Campaign 2008 Coverage by Nepal Media Unveiled
Key chapters from the final report on media covarage of CA elections in Nepal.
The following analyses are from the 270 (plus)-page public report “Campaign 2008: A Public Report on Media Monitoring for Nepal’s Constituent Assembly Polls” written and edited by DHARMA ADHIKARI and JAGADISH POKHREL, and published by the Press Council Nepal:
Cartoon by Abin.
Interpretation of Numbers
As experienced in many past elections and as feared by some analysts, media coverage focused on a few major political parties. The tone of reporting was largely neutral
The monitoring program began with the objective to assess the nature of media access to political parties and their candidates, balance in the coverage of their viewpoints, the range and adequacy of voters' education programs, the representation of Election Commission and communication of its messages, and the observance of Election Code of Conduct by the mass media.
Several insights and interesting observations have emerged from the findings. In short, the quantitative analysis showed that:
Of the 54 parties contesting the CA polls, only a few political parties got most of the air and print space
Most news media gave prominent total time and space coverage to NC, followed by UML and CPN (M). They collectively got about three quarters of the total time and space in coverage
Direct speech opportunities given by news media were, however, divided among NC, CPN (M) and UML, with NC maintaining a slight lead over those two
NC, followed by UML, earned the largest total time coverage in government media, but CPN (M) gained the largest share of direct speech in those media
NC led in news coverage, news headlines and EC-related election programs, the Maoists figured most prominently in news commentaries, interaction and interview programs in all media, and UML got the largest coverage in talk shows that involved multiple actors
NC, UML, Maoist and RPP, in that order, got most of the print space in the coverage of main news
The UML gained the largest share of paid advertisement airtime and free airtime and NC and Maoist, neck and neck, dominated others in photographic or visual coverage
CPN (Maoist)'s Pushpa Kamal Dahal gained the highest coverage among all candidates in total time and direct speech in all media. The Election Commission and its commissioners earned the second largest time coverage and the fourth slot in space coverage among all relevant actors
Region, ethnicity-based, and royalist parties, and independent candidates were given minimal broadcast and print coverage, both in total time and direct speech
Most of the prominent coverage went to male candidates and candidates running for FPTP
The tone of coverage was largely neutral for all parties, but most smaller and ethnicity-based parties gained more positive coverage
Tarai-based and pro-king parties were more negatively covered than the major political parties
The results show that political parties considered as major players during the campaign, namely NC, UML and CPN (M), gained better access to coverage, both in broadcast and print media. Together they earned three fourths of the coverage in time and space. It is probable that the incumbency factor played a role in their coverage. These parties were in the forefront of the coalition government and at the center stage of the peace process. NC and UML also had the advantage of being the two largest parties elected to the previous parliament. CPN (M), which grabbed media attention for their deviance from mainstream politics during their more than a decade-long insurgency, continued to be in the media limelight, with their participation in the peace process. In fact, not only for their role in the peace process but also for their continued violent tactics to pressurize their opponents, it was perceived by some during the campaign that the media were giving the Maoists a prominent coverage. The MMP data showed the media, in deed, gave a lot of coverage to these three parties. The volume of broadcast coverage for the fourth party (NWPP) saw a massive drop. The rest of the total time, about 20 percent, was distributed among 50 other parties in the campaign. In print, the first three parties earned 73.52 percent of the coverage, followed by People's Front Nepal (PFN), which received 2.96 percent of the total space. Only about 23 percent space went to the rest of the parties.
Of all the 74 parties registered with EC, 68 received media coverage, most of them earning very little time and space, during the campaign period. As experienced in the past elections and as feared by some analysts, media coverage focused on a few major political parties. However, bigger coverage for a few parties, traditionally regarded as big and influential, could also be attributed to their competitiveness and campaign strategies. Some major parties launched coordinated media campaigns by placing ads in news outlets. Perhaps by virtue of being the big parties (in terms of their representation in the interim parliament), they also gained more free airtime in government media under EC's provision on electoral campaign. These factors might have contributed to their widespread presence in the media. It appears that there were too many parties for the media to cover because all the parties competed for media attention.
Bigger volume of media coverage of a few parties does not always mean that those parties were covered favorably. The tone of coverage remained largely neutral toward all political parties. NC was the most neutrally covered party. However, the tone remained more positive than negative for all parties. Among all parties earning more than one hour total time coverage, Nepal Pariwar Dal earned the most positive coverage, 41.03 percent, followed by CPN (ML) at 34.3 percent, and NWPP at 24.27 percent. Similarly, CPN (Unified) got the highest percentage, 14.18 percent, of negative tone coverage among all parties, followed by MPRF at 5.74 percent. Print media also had more positive than negative coverage for the parties. The volume of neutral coverage was comparatively more in print than in broadcast media. This supports the conventional theory that detachment or impartiality influence print journalism more than broadcast content which entertains emotions and feelings and calls for involvement.
The findings also suggest that a few candidates were consistently given greater access to media coverage than for a number of other candidates who were contesting the election. This disparity in coverage is evident also from the 29.72 percent of the total time earned by the first 10 candidates, who comprised 0.1 percent of the total 9,923 candidates running for election (under FPTP and PR). In print, similar pattern emerged. The first 10 candidates earned 24 percent of the total space. In both media, Pushpa Kamal Dahal of CPN (M), Girija Prasad Koirala of NC, Madhav Kumar Nepal of CPN (UML) and Baburam Bhattarai of CPN (M) were the first four candidates, in that order.
In media coverage, the nature and volume of direct quotes and attributions or direct on air opportunities for an actor are often indicative of media's preferential treatment of that news subject. Compared to total time coverage of candidates, there was an interesting variation in direct speech time coverage in broadcast media. While Dahal led others in direct speech, Koirala slid down to the fifth slot. Nepal moved up to the second slot. He was followed by Narayan Man Bijukche of NWPP and Prakash Sharan Mahat of NC. However, in direct speech category for the print media, Koirala gained the second slot.
Repeat broadcast of soundbites on TV or radio may account for some of the direct speech time for some candidates. Generally, the coverage appeared to be personalistic. Media attributions, in direct speech, tended to focus on candidates with individual charisma, who could deliver gusty soundbites or quotes, conflict and drama. CPN (M) candidate Dahal appeared most frequently in the media. He got the largest coverage in broadcast time as well as print space. Dahal was not merely a candidate, but also the commander of the Maoist army, and a former rebel. Also, since the government media were under the direct control of CPN (M), Dahal might have gotten an edge over others in official media. News value regarding prominence and conflict may have an implication to his coverage. He also got the largest amount of time and space in the private sector media. Another most widely covered candidate was NC's Koirala. His role as the head of state and government and the leader of the peace process might explain the nature of his prominent coverage. Koirala's ailing health, his virtual absence on the campaign trail, and his candidacy under the PR system (which does not demand individual campaigning) might have been the reasons for the less time he earned for direct speech on air.
