali Congress won by a whopping 2/3rd majority. This led to B.P. Koirala being the first elected Prime Minister of the country. However, King Mahendra decided to overthrow the parliament by using Clause 56 of the constitution and form a party less Panchayat system (2017 B.S.-2046 B.S.). After the Panchayat system was implemented, all the previous political leaders were either jailed or self-exiled from the country. As the political scenario changed so did the way of journalism. Nepal shifted to a more mission style journalism where it was a mission to present the Panchayat as the right way for the country while others were anti-Panchayat. There was a lack of press freedom at that point as the country again shifted from a more democratic to a more conservative government. If anyone was found writing against the system, they would either be jailed or their license would be taken away or even the state would plot something against the publication that would drive their business out. However, one thing that stands out in this time is that no journalist was killed and that says something about this system that maybe it was not that bad.

In terms of various events, Gorkhapatrabecame a daily newspaper in 2017 Falgun 7 and The Rising Nepal was established in 2022 B.S. which is an English daily. RastriyaSamacharSamitiwas also established following the merger of the previous two news agencies in 2018 B.S. This news agency was controlled by the government at that time. There were also progress seen in radio sector as Radio Nepal started broadcasting outside the valley that promoted various development projects by the pro-Panchayat and they also played a role in introducing various literary and musical figures in their broadcasts. Journalism was introduced as an academic coursein 2033 B.S. RatnaRajya Campus started having certificate level courses under Tribhuvan University’s programrelataed to journalism. Five years later, journalism was a full Bachelors level course. Nepal Press Institute was also established in 2041 B.S. in terms of promoting journalism and started giving training diploma courses in this period as well. Television got introduced as well, Nepal Television was established in 2041 B.S. Magh 16 under the leadership of Nir Shah. It is also interesting to note that Nepal Television began to broadcast all its program in color rather than black and white.

Then, in 2036 B.S. due to the negligence of the security forces and Home Ministry for misbehaving with the students which led to a student’s revolution backed up by the political parties as well. This led to King Birendra at the time announcing a referendum vote for either reformed Panchayat or a multiparty democracy system. During this phase from 2036 B.S. Jestha 20 to 2037 B.S. Baisakh 10, press freedom found its feet again as it was free like never-before. There was no punishment given to those who would write or speak against the Panchayat. Even the pro-Panchayat were promoting about themselves being better than the others. The results of the referendum gave victory to the reformed Panchayat system which would last for 10 years.

The fifth phase of Nepalese journalism is from 2046 B.S. to 2062 B.S. at a time when Nepal went through a lot in terms of getting democracy to being caught up in an arms conflict. Tension was growing between the political parties as they wanted change. In 2046 B.S. Falgun 7, announcement was made that a People’s Revolution would be happening protesting against the current government by the current coalition of Nepali Congress and Communist Bam Morcha. Lots of local, national and even international media were present when the announcement was made from the house of Nepali Congress supreme leader Ganesh Man Singh. Then in 2046 B.S. Chaitra 26, King Birendra made an announcement via Radio Nepal that the reformed Panchayat had failed and would be replaced by multi-party democracy system. This was met with jubilation as the media had also played a hand in this decision. Various daily newspapers, weekly newspapers were promoting the activities of the People’s Revolution and giving great focus to it. There were also international journalists and media persons from the BBC and others to cover the revolution which also played a major role.

The constitution of 2047 gave press freedom to the press which was the biggest victory for journalism in the country. This was the first time that in the constitution it was mentioned that it guaranteed press freedom. The government could not stop any publication nor newspaper under constitutional law as it violated press freedom. This resulted in investments in the media sector as previously, if somebody wrote something bad about the government then that newspaper would be punished severely but the constitution prevented that. This led to the formation of Kantipur Publications under the investment of ShyamGoenka in 2049 B.S. Falgun 7 which published ‘Kantipur’ and Kathmandu Post, daily newspapers in Nepali and English languages respectively. Private sector journalism began from this point on as the constitution promoted press freedom. More radio stations and television channels were on their way to being established and taking over the media market. An environment was created for mass communication to thrive through the help of the constitution as well as the changing political scene. Nepalese media started to play an important role in empowering the people. Also, this changing political change contributed to the media having unofficial ties with the political parties regarding pulling favors. It is during this period that politics started to influence journalists.

But, a whirlwind constituting the Maoist Armed Insurgency changed everything starting from 2052 B.S. This armed people’s war led to a big change in the media industry as a lot of journalists were killed in the decade long insurgency. Per the Federation of Nepali Journalists, 36 journalists were killed in this period. It seemed like journalists were playing with their lives at this point and I do not mean that literally because if you wrote or reported against Maoists, you had a target on your back. This was a big attack on the media regarding journalists being tortured and killed which was against Constitution of 2047 that allowed press freedom to the media.

The insurgency ended in 2062 B.S. after the Maoists contingent and the seven Nepalese political partiescame to an agreement in Delhi which officially ended the war. This led to a new phase in the media from 2063 B.S. to 2072 B.S. and an interesting point to be noted was in this period there were no arrests of journalists.Girija Prasad Koirala became the Prime Minister following the agreement in 2063 B.S. This gave to the promulgation of the 2063 Interim Constitution. Press freedom was guaranteed once again but there was debate within the parliament that with this being an interim constitution was providing press freedom one of the priority but that debate turned out to be false.

In terms of various developments in this epoch, a lot of commissions were formed that helped the journalism industry of the country. In 2063 B.S. UcchaStariya Media Sujhavwas formed to develop different areas of the media in the country. Later, to develop public media, the government decided to form a working group on reconstructing public media like Radio Nepal, Nepal Television, Gorkhapatra and National News Agency. They even submitted a report to the government but it was not implemented due to changes in government and the country was busy with the upcoming CA elections. The government also passed the Right to Information Act and the working Journalists Act,which were progress in the various laws related to protecting journalism. Also, different kind of languages were promoted in the media as part of the Baburam Bhattarai led government. Various radio stations also got the authority to broadcast news because usually if we look at the various radio stations around the world, they don’t do national news. The Madhesh Movement of 2063 B.S. also affected the media as it brought back certain aspects what happened in the Maoist’s insurgency. The local media were often attacked as the newspapers that came in from the valley were often burnt and destroyed as well as journalists being manhandled.

So, with this we enter today’s era 2073 B.S. and onwards. The constitution of 2072 also guaranteed press freedom. In this period, online news portal and social media are increasing in popularity. With the advancement in technology, various mobile applications regarding Nepali news have come up along with different online news portal. Another interesting source of getting news these days is through social media as Facebook and Twitter which have had a lot of influence in distributing news in this country. However, the credibility of these social media and online news portal can be questioned due to sometimes these sites wanting popularity by spreading ‘fake news’. (The writer is a media student at NPI)

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