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Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

“Covering” Nepal, Western-Style

So little credible reporting about events in Nepal actually makes it through the Western wire services, argues BLOGDAI, that a journalist's best "guess" is often considered as good as source-verified holy writ.


KATHMANDU— Zilch. Zip. Nada, can't find it anywhere. Where are the big follow-up stories and coverage on Nepal from the Western media?

Dropped like a hot potato, Nepal was.

Googlenews.com, as good an indicator as any of what the world’s media find to be the story of the moment, made events in Nepal their number one covered story for the week of street protests leading up to the King's restoration of parliament.

Mainline media, too, such as the New York Times, did cover Nepal with a major focus. The last time such coverage by mainstream US newspapers was in the late 1990s, during the pro-democracy movement or the eventual fall of the Panchyat regime, and earlier in the 1960s, during the Nepali Congress-led armed conflict against the government of King Mahendra. On all those occasions, political conflicts became the main news values for the Western media in their coverage of the Himalayan country.

The recent media focus, aided by alternative, online media, became unprecedented, until the day King Gyanendra restored the dissolved parliament. From that day on, no longer considered sexy, Nepal coverage dropped off the map--used and discarded like a busted rickshaw.

Prior to this--created, tweaked, embellished and spun for those sitting on comfy democratic couches who don't know Nepal from Naples--the troubles in Kathmandu, with all their nuance and political complexity, were somehow distilled down by a lazy and uninterested Western media to:

"Despotic King Stifles Vibrant Democracy."

It played. It had legs. It was a simple, accessible tale of good vs. evil; the BBC, Washington Post, Western pundits and virtually all Indian dailies would have us believe. Most importantly, it became a seductive mantra that would be used to explain all current events in Nepal. The Western media had found their "hook." In their minds, further insight and research on the story was unnecessary and all future reporting on Nepal would reflect the new mantra.

Today, Nepal can't buy a headline from the Western media; they've all retreated to the comfort of once again covering all things Angelina and Brad. Now that the West believes that the violence has subsided, Nepal can't be counted on to sell newspapers or keep one from changing the channel on their remote. The novelty and remedial geography lessons supplied during the protests are now passe' to short-attention-spanned Westerners. Nepal is returning to world media obscurity. Pity.

The conventional theory about Western media’s news values is that they are ethnocentric, and when it comes to covering “others,” they cover only the despots, the communists, the exotic, and, yes, the risks to democracy. One may ask how these media may serve democracy with such a short-attention span?

I am in Nepal now, walking the streets of Kathmandu, mostly listening. People have a lot of interesting things to say. My questions about the Western media's role in Nepal's crisis only compound as the mantra plays in my head.

Why, during all its frenzied protest coverage, did the Western media go out of their way to vilify the Royal Nepal Army while barely acknowledging any Maoist complicity or wrongdoing?

"Despotic King Stifles Vibrant Democracy."

Next, why was there no coverage or explanation of the corrupt practices of ALL parties, not just the King? The prior governments under Girija Prasad Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba were documented and legendary in this regard-- arguably bringing Nepal to the verge of fiscal collapse-- but where was the editorial balance now?

"Despotic King Stifles Vibrant Democracy."

Where is the coverage of the reinstated parliament's decidedly autocratic mannerisms? They floated into power under the banner of restoring "absolute democracy" but instead have forbidden street protests, punished dissenters and jailed members of the opposition: some very undemocratic things.

"Despotic King Stifles Vibrant Democracy."

And, most of all, where is the coverage of the Maoist's uninterrupted rise to power? At the very least, someone should cover their open and blatant parading and sloganeering through the streets of Nepal, shouldn't they?

"Despotic King Stifles Vibrant Democracy."

Media influence is a curious thing. In the West, news events are often packaged and encapsulated with an eye towards maintaining the widest reader or viewer interest. Generally, when a competitive and thorough media is present for verification, this method works just fine. Unfortunately, so little credible reporting about events in Nepal actually makes it through the Western wire services that a journalist's best "guess" is often considered as good as source-verified holy writ.

From what we see in the media coverage of Nepal, it is hard to explain the popular theory that US media cover Commies or Maoists aggressively, since that is one of their main news values, traditionally. But increasingly, in the post-Cold War world, even the Maoists do not seem to grab that much of the mainline media attention.

Until individual journalists change, all of us are, basically, stuck with whatever reporting we get from Nepal; and whatever that reporting may consist of, rest assured it will be sexed-up and dumbed-down enough so that we won't dare turn the page or change the channel.

Nepal is no longer a source of cheap entertainment for the West. It no longer "sizzles." Don't look for anyone to try and make the 25-point Code of Conduct (between the government of the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists) a compelling sound bite. No, only real issues remain. On that note, the Maoists planned a rally at Ratna Park a few days ago. It was an absolutely pivotal event, which might set the tone for Nepal's future. I doubt the BBC gave it a second glance.


Blogdai is an alias for an independent, Western Nepal-watcher and commentator. He runs a well-attended blog on all issues Nepali. Pay a visit at nepalnow.blogspot.com


Posted by Editor on June 9, 2006 11:42 PM