MMP data detected the presence of 314 independent candidates in the media coverage. Most of these candidates received very little time and space. For example, all broadcast media gave a meager 1 hour and 20 minutes out of the 331 hours of total time coverage. The top scorer of total time coverage for independent candidates for all broadcast media during the entire campaign period was Basanta Khadka. He got only 17 minutes and 15 seconds. Print coverage for independents was also minimal. Independent candidates together got 0.75 percent of the total space the print media devoted to them. They were virtually ignored. Only 6 outlets gave them direct speech opportunities. Female candidates figured far less in media coverage. For example, of all candidates covered by broadcast media only 15 percent were women.
Among all relevant actors (who included candidates and non-party individuals and organizations), the Election Commission and its commissioners received more than 82 hours, about 25 percent of the total time of 331 hours, in broadcast coverage. A significant chunk of EC's share in total time, about 13 percent, was given to the coverage of Chief Election Commissioner Bhoj Raj Pokharel. Pokharel also got the second largest share of time among all political and non-political actors to make on air direct speech. On air, the EC was the most widely covered relevant actor (among all the political and non-political actors) in terms of the direct speech variable. It earned 32.62 percent (39:09:01) of the total 120 hours devoted to relevant actors. In print it got fourth slot for total and direct speech space. This may account to instant visual opportunities made available to the media by EC, whereas constraints in editorial processing of copies or releases and deadlines could have been the factor in its print coverage.
These findings do suggest that media gave prominence to EC, its electoral activities and messages. The EC, the sole administrator of the polls, had launched a number of activities aimed at voters' education on Constituent Assembly election. It also organized a series of regular press briefings through its Media Center, specifically established to provide official updates on the election process.
All prominently covered relevant actors were generally given a neutral broadcast coverage, spanning over three quarters of their total airtime. Positive coverage was more visible for individual candidates than for political parties. The volume of negative tone in coverage tended to reflect the trend for the parties. Among the prominently covered candidates, Koirala of NC got the most neutral time coverage.
The EC and its commissioners rarely got negative broadcast coverage, except when news subjects criticized them for inaction in regards to code violations, voter education, and for favoring big parties. They got the maximum positive coverage among all prominently covered relevant actors. Print coverage was largely neutral and positive, virtually without any negative tone coverage. All 23 individual broadcast outlets monitored by MMP attached importance to political parties, candidates and their campaign. Of these, 20 outlets gave more total airtime to NC than other parties, followed by CPN (UML) in as many outlets. Two outlets, Channel Nepal and Radio City FM gave more airtime to UML than other parties. Similarly, CPN (M) led other parties in one outlet, namely Metro FM, with more than double the time it gave to NC, which followed CPN (M). Although this may suggest NC's dominance in news coverage, it did not always necessarily gain all the quality airtime. The fact is, in direct speech, NC figured most prominently in only 10 broadcast media. This was followed by Maoists in 7 and UML in 6 outlets. It seems the media were also considerate enough to attach importance to direct speeches for other parties.
The government controlled NTV clearly favored CPN (M) in terms of direct speech coverage of that party, giving it a 28 percent score, followed by NC with 20.99 percent and UML with 14.53 percent of the direct speech airtime. But interestingly, NTV gave NC the highest total time coverage at 27.73 percent, followed by UML (23.97 percent) and Maoists (16.53 percent). This is a significant departure from its pattern of direct speech coverage. Such a level of access to CPN (M) for its direct speech might have had implications in the shaping of public perceptions that Maoists dominated the election coverage on NTV. Radio Nepal, the government-operated radio station, gave the highest total time coverage for all parties among all the broadcast media. It also offered a noticeable diversity in campaign coverage, providing access to a wider range of political parties than in all the broadcast media. NC received the largest share of the coverage, followed by UML and CPN (M). This pattern repeated for direct speech category too; NC remained ahead of CPN (M) by almost 9 points, followed by UML which lagged behind CPN (M) by about 6 points. However, CPN (M) earned major share of the total and direct speech times in opinion-based prime time commentaries and analyses following the regular 7 p.m. evening news bulletins. In fact, Ghatana Ra Bichar, a week-day commentary show aired after the news bulletin was taken off the air on EC's orders for its overtly pro-Maoist bias.
Gorkhapatra, the government operated daily newspaper, also gave more total space to NC, followed by UML and CPN (M). CPN (M) led NC and UML in direct speech space coverage. NC's dominance was also apparent in opinion coverage in the newspaper. It earned a quarter of the paper's total space in the op-ed pages, followed by UML and CPN (M).
NTV gave mostly neutral coverage for NC and UML, with equally distributed positive coverage and some negative coverage. A major portion of the coverage for CPN (M) was neutral whereas negative coverage was minimal and positive coverage was more than double of that for each of the two parties. This trend was evident in Radio Nepal. It was mostly neutral for the three parties, maximum negative for UML and maximum positive for Maoists. Gorkhapatra gave more positive coverage for Maoists. Negative coverage to UML on the Maoist-controlled state media might be explained by the animosity and bitterness between the two left parties during the campaign period.
Generally, private TV channels gave a more prominent coverage to candidates and campaign coverage. Most gave prominent total time coverage to NC, UML and CPN (M). It was only occasionally that a TV station gave most airtime to UML or CPN (M).
Kantipur TV gave almost equal total time to NC and UML. The CPN (M) was behind by only 2 percentage points. KTV, however, gave more direct speech time to CPN (M). The difference between the scores of CPN (M) and other two successive parties— UML and NC—was about 4 to 6 percentage points. CPN (M) also earned the most direct speech time on Kantipur FM, followed by UML and NC. In total time, Kantipur FM gave more coverage to NC, UML and Maoists, in that order.
Sagarmatha TV, which gave the most airtime to the coverage of CA among all TV channels, offered NC the lead in total time coverage, followed by UML and CPN (M). But in terms of direct speech opportunity, CPN (M) was ahead of UML and NC. Avenues TV devoted the second largest amount of airtime to the election coverage. Like most channels, NC, UML and Maoists figured prominently in total airtime, but in direct speech the Maoists earned the second slot.
Most TV channels appeared to focus on the same, few major political parties. Other parties that figured in TV channel coverage for less than one percent of the total airtime figured more often on NTV, which devoted 15 percent of its total time to "other" parties, as opposed to below 7 percent in other channels. Such an allocation of airtime on NTV may account to its public service role as a state-run broadcaster. It shows certain measure of diversity in its electoral coverage in terms of political parties and its distribution of visual opportunities.
The radio stations, another medium with a broad outreach and immediate impact, widely covered the election process. One third of the 15 monitored stations provided an average of 22 hours each to election coverage. Another one third gave 14 hours each, followed by another one-third that gave an average of less than 6 hours each. Radio Nepal, Nepal FM, Sagarmatha, Image FM, and Ujyalo FM were the top five stations. Those that gave the least amount of time included Headlines FM, Classic FM, Times FM, Radio City and Voice of Youth FM.
Those that gave most time to report on election-- Radio Sagarmatha, Image FM, Nepal FM, Ujyalo FM-- favored NC, UML and CPN (M) in total time coverage. In terms of direct speech, Sagarmatha and Ujyalo FM gave more direct speech time to UML, followed by NC and CPN (M). Image FM gave more direct speech opportunity to NC, UML and RJP whereas Nepal FM gave direct speech opportunity to CPN (M), UML and NC, in that order.
