Dimensions of press freedom: a Nepali perspective -By Mohan Nepali
Observation of the International Press Freedom Day is an annual reminder of what press freedom is, why it is necessary, how to use it and what should people and concerned institutions do to protect and promote it.
When observed among bigwigs in a luxuruoius and well-facilitated atmosphere, the International Press Freedom becomes an annual feast for the honored and invited to enjoy. When observed through pro-social justice advocacy communication, it becomes the continuity of an effort towards making the enjoyment press freedom more meaningful and justice-oriented.
Generally, activists and media-realted institutions have used the International Press Freedom Day to highlight the murder, detention or the victimization of mediapersons in other ways. Highlighting the plight of journalists is quite logical because they are people’s representatives, who, even in absence of the elected parliament, represent people’s concerns. When journalists are suppressed in this or that way, people’s concerns find little place in the media. Besides, journalists have a greater potential to make media more public-oriented. Thus, the journalistic duty is closely related to protecting people’s fundamental and human rights. Should there be no press freedom for journalists, people’s fundamental rights face a huge threat.
Nepal’s journalists, organized under unions, stress on the unhindered use of press freedom. Their emphasis is logical because when media and journalists suffer, people suffer too, the reason being journalism’s raison d’etre for people.
The Nepalis await the day of the promulgation of a new constitution with federal and republican elements in it. They believe a new Nepal can be worked out with the help of a pro-social justice constitution, inclusive and progressive in nature. The awaited new constitution is a major component of the ongoing peace process founded on the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed between the State and the Maoist rebels, who were engaged in a nation-wide armed insurgency with a demand for the political and socio-economic transformation of the Nepali society.
The post-1990 20 years are marked by a considerable growth in the media industry in Nepal. The Nepal government has so far licensed 380 FM radio stations to operate in urban, semi-urban and rural areas. More than 30 TV stations, too, have obtained licenses.
Due to the bulkiness of advertising costs of business institutions in the country, many seem interested in setting up media houses no matter how scanty knowledge and education they may have in the media sector.
While the media industry is growing larger, the government appears far weaker as regards a wise media policy. The current media policy and the one being randomly drafted with an intention to invite foreign direct investment in the media sector have not addressed Nepal’s concerns concerned with national sovereignty, independence and integrity. Those involved in the drafting of new media policy do not appear serious about the far-reaching consequences of random foreign direct investment in the mass media. No geo-political sensitivity of Nepal has been considered in the draft.
Amidst such contexts, Nepali journalists have observed press freedom. It is natural for them to seek professional dignity and reasonable remuneration for their arduous work. However, the concept of press freedom needs to be debated in favor of public interests.
What is press freedom
Press freedom, philosophically, is a theoretical concept of representing the human right to freedom of expression and opinion. Legally, it is a valid tool to use to protect and implement people’s fundamental rights. Professionally, it is an environment for media professionals to use while seeking, processing and distributing information and entertainment programs via the mass media.
Nepali journalists have a long way to travel in implementing press freedom. There are serious challenges involved in this regard. Before proceeding to utilize press freedom as far as possible, it would be advisable to consider the following:
Conceptual framework of press freedom
Whose freedom is press freedom? By principle, those educated in mass communication and journalism are aware that press freedom is for people through media. However, the practices vary depending on the character of the existing political and socio-economic settings in different countries. The collective conscience of a concerned society determines the conceptual framework of press freedom. The Nepalis have to work hard to conceptualize press freedom. As part of globally recognized press freedom under the market economy model of politics, most of us are not unacquainted with what press freedom actually means. For those talking about the social responsibility of commercial media, there may be thematic debates ahead.
Political dimensions of press freedom
Media is a vital political component of a state structure. Civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights—all—are the topics of pluralist democracy. However, the framework has ideological and operational limits, be they good or bad.
Economic dimensions of press freedom
Profit-makers have been the backbone of the modern media, most of which are commercially run. Media as an industry runs according to economic principles. No money, no information. No information, no public consciousness. Is this notion perfect? If media contents are heavily manipulated and influenced for vested interested of those who spend a huge sum of money to buy advertising space, can public interests be protected? This questioned has been raised frequently in America and Europe, not in Nepal.
Similarly, does our press freedom ever touch upon the massive exploitation of workers and farmers and the total control of arbitrary brokers on our national economy? Have we used our press freedom reveal the root causes of poverty and to communicate scientifically on what should be done to increase people’s prosperity, how and why it should be done?
Social dimensions of press freedom
No doubt, the Nepali media have published and broadcast several stories on social incidents related to discriminations and superstitions. But what about the root causes of social evils? Can we find the retention and re-strengthening of caste untouchability, dowry, witchcraft and many other ill-practices linked to national politics?
Religious-cultural dimensions of press freedom
There is some media coverage on religious-cultural issues. Is it enough? Can we go in-depth? Can we use religious philosophy and metaphysics to transform society by fighting evils? No such dimensions appear considered under the press freedom conceptual framework.
Current Nepal perspectives of press freedom
The Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) is a historical achievement. Many are not happy with it because their privileges and unjust dominance have been questioned. Since the CPA apparently advocates the political and socio-economic transformation of the Nepali society, many elite families, who still control Nepal’s politics , would like to neutralize it, seeking a possibility to maintain status quo.
The homeless, the most marginalized and deprived cannot set up their own media companies. They have to depend on the information produced and supplied by the entrepreneurs, who have a selling orientation. Therefore, conflicts have been covered with confrontational attitudes, which sell in the news and opinion market. Analytical and critical discourses on the CPA rationale and its potential to change the Nepali society have found little space.
However, the Nepali media sector does have the potential to become more productive should they realize that they are not mere salespersons but also a vital stakeholder in making a better society. (Public Journalism )