Kantipur TV gave mostly neutral coverage to NC and UML, and the tone of coverage for Maoists was more positive than for the other parties. Sagarmatha TV and Avenues TV as well as Radio Sagarmatha, Image FM and Kantipur FM tended to give more positive coverage to Maoists than to other parties. The positive coverage may owe to sourcing methods of those channels. When relevant actors from a particular party talk on air about themselves, they are more likely to talk positively about their party, candidates or agenda.
Difference in the allocation of total time or direct speech between political parties was no more clearly evident than in weekly newspapers. Some weeklies monitored by MMP, clearly favored a particular political party in terms of space coverage. Budhabar, for example, gave UML a whopping 87 percent in total space. Similarly, Deshantar gave 85 percent of its coverage to NC, and Janadesh gave 60 percent to CPN (M), whereas the rest of space it devoted to covering NC, UML and NWPP in the most negative tone by any newspaper—more than 85 percent negative for NC and 90 percent negative for the latter two parties. This may not come as a surprise for partisan bias is a well-known tendency, and even a convention, in many Nepali weeklies.
Weekly newsmagazines, Nepal and Samay, gave the highest amount of their space to NC. The second highest coverage of Samay went to CPN (M) whereas Nepal placed UML in the second slot in terms of coverage. Not surprisingly, the weekly newspapers appeared to give more positive coverage to parties that they covered more prominently.
However, the difference in total space allocation for parties in Nepali Times, an English-language weekly, remained wider than in vernacular weekly newspapers. The Times gave CPN (M) 49 percent of its total space, followed by NC which got half that time, and UML with 18.62 percent. The largest share of the direct speech space in the Times also went to CPN (M). It also led other parties in direct speech space, followed by UML and NC. People's Review, another English-language weekly, gave UML 24.47 percent of its total space. NC earned 18.52 percent of the total space, followed by RPP with 18.47 percent. In direct speech space, the Review gave the largest share to NWPP. Other top direct speech space earners in that paper were NC and CPN (M).
In terms of tone, the Times covered the three parties in a neutral and fairly balanced way. It covered NC without negative tone, and with a little positive coverage, and UML with no positive tone, and with a little more negative coverage, and CPN (M) in a rather negative and positive tone equally distributed for some of its coverage. The Review also gave largely a neutral coverage, and gave no positive tone to NC, UML and CPN (M) whereas it gave RPP Nepal an equally distributed positive and negative tone coverage. Quality time, in the form of direct speech, does not alone determine the nature of bias. The absence of negative tone or merely a negative or positive tone given to a party is more revealing.
Daily newspapers also gave priority to their coverage of elections. Although, among all monitored daily broadsheets Gorkhapatra devoted the most space to the election campaign and the CA polls (90782 square cm.), Annapurna Post, with 67206 square cm., led all private dailies in the coverage, followed by Nepal Samacharpatra, Rajdhani, Kantipur and Himalayan Times in the range of 4 to 5 thousand square cm. An identical pattern emerged in daily newspaper coverage of political parties. All monitored dailies gave the largest total space coverage to NC, UML and CPN (M) in that order. NC also earned the largest share of direct speech space in all dailies. UML was second in three dailies (Annapurna Post, Kantipur and Kathmandu Post), CPN (M) in two (Rajdhani and Himalayan Times) and RJP in Samacharpatra. These newspapers tended to give more positive than negative tone coverage for some of their content whereas the tone was largely neutral for the rest.
Regional parties, including some that were formed in the Tarai just before the election, and other politically marginalized parties considered closely associated with the palace, also figured in news coverage of elections, but they earned minimal total time coverage. For example, Tarai-based parties, such as Madhesi People's Rights Forum Nepal, Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum, Tarai Madhesh Lokatantrik Party, Sadbhavana Party, and Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Anandidevi) earned a total of 5.19 percent of the 331 hours in total time coverage. Similarly, parties formerly regarded as close to the palace, namely Rastriya Janashakti Party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Nepal), and Rastriya Prajatantra Party collectively earned 6.57 percent of the total airtime. Parties representing marginalized and dalit communities, namely Dalit Janajati Party, Tamsaling Nepal Rastriya Dal, Nepal Sukumbasi Avyavasthit Party (Loktantrik), Nepal Dalit Shramik Manch, and Mongol National Organization got a paltry 0.46 percent of the total time.
The coverage of these fringe parties representing marginal communities, in line with the general trend, was largely neutral. No negative tone was detected in their coverage. At the same time, they earned a significant positive coverage. The Tarai-based and pro-monarchy parties were presented in a rather more negative and somewhat equally positive light compared with the tone for the three major parties, namely NC, UML, and CPN (M). The pattern was similar in print for these three groups of political parties. Even the tone of coverage tended to be similar to their broadcast coverage.
Secondary Relevant Actors
Topical analysis showed that other relevant actors as non-contestants also figured in media coverage, although not as prominently as the candidates. 'Topic' was a category of free texts in the database which could be pulled from string search as and when necessary. Monitors coded a phrase or a part of sentence to describe the context in which the actors, under both relevant and other categories, would appear in the relevant texts. This allowed MMP to make selective assessments going beyond the "relevant actors" variable to those not directly "relevant" in terms of the study design, but still relevant as key individuals and institutions in the conduct of Constituent Assembly elections.
For example, a search for "cabinet" in the database for the entire campaign period (March 9 to April 13, 2008) yielded 19 instances of news on Sagarmatha TV, Headlines FM and Metro FM in which
Sahana Pradhan, Matrika Prasad Yadav, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Dev Prasad Gurung, and Pampha Bhusal were coded by monitors for their role as cabinet minister.
The "Prime Minister" appeared in 70 entries on broadcast media. The most frequently appearing relevant actor in these entries was Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Jimmy Carter and a few other names appeared in these entries where they were either meeting the Prime Minister to talk about elections or were saying something about the Prime Minister as the head of the government. Twenty five print topic entries for "Prime Minister" yielded texts ranging from "Prime Minister ko pratibaddhata (PM's commitment)" to "prime minister won't appear on election campaign."
Name of Girija Prasad Koirala proper earned 42 broadcast topic entries. In most of these entries, the relevant actor, was mentioned as holding talks with political and non-political actors, representatives of major parties, EC and rights workers and reporters being the most prominent among them. Koirala was also coded for his ceremonial messages in these entries. There were 32 print media entries in topics containing the text strings of Girija Prasad Koirala. The entries ranged from
"After Girija, I am the Prime Minister: Sher Bahadur" to "Girija le Kangress ta Sidhyaye Nai, Desh pani Sidhyaudai Chhan (Girija eliminated Congress, he is eliminating the country too."
The "government" earned 55 explicit entries in broadcast news and headlines. In print, 29 entries noted government in contexts in which it was "accused," "silent," "serious," and so on.
Suggesting its greater involvement in Nepal's affairs, "India" appeared prominent in topical coverage. It was among the top earners of database entries (104) among countries in news and news related programs on the broadcast media. Invitations, meetings, and mentions (mostly negative and a few positive) were the contexts in which India was coded by the monitors. The print topic entries for India (71) were also the highest for any country explicitly noted in relevant texts. The topics included "role of India," use of "Indian vehicle," "India's confidence" about Maoists, etc.
"USA" earned 25 explicit topic entries that ranged from Carter's meeting with PM to Pushpa Kamal Dahal's "blaming UML and USA." Seven print topic entries had America mentioned in them. Eighteen broadcast entries were about "China." They ranged from "UML showed concern on China issue" to demonstration in "Embassy of China." Ten print entries were similar in context for news topics on broadcast media. "UK" got three entries for its envoy's meeting with PM.
"UNMIN" was the key topic word for 34 entries that ranged from "weak role of UNMIN" to its "report" and "release." United Nation also figured in topics in a few instances. Thirty eight print topic entries referred to UNMIN. They generally corresponded with the broadcast topics for the UN institution.
These numbers from the frequency analysis do suggest the salience of the topics during the election season. They do not reflect a nuanced view of the roles and influences of the secondary relevant actors, although these may be implied in how prominently or frequently they were covered by the media.
The media appeared restrained in their coverage, generally complied with the EC's code of conduct. Cases of violations were scattered and isolated
Free media derive their moral authority from formal legal provisions of the state and from informal means of self-regulatory principles internalized in their professional tasks. They are guided by the laws of the land as well as their professional ethics. They use their freedom to protect, preserve and promote truth, fairness, equality, rights of citizens in society and to monitor power.
Nepal is in transition and many of the existing laws and regulations, including those concerning the media, are being reviewed or amended. Several high-level commissions formed in recent years have recommended reforms in the media sector. The Press and Publications Act (1991) and the National Broadcasting Act (1993) are outdated for their restrictive provisions (political speech, enhanced protection for political figures or the monarchy), sweeping generalizations (defaming considered a criminal offense) and for ambiguities (relating to the right to information, classification or categorization of broadcasters, etc).
The government and public institutions are reticent to public disclosures. The Interim Constitution (2007) guarantees freedom of expression and of the media. It has a provision for the right to information, and a Right to Information Act is in existence since July, last year. A regulation for the smooth functioning of this Act is also in the process of being drafted.
Print media are required to register with the government. The Press Council acts as an autonomous statutory body for print supervision. In consultation with the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, it also issues the journalistic code of conduct for print media. Sanctions of breach of rules include warnings to the media and retractions. Self-regulatory systems within media houses have not yet developed.
Government media institutions-- Radio Nepal, Nepal TV, Gorkhapatra Sansthan and the wire service Rastriya Samachar Samitee (RSS)—operate as state organs, ultimately accountable to the Minister of Information and Communication. Their funding and their public interest goals are not clearly spelled out.
As broadcast media continue to grow and expand, a comprehensive broadcast legislation is being considered. The Broadcasting Act (1993) does not provide for media diversity since it fails to classify broadcasters (public, community, commercial etc.). It lacks a provision for the independence of the regulator. At present, broadcast licensing is undertaken directly by the Ministry of Information. Rules relating to ownership (foreign ownership, cross-media ownership and undue concentration of ownership) are not set out clearly. A broad-based pre-established code of conduct for broadcasters is still lacking.
Legislation on the rights of journalists is also being reviewed. The Working Journalists' Act 2051 (1995) does not provide for enhancing journalists' working conditions, their wages, and their right to protest against their owners. It also fails to protect them from intimidation and attacks or to provide for a fair representation of minority journalists.
Some high-level media supervisory entities such as a broadcast authority, an information and communication commission, and a public service broadcasting body, are being considered.
In the absence of a distinct institution supervising both print and broadcast media, the PCN served to facilitate in enabling the enforcement of EC's code of conduct for the mass media during the CA elections. The EC's code, formulated after deliberations with members of the media, helped sharpen the focus of media's role during the special occasion. However, PCN did not adjudicate the cases of violations by media, the EC did. PCN's role was limited to undertaking an objective assessment of campaign coverage in relation to the code.
The EC was empowered by a bill (certified on March 26, 2007 under the Election Commission Act, 2007), introduced by the Legislative Parliament, to "make codes of conduct" in order to maintain fairness, impartiality, transparency, and fearless environment.
The codes required "the Government of Nepal, offices and employees of governmental and semi-governmental bodies, employees engaged in the act of election, political parties, candidates and persons related with them and the mass media at the governmental and private sectors" to abide by them. In making such codes of conduct, the Commission (article #28, clause#1, chapter #5) was allowed to "make consultation with the concerned stakeholder." Such codes of conduct were to focus particularly on the matters restraining "the Government of Nepal from declaring any new policy, plan and program, mobilizing human resources, means and resources and using governmental media for election canvassing in such a manner as to affect the fairness and impartiality of the election."
The EC's code for the mass media served as a framework for MMP's qualitative analysis. Focus remained on four main areas of election coverage, namely, bias in coverage, decency in language, electoral support by the media, professional obligations of journalists, and examples of actions by Election Commission.
Several unique observations could be made from the analysis. The following are some of the highlights:
Overall, media coverage was restrained, but there were scattered cases of code violations
The majority of code violation cases involved bias, prejudices, inaccuracy, lack of balance and exclusion
However, compared to the immediate past, news reporting conditions improved during the campaign period, cases of obstruction and suppression of the news process during the elections were reported by the media
Campaign rhetoric, trading of accusations, confusing reports, communal framing, indecent and culturally insensitive language and some hate speech were detected in the media coverage
The media generally supported the election process by helping in voters' education, providing free airtime, and observing the "tacit 48 hours" period
Reports of journalists seeking undue benefits from parties and candidates were rare and examples of media retractions were few
First, hard news stories, for both the government and private outlets, were generally balanced and detached. However, MMP found scattered cases of violations of the code by weekly newspapers, some private radio stations and opinion/analysis programs in government media. Such programs in government media were overtly pro-CPN (Maoist). Maoist candidates were frequently mentioned positively and Maoist sources dominated the coverage. All major weekly newspapers leaned heavily toward one party or another, sometimes even suppressing or excluding news about other political parties.
Pro-party newspapers often published stories based on speculation and ideological assertion. One publication declared: “64 seats to NC, between 50 and 85 to UML, less than 25 to CPN (M).” Two different newspapers would write about the same subject with two extremes of interpretation: “Maoists' situation in Kathmandu Pathetic” vs. "Maobadimaya banyo rajdhani (The capital has turned all-Maoist).” RPP Ko Urlando Janamat (Public opinion overwhelmingly in favor of RPP) or "Kangress ra yemale badarine" (NC and UML will be swept away).
There were sporadic reports of obstruction to the news process. Some journalists were not allowed access to vote counting, even though they carried valid press passes. In Rupandehi, the district election office did not allow some 100 journalists to cover news because they did not have the press passes issued by the Department of Information in Kathmandu. And in Sunsari, journalists were mistreated and attacked by activists of Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum in Sunsari even as they produced their press passes.
Some cases of self-censorship of local journalists during election, forced by political parties, began to emerge in the post-election period. One widely publicized example was the case of Damodar Neupane, the Gorkha reporter of Kantipur newspaper. Neupane revealed after the election that obstruction to the news process in Gorkha was rampant and he was frequently intimidated and harassed by Maoist cadres on phone and in person during his reporting assignment. The Maoists even forbade the coverage of their victory rally there, warning journalists that they would be chased away "like dogs" if they dared cover it. (See adjoining box for a translation copy of his column in Kantipur).
Pre-election polls, particularly those that do not disclose reporting process, sampling techniques and the margin of error, create controversies, and they are questionable. The Code (clause #95) urged media outlets to refrain from publishing the results of a poll or a survey that directly affected the results of a party or a candidate between the time of announcement of candidacy and the time until the elections were over. In spite of the provision, some weeklies surveyed people on their views about parties and candidates and published results without elaborating much on the procedures they adopted to arrive at the findings, the publication of which was problematic even at its best. Monitors reported broadcast media used vox pops and polled people on election topics via 'sms.' Systematic polls are rare in print even outside the election period. Among newspapers, Nepali Times continued to publish (in print edition) its weekly online poll. All the seven polls it carried between March 6 and April 17 sought audience views on the election (electoral freedom and fairness, EC's performance, obstacles to election, vote scores of parties, etc). Some poll questions appeared problematic ("If there is violence in the elections, who will be behind it?", "Which party do you expect to get the highest number of votes in the direct ballot of the elections?"). Some stations in the region outside Kathmandu also conducted opinion polls, prohibited by EC during election time. "NC is frontrunner" type of coverage appeared now and then.
Overall, the government media programs gave space to major parties. But their opinion journalism and comments tended to be favorable to Maoists. This was clearly evident in Ghatana Ra Bichar, a primetime commentary show on Radio Nepal. MMP found that the program was giving prominence to one particular party and its candidates were getting more direct speech opportunities. EC spokesperson Laxman Bhattarai, during one of his regular press briefings at the Media Center of EC, told the press that EC, based on repeated complaints, had asked Radio Nepal to halt the program for its breach of the code. The show was suspended on April 7 on EC's order. In its place, the radio began to air voters' education programs until the CA election.
Private radio and TV programs were not without bias. At least one radio program used first person reporting and said "our party" referring to a particular Tarai-based party. Radio Ganatantra, a station in Dang, for example, excluded news on parties other than CPN (Maoist).
Second, there were isolated cases of serious violations which reflected language insensitivities and journalistic indecency of some media outlets. The campaign was contentious, and rhetoric reached at times a high pitch level and the media reflected all that.
Op-ed pages of newspapers and opinion journalism in weeklies, broadcast commentaries and analysis as well as speech stories on political leaders with their direct or paraphrased attributions were often rhetorical and confusing to the public. Some media outlets tried to inform the public in terms of Pahade-Madhesi construct, or segregated Moslems or Yadavs in their stories of elections. Such outlets and programs also often aired or published indecent language in the form of quotes and paraphrases of their story subjects or sources.
Another problematic area was the use of language with mere rhetoric, full of confusing statements, communal framing/inflammatory wording and cultural insensitivity and indecency.
Remarks like "Yestai bhaye pratirodh suru hunchha (retaliation if it [another party’s provocation] continues), and “Kutpit matra hoina, bangara jharnu parchha” (we should break the jaws too, not only thrash him) made rounds in the media.
Superstitious remarks by political parties or candidates also found space in the media. One example, widely publicized by the media (which remained largely unchallenged in editorial comments) concerned voters' intimidation tactic. CPN (Maoist) cadres were reported as warning voters: We have devised computers to trace the sign of swastika. We will know all about who voted whom. We will take financial and physical action on those who don't vote us. At times, during the elections, cases of intimidation were systematic, but media reporting appeared to highlight only a few of them.
Defamatory remarks on individual candidates with sinister allusions, without naming them, and language laden with preconceived theories, such as conspiracies, foreign hands, big media, and sabotage etc. circulated as well.
Third, the media played their role in electoral support as per the spirit of the Elections Code of Conduct for the mass media. Only a few publications or broadcast outlets were found to be disseminating news and views that appeared unhelpful to the election. Such stories typically called for a boycott of the election or raised doubts about the inevitability of elections. For example, some media circulated messages such as "chunable sukhad parinam nadine (the elections won't yield a happy outcome)," ajhai chunab sarne (Elections to be put off again)," and "chunabma bhagline lai safaya garine" (those taking part in election will be eliminated).
The media (particularly the broadcast media) focus remained on poll preparations and unfolding political developments. Their coverage of electoral issues and agendas was not comprehensive and in-depth. The government media published and aired information on the nature and significance of CA election. EC's PSAs on election also frequently appeared in those media. MMP found that a few broadcast media, such as Ujyalo FM, NTV-2, Sagarmatha TV, and Radio Nepal covered election awareness programs more often than other broadcast outlets (relevant to Clause #62 of the code). Radio City FM aired voters' education program of its own in addition to the voters' education program sponsored by EC. The electronic media also focused on the process of casting the votes from electronic system as well as ballot paper system (Metro FM, Ujyalo FM, Star FM etc). Some media (Metro-FM, Gorkha FM) also highlighted on the situation of security in the polling stations.
But not all parties got equal space for the coverage of their manifestos. The government-operated Gorkhapatra published manifestos of only 15 parties, of which CPN (M) got the largest share (4, 290 sq. cm.) of space. NC, CPN (UML), People's Front– Nepal, Rastriya Janamorcha, CPN (ML) and others got 3300 sq. cm each. Government broadcasters also provided free airtime to political parties to publicize their manifestos under the PR system. Of the total 54 parties, one (Rastrabadi Yuwa Morcha) was left out of the free airtime on NTV as well as Radio Nepal, and 5 parties (Nepal Rastriya Bikash Party, Rastriya Janata Dal, Nepal Sadbhawana Party-Anandi Devi, Nepal Lokatantrik Samajbadi Dal, and Nepal Samyavadi Dal) on NTV.
The big three parties—NC, CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist)--, followed by a few others, also earned added newspaper space by way of their paid advertisements in major daily and weekly newspapers. The CPN (Maoist) used the largest advertising space for election canvassing, followed by NC, and UML.
Although political speeches by some candidates, particularly of CPN (Maoist) and CPN (UML), abounded in negative references to opponents, the major campaign advertisers largely refrained from negative ads. For example, the CPN (M) urged voters to try their party ("We tried all others several times, let's try CPN (M) this time"). But another of its ads read: "Let's hate and reject those who betrayed the nation and were against the people. Let's forget the old, and make new Nepal, new ideology and new leadership victorious." The CPN (UML) asked voters to try them again: "Once again the sun, CPN (UML)". The NC ad urged votes for the fulfillment of people's desire for a federal democratic republic, and lasting peace.
There was an effort on the part of media to be inclusive, in terms of raising issues of women, dalits, madhesis and other oppressed groups. But coverage was scanty and even missing for many ethnic communities and identity groups in a country with more than 100 such groups recognized officially. Radio Nepal, Kantipur TV, Image Channel, and Radio Sagarmatha were noted for their inclusive coverage. They aired programs on issues of women, regions, language, and ethnic or religious minorities. Radio Sagarmatha aired the voices of the women, oppressed and marginalized groups of people, and candidates from Madhes from different spots.
Except for a few violations by radio stations in Nepalgunj and Chitwan, the media also widely complied with the tacit period (silence period) provision in the code (clause #74) by not airing campaign-related materials or paid advertisement of political parties. However, newspapers that went to press before the silence period began appeared with such materials.
MMP received feedback from civil society members as well as journalists that there were deterrent effects on media outlets and their programs because they were being monitored for instances of code violations.
Fourth, besides electoral support, the media had some professional obligations to fulfill. The EC's code prohibited journalists from seeking undue benefits from political parties and candidates. Except for one complaint from Saptari that some local journalists were openly campaigning for a MPRF candidate, no reports of such cases came to light. The code (Clause #71) also required the media houses to correct any published or disseminated "error and misinterpretation" with high priority after detecting them. But examples of corrections and retractions were scarce. Media monitors reported virtually no corrections or retractions on broadcast media although occasionally media reactions on political parties' problematic comments were detected. During the monitoring period, only a few examples of corrections were found in newspapers such as Gorkhapatra and Kantipur. They printed corrections, but not as prominently perhaps as the errors that got into the print.
Article # 29 of the parliamentary bill (A Bill to Amend and Consolidate Laws Relating to Functions, Duties and Powers of the Election Commission, certified on March 26, 2007) provided for the implementation and monitoring of codes of conduct. The Commission, (article #29, clause #1) was empowered to make appropriate mechanism to monitor as to whether the codes of conduct had been abided by or not. Clause #3 of the above article gave EC the power to put a fine of up to NRs.100,000 on "any political party, candidate, person, organization, official or body failing to stop or invalidate the act" of violation of the codes of conduct on EC's orders.
The Commission enjoyed the powers to frame rules (clause #44) and issue orders, (clause #45) for the purpose of conducting, monitoring, directing and controlling elections pursuant to the Constitution and the laws in force. In addition to this, it had the powers "as may be exercisable by a court" in hearing a dispute regarding parties and candidates.
Directives sent to individual media outlets by EC also highlight the nature of code violations. Most of these concern partisan bias in news coverage and a few on linguistic or cultural insensitivities as well as coverage unhelpful to the electoral process. The EC sent letters asking outlets to clarify on reports of violations and comply with the code:
NTV: For visuals used in its show Jana Aawaj, EC referred to complaints that the program aired appeals seeking votes for Maoists. It asked NTV to abide by the EC Code of Conduct until the time of elections.
Radio Nepal: EC wrote to the state radio for clarification regarding the election code violation in Paribesh and Ghatana Ra Bichar programs. It ordered suspension of the current affairs program Ghatana Ra Bichar until April 10, 2008.
Radio Today: The Commission asked the Janakpur based FM station to clarify on its show "Garmagaram Chaa" about its implications for the code.
Government media: EC acted on several complaints it received about code violation by government media and directed all government media to not disseminate contents violating the code. It reminded Gorkhapatra that the national broadsheet had a responsibility to fully adhere to the Election Code of Conduct. The government media were asked to clarify if they were generally presenting one-sided news and views favoring a particular party.
Radio Ganatantra: EC wrote the Rapti, Dang-based station to submit a clarification in 24 hours as to whether the radio station violated clause 67 of the code by airing one sided news reports favoring CPN (Maoist) and by excluding the news of other parties.
Bypass: EC sought clarification within 24 hours from the Birgunj-based newspaper to clarify regarding its news contents that tended to discriminate between Madhesi and Pahade, with implications to clauses 61 and 69 of the election code.
Hamro Aafnai Patrika: EC asked another Birgunj-based newspaper, Hamro Aafnai Patrika, for clarification about the coverage of the door to door campaign of a single party, NC, if it did not have implications to clause 67 of the code.
Rupandehi F.M: The EC wrote Rupandehi F.M from Siddarthanagar acting on complaints that the station presented favorable election coverage to UML and NC whether it aired negative publicity materials about Maoist over a period of about two weeks.
Butwal F.M.: EC asked the Kalikanagar-based radio station as to why it was giving favorable coverage to NC alone. The Commission asked the station to submit clarifications on this in 24 hours because it had implications to clauses 63, 67 and 69 of the code.
Jana Aawaj: EC wrote the Sunsari-based weekly seeking clarification as to why it appeared to cast doubts on elections by publishing materials which said voters were not ready to "risk life for voting".
Radio Bheri Aawaj: EC sought clarification from Radio Bheri Aawaj on its news report on the "threat to life" issued by YCL to UML candidate Gaura Prasai.
Kantipur TV: EC asked Kantipur TV to clarify on the contents of its show "Bholiko Nepal" in which a promo projected Pushpa Kamal Dahal of CPN (Maoist) as Tomorrow's Nepal.
Aabhusan Dainik: EC asked the Morang-based daily about the publication of materials that called for election boycott.
Jana Bidroha Dainik: EC wrote the Morang-based daily seeking clarification on whether it was favoring the Maoists alone.
Bhaktapur FM: EC sought clarification from the radio station on complaints that it was favoring Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NWPP) alone.
Morning Bell Daily and Dhangadhi Post: EC asked in a letter if the newspapers, both from Dhangadhi, were favoring UML alone.
Lessons LearnedMedia monitoring program should be an integral part of the process of democratization and social change in Nepal
Although, by design, MMP defined "media" broadly to include mass media and their programs, the bulk of the content on monitoring activity concerned journalistic reporting or news and views-related content on electoral process and prime time programs (in the case of broadcast outlets).
Monitoring of one-time, fast-paced election event coverage would be different from a comprehensive investigation of long-term democratic processes such as media impact on citizen awareness and participation. The MMP involved keeping an eye on salient trends on coverage and feeling the general pulse of the media. Despite EC's initial desire for a greater reporting role for MMP, the independent project was not intent on scrutinizing media behaviors or adjudicating cases of violations. It did not assume the role of an official investigator. Its focus was on objective survey of coverage trends compiled hourly in the form of highlights or pointers on code compliance and other electoral topics.
Particular focus was laid on national media, especially broadcast outlets (including from the region), for their immediacy and oral impact. State-owned media and major weekly newspapers, (traditionally known for slanted opinion or political bias), formed another priority in monitoring. Qualitative analysis was thematic and followed on elections topics as and when they emerged. A huge volume of data was generated during the monitoring process. More than 3,772 hours of recorded content covering the election campaign are archived at PCN headquarters. The content is in the form of tapes. In addition, several hundred hours of content in tapes from regional media are also archived at PCN.
Some of the findings are consistent with the results of media monitoring for elections elsewhere. The focus of coverage remained on a few major parties. There could be several reasons for this. Such coverage may owe to paid ads or campaign strategy of those political parties or incumbency factor or their general familiarity among the media or outright media bias. As in other elections, coverage tended to revolve around personalities and election events more than on processes and substance. The EC received significant coverage percentage, and this may owe to its regular press briefings at the Media Center. Perhaps due to news routines, in-depth coverage of issues was missing. Comprehensive and substantive coverage was scanty, and voters' education was limited to poll preparations and names of candidates and their manifestos. The issues of CA—credentials of candidates, their past experiences, background and skills, the contents and processes of the new constitution did not receive much attention.
Political campaigning, particularly at the near of the election, remained fraught with trade of tirades between and among contestants. However, paid advertisements were more restrained. Unlike in Afghanistan in 2005, mainstream programming included election-related coverage in most media, and only a few were left out in the free airtime slots in government media. Nepali media also widely observed the silence period. Perhaps the media were serious enough to respect the significance of the tacit hours or perhaps the silence period (48 hours) served as a much needed break for the media after a month of frenzied political reporting.
The media widely complied with the Code and cases of violations were isolated. Despite continued political tensions as well as intimidations and threats against news workers, the coverage was largely restrained. That could be indicative of a high degree of professionalism of the Nepali media, or it was simply a manifestation of self-censorship amid fears of more threats or attacks on the press.
There are several limitations to this study, though. These findings are merely indications of a month-long trend in electoral coverage. Monitoring was content-focused, and it is only partially reflective of the coverage scenario. Content at best serves with mediated realities and while it provides a basis for comparison, it does not necessarily and accurately inform the overall media behavior or what was going on inside the head of the content producers.
The program began in haste and it could not be as inclusive in terms of regional media, particularly in quantitative method, although MMP made some efforts in that regard (See Post-script). MMP directors also decided to include some online media content on the CA election for analysis to enhance the basis of comparisons between media formats as well as for historical reference of this study. That, however, could not be done due to time and resource constraints.
For their perceived influence on Nepal's politics and election process (although they did not contest the election), some secondary actors, such as the government, foreign countries of interest and their envoys as well as members of the international community, were included in the final design for frequency analysis under topical content.
Identifying, sorting and customizing relevant actors (as many as 9,923) in the database took a lot of time and resources and during the process monitors had to often look for a black cat in the dark room. The monitoring work had to start even before the EC provided MMP with the official list of names. In fact, the EC shared the lists with MMP only after it published them in Gorkhapatra, ten days after MMP began monitoring activities. Since there were no prior studies in the country on relevant actors in an election process (beyond EC's official list), MMP had to also explore by way of monitoring who such actors were.
Coding tone of coverage remained another important concern. It was based largely on subjective judgment of monitors, who were thoroughly trained on the procedures. Still, during the monitoring activities, ambiguities persisted. MMP tried to objectify tone by developing scenarios and juxtaposing differences of monitors, and finding a point of convergence among their views. Inter-coder reliability tests were not feasible due to lack of time and resources.
Since majority of media content was in Nepali and English, MMP's analysis mainly concerned those languages. Content in some other languages, such Maithili, Newari, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Hindi were also analyzed for regional media and some Radio Nepal programs. Monitors comprised native speakers of some of those languages.
The EC code assumed media's loyalty to readers and their allegiance to a democratic morality. In practice, media loyalties are often divided (readers, owners, advertisers, political parties, etc.). Still, the Nepali media generally complied with the code, and that may be indicative of their general support to the election process.
And yet, MMP observed that the code and its contents needed a wider publicity among media practitioners. Fear of sanctions by EC or lack of an understanding of the code led some to a conservative interpretation of the code. For example, during a press meet in the regional MMP center in Biratnagar, an editor told MMP directors that he did not accept or publish paid political ads in his newspaper because he believed the code prohibited such a practice during the campaign period. In reality, the code did not forbid paid ads. The editor was dismayed over his lost money on ads.
A closer look at EC's code reveals its fuzzy and overlapped categories. Several journalistically significant terms (truth, undue benefit, bias, suppression, etc.) are without clear definitions. MMP considered factual more than contextual "truth" to the extent it was verifiable. Bias
was seen in terms of coverage time or space for political parties and candidates.
Professional obligations of journalists go beyond what is reflected in content. For example, it is not possible to know from the content whether the journalist got undue benefit from political parties and candidates (#68) unless the content informs about such a case. In this, personal ethics of a journalist also comes into play. For that reason, behavioral observance of code by individual journalist or institution was beyond the scope of this project. This is also true of suppression of information for the focus shifts from what is covered from what is excluded. MMP had to rely on media reports of exclusion or patterns of coverage over time.
The code required "broadcast media" to provide free airtime (# 72, #73) to political parties for political campaigning. The EC's interest remained on government media's compliance and it was not clear if private media were also required to fully abide by that clause. Clause #78 required media outlets to maintain records of their aired programs and publications until 35 days after their dissemination. MMP could not verify if the media had complied with that provision. In a few instances, however, some media, when approached, were not able to provide MMP with the records of their aired programs.
Corrections or retractions are an integral part of professional media practice. Conspicuously, examples of corrections (clause #71) were rare, and they occurred only in a few newspapers or broadcasters. Ironically, some media reports on MMP and its findings included errors and misrepresentations. Lack of corrections does not necessarily indicate better coverage or accuracy in coverage by media. It could as well be indicative of lack of self-assessment or follow-up by a news outlet. Most print publications do not recruit ombudspersons or readers' editors, and letters to the editor columns serve as the sole means to criticism of coverage.
A fair assessment of media coverage of CA election must also take into account the context of the coverage during the historic polls. Notwithstanding their quantitative growth and dramatic outreach, a large segment of the Nepali media had little experience and wherewithal in election reporting. Suddenly, for the CA, they assumed a new and challenging responsibility, which required more than their past experience in covering general elections, the parliament, or conflict. Unable to set their own clear agenda for news coverage or to recruit trained, full-time reporters on election, many outlets focused on political events and speeches and thus became source-driven. Extra-media structures, such as flawed legal provisions, fluid and uncertain political environment, economic and partisan interests, insecurity and continued intimidations against journalists also might have left some media without a clear direction.
The findings suggest that despite unfriendly working conditions, inadequate institutional capacities and scarce professional resources, Nepali media played a laudable role during the election. Some shortcomings aside, perhaps they have achieved more than anybody might have expected--and better than many media critics feared.
It must also be emphasized that elections do not end on the polling day. They are part of a larger democratic process, which requires constant media participation, whose monitoring would yield more meaningful results. The month-long MMP, despite its focus on the study component, consumed most of the resources in managing crisis after crisis, such as power cuts, cable outage, transportation problems, computer malfunctions, backlogs, etc.
Media coverage and their monitoring alone are not enough. The cues from coverage and monitoring must be followed and acted upon, especially if they concern serious cases of code violations or democratic norms. As an example of electoral support, Avenues TV highlighted a newsclip that showed several underage (teen) voters casting ballots at a Birgunj polling center. Yet the polls at that center were not invalidated. The EC issued directives to correct matters that constituted violations of the code and the code (clause #79) left it to "the concerned media to observe the directives of the EC", without any follow-up. Some groups took the law in their hands to "enforce" the election code of conduct for the mass media, and threatened them with action. There were reports of sanctions by political parties on some newspapers. A Maoist group in Kavre, for example, asked a newspaper to stop printing because "the paper violated the Election Code of Conduct."
A long term MMP, which looks viable for the transitional Nepal, may help develop a follow up mechanism. Such a monitoring project could make adjustments in sampling frame, issues of inclusion, women and other minorities, democratic republicanism, federalism, participation, impact on the political process, etc.
Many things went right for MMP during its month-long operation, and there were many aspects to it that invite comments and criticism. The following suggestions, based on MMP's self-assessment and feedback from the members of the media, civil society and other stakeholders, could help enhance future media monitoring projects.
Media Monitoring Program
Notwithstanding its hasty start, MMP was able to put the monitoring process in place and given all the limitations, it was able to pull through efficiently. However, doing the following could enhance its performance:
Prepare and develop adequate infrastructure, capacity and skills in the area of media monitoring, ahead of launching such a program
Refrain from hastily launching media monitoring programs, put enough time and mind in precisely delineating methods and approaches to meet specific needs
To ensure wider representation, enlarge the scope of the study in terms of linguistic, cultural, ethnic, regional, as well as media (ex. the World Wide Web) diversity.
Including other relevant actors, such as members of government, parliament, political organizations, influential politicians and opinion leaders, civil society groups, foreign nations and diplomats, could enable a more complete picture of political communication during the election.
Systematic and ongoing training and monitoring, coder's reliability tests, narrowing the time lag between recording, coding and reporting, assigning one monitor to only one media, providing at least a day off to a monitor, maintaining back-up systems for content and data, anticipating political strikes or closures, transportation problems and sickness of staff members, and avoiding backlogs, smooth communication (ex. fax) and uninterrupted cable service (ex. Television) could further enhance media monitoring programs. In addition, monitors must internalize, in their understanding and practice, that their job is not activism but social science.
Need to give equal priority to monitoring media outside Kathmandu valley, given the growth of the media in the region.
The following suggestions could help improve the management process:
Begin recruitment process early on, hire a more inclusive workforce representing diverse people with different language skills to monitor media with heterogeneous languages and formats
Media monitoring programs often encounter problems that need quick solution, which require a participatory and collaborative work environment as well as good rapport and working relationship among staff members, supervisors or subordinates
Regional monitors or their coordinators can and should help sensitize the local media on the significance of media code of conduct and their need to comply with it.
Emphasis must be given on a timely communication and feedback between the regions and the MMP headquarters
Periodic meetings should be more frequent, at least weekly, if not daily
Emphasize direct supervision of subordinates, more frequent staff meetings, more coordination among various components of the program—study, executive body, technical as well as the financial
Carry out periodic evaluation of staff members, and provide them with timely feedback
Adhere to uniform deadlines or methods. Begin MMP countrywide (not just in Kathmandu) the same day the Code comes into effect
There is a need to explore the possibility of institutionalizing MMPs at the local level given the growing media density there
The training and refresher training for media monitoring staff in the field should include a survival kit, particularly for those deployed in hotbeds of conflicts
Set up, follow up and field visits should be timely, smooth, well planned and well coordinated
Ensure that logistics such as computers, vehicles, generator and backup system are obtained on time for the regional centers as well as for the headquarters
Anticipate housing and transportation problems for monitors in the region and address them accordingly
Anticipate power cuts, network problems, and computer malfunctions related to pirated software
Make informed choices on equipment types, quantity needed, recording (ex. digital) and database (ex. Web-based server) options as well interface formats and language (ex. English vs. vernacular language)
Develop and foster technical infrastructure and IT skills in the region for effective media monitoring
Ensure that tapes or recordings, and coding sheets are archived properly.
Ensure timely disbursement of funds to regional centers
Include a provision for overtime
Consider insurance for media monitors, especially those deployed in conflict zones
Press Council Nepal
Since media influence is growing and transitional times are not yet over, PCN should explore ways to continue or support media monitoring program, especially until the upcoming general elections and to make good use of human (trained staff and monitors) and material resources (a large quantity of equipment such as television sets, VCRs and computers).
Make media monitoring an integral part of PCN's mandate at election time. It should not be an ad hoc donor-funded activity.
PCN should be involved in actively steering the media content (especially of the electronic media) to ensure that it follows public service values, and this activity should not be restricted to election time.
In the longer term, PCN should be involved in actively steering media content towards a democratic culture to promote the values of pluralism, tolerance and press freedom
A credible MMP must be run independently, and permanently. PCN should enable MMP to function as an independent and autonomous entity, with clear demarcations of authority and responsibility
The Election Commission
Clearly state the needs of EC that MMP is supposed to meet, in terms of the procedures and formats of periodic reporting from MMP
Take a long term view going beyond the election day to utilize the output of MMP work
Ensure there is a regular communication between MMP and EC regarding the periodic updates, the support system, etc.
Widely publicize the election code of conduct before the polls
Explain in concrete terms the nature and type of action, beyond written directives, that the EC can take regarding code violations and their implications
Encourage and support independent media monitoring program (long-term), beyond elections
Develop a mechanism to utilize the cues from MMP outputs so as to help the election process
Prioritize media monitoring in funding, give up the short-attention span to democratic events/processes like elections
Be flexible to local working conditions and cultures
Media institutions and individual journalists
Encourage and support MMP by showing interest in its methods and processes
It is not uncommon for media institutions anywhere in the world to suspect their monitors, but at the end of the day, objective monitoring helps them too in their self-assessments. When in doubt, it will pay them to scrutinize the methods of MMP and its processes than only question the integrity of monitoring efforts. The MMP received positive feedback from the Nepali media and this is a good sign.
Appreciate the nature, value and needs of electoral reporting
Identify pertinent news agenda, promote issue-based reporting and analysis ("lokatantrik ganatantra" or democratic republic, federalism, inclusion, restructuring of state, etc.) and train a breed of journalists to cover them meaningfully
Nurture a culture of self-assessment or in-house media monitoring (ex: readers' editor, public editor, ombudsperson)
Political actors, academia and other members of the civil society
Promote systematic media monitoring initiatives in organizations and the society
Stress objective analysis of media coverage rather than speculative judgment or even spin-doctoring
The private sector
Develop monitoring partnerships with organizations and institutions concerned with media performance
Initiate topic, problem or interest-specific media monitoring activities (Models from other countries)
Support and encourage media monitoring activities to enable the media to perform better
Focus not only on the rights perspective on media performance but also on their responsibilities
The general public
Perhaps there are no better monitors than the members of the public. They can take individual initiative to monitor the media in every-day life by way of media criticism or media literacy or by discussing media content, its quality with family members, friends and colleagues, writing letters to media outlets, calling journalists, reporting cases to MMP or PCN when possible
They can also form or join media users' groups (civic groups) with interest in monitoring topics of their concern related to media.
>> The full report in PDF.
Dharma Adhikari served as the Director of the Media Monitoring program for CA election and Jagadish Pokhrel as its Deputy Director.
Posted by Editor on August 25, 2008 12:14 PM