Q & A: Manju Mishra on Journalism & Communication Education in Nepal
Manju Mishra discusses journalism and communication education in Nepal and her vision for the future. Interview with Gerhard Schoenhofer of Nepal Monitor.
Manju Mishra, 50, founded the first Master's level media college in Nepal, the College of Journalism and Mass Communication (CJMC). The college is based in Kathmandu. In an interview with Gerhard Schoenhofer, a student of anthropology from Germany now working with the Media Foundation, she tells about her time in the Soviet Union, her return home, her motivation to establish a media college, the difficulties she faced in the beginning as well as her visions for the future concerning media education in Nepal and South Asia. In the course of this very candid interview, Mishra tackles questions regarding feminism in Nepali media, the standards and credibility of media coverage in the country and the philosophy that guides her teaching.
Photo © Gerhard Schoenhofer/Nepal Monitor
You've lived and worked for several years in the former Soviet Union. It would be interesting to hear about your early experiences.
Yes, I was living there for 14 years. I was 19 years old when I went to the Soviet Union. When I left Nepal, I could get information only through radio and newspapers. Since my family does not come from any scientific background, I decided to be a journalist, inspired by my father. Back then I studied in Padma Kanya College. I completed my certificate level and went to study to Russia in 1981.
As my father had encouraged me to do so, I went to a foreign language institute to study French, Spanish, German as well as some other languages. This is how I happened to learn the Russian language and got the chance to go there through the cultural center. It was not my primary interest. I don't belong to any political party. I am a creative and innovative person. I believe that ideas bring change in this world. I was that kind of person since my childhood. Once I went to Russia it was a great challenge for me, but I found many other Nepali friends there, so at least I was not alone. Before going to Russia I saw many of my friends going there. I asked myself: 'Why can't I be going to Russia?' I wrote a long letter to the director of the Russian cultural center telling him that I was aiming to be an expert in Russian literature after my return from the Soviet Union, all the while knowing that my primary interest was journalism. But once I was in Russia, it took me one year to switch to journalism, whereas all my Nepali friends who joined the state party changed their subject within a week or maybe a month. I worked at Radio Moscow and at a newspaper there. I published the organ of Nepali students studying in Moscow and wallpapers as well. These activities were all reported to the authorities. The only thing which let me go ahead was probably that I stood first in every semester and in most of the competitions organized by the university.
So you didn't face any problems with censorship in the Soviet Union?
I didn't face censorship problem because I was always busy and creative, thinking about what to do next. I was neither involved in party issues, nor in anti-party matters. If this country was inviting me to study there, why should I have to be against it?
You are an opportunist, right?
They were offering me a scholarship and the chance to see their country, why should I be against it. My neutrality, like I have it here in Nepal, was always something special. Equal to all, everybody should have their own political views. But in the former Soviet Union everything was restricted. None of us had the right to criticize the government; there were no means of private media. It was monotonous.
How were you able to communicate with the other Nepali students?
We were all in the same university, 160 Nepalis! We were invited by our embassy to celebrate Nepali festivals together. And besides that, every six months or so, the Soviet Union took us to a vacation to different places in the country. Of course, they had the mission to advertise Soviet socialism. But still we were paid a monthly allowance which was enough for us to survive. I travelled to nearly 25 countries in the world during my stay in Soviet Union. They usually didn't allow students to travel to the West, therefore we only received visa with great difficulties
Why did you decide to start your own college?
When I came back to Nepal I was unknown to everybody and although I wrote a PhD in Nepali journalism I did not get any suitable job. The college we started became the first one to offer a Master's program in Mass Communication in Nepal. Before us there was only one Government College running the Bachelor's degree for 22 years, and they did not feel the necessity to revise that course even once. How easy can it be for the teachers to teach the same courses every year? They don't have to prepare new handouts, study new books or consult any new materials. As a consequence, whatever you teach is accepted. The second thing is that they are engaging themselves in many INGOs and NGOs. For example, 'updated' teachers or faculty member from the UK or somewhere meant a threat to them. The students who join our college are mostly from private and well- known schools. They can debate with the teachers and interact independently.
How many graduates have the College of Journalism and Mass Communication produced so far?
The CJMC has unleashed about 400 students as human resource in the media market of Nepal. At the moment, there are 90 students enrolled in all levels. Most of them are already working as mainstream journalists and many of them are involved in different INGOs and NGOs. Please visit our website for further information.
In the course of my research I've heard the term 'corrupt' in connection with journalism education in Nepal. There are references such as 'structures are not changing, the power relation always remain the same..'.
Exactly! The problem of corruption is everywhere and not only in journalism. It is invisible. They didn't' want newcomers interfering with the existing power relations. By that time there were simply no PhD holders in journalism in Nepal. So I did not get any chance to be enrolled in the only government college to teach journalism, which was the U-turn in my life in order to start this college.
Do you think these difficulties arose because you are a woman?
No, not at all. It had nothing to do with me being a female. Professor P. Kharel encouraged me; he was one of the senior faculty members in the department. Nobody wanted me to start this college. People were calling me a mad lady who dared to start a college with no money. 'If you don't dream you will not do it'- Disney said that. I like his idea because I am also a dreamer.
I had only got the college registered without having any affiliation with a university. After downloading several international syllabi, I had a certain idea about what kind of media education should be provided in Nepal. Then I applied for an affiliation at a university. The Vice Chancellor said: 'What do you have?' He was referring to logistics and infrastructure. I said: 'Well, if you approve my ideas I will do it.' He said: 'You don't have anything. How can you do it?' 'Please, give me your approval and I will do it.'
And then they had a gathering. It's something very romantic now to think back at that time. Simultaneously, other colleges also held discussions to offer Master's programs. It caused a shock that somebody coming from Russia was going to set up a college in mass communication. The senior journalists formed a group and thought of starting a college somewhere else teaming up with a technical college. The VC joked: 'Manju, if you will be unsuccessful you have to go to prison!' I said: 'Sir, I'm ready to go to prison, and I know that if things go wrong, my two children are going to end up in an orphan house. I have nobody to take care of them, my husband is in Dubai, my loving brother is in London, my husband's family does not look after me, and my father does not want any contact with me. If I go to prison that means my children will go to the orphan house. But I'm determined to start a college.'
No risk no fun.
I say: No risk no gain. They asked me: 'How do you think that you will be able to run this college?' I said: 'I have no money, that is true.' But it is not only money that makes things happen. Finally, the VC answered: 'Ok, we will give you the affiliation.' I was approaching them for the last six to seven months. I got this affiliation for exactly five things: Determination, commitment, sincerity, my education and my family background. Immediately, I started contacting embassies for a scholarship. The embassy of Denmark in Nepal donated two scholarships and we got the money for two students at a time.
You could make good investments, right?
Yes, due to the scholarships provided by the Danish embassy I hired a flat with three rooms and bought five computers. I told the landlord that once I would get the admission fees from my students I would make the monthly payments. But unfortunately, landlord's partner did not want me to stay, so I was kindly asked to leave the rented flat. I was so disappointed that day and under big pressure, I could not sleep during the night. Fortunately, somebody else offered me a flat in a school. Finally, I had a regular place where I managed my office. In the same year the college got study materials from the Asia Foundation, the American Center and UNESCO also donated some books. I had to have patience. That's how I managed to initiate the Master's in mass communication and journalism before everybody did.
It was the first course like this in Kathmandu?
Yes, CJMC became the pioneer to start a Master's in Mass Communication in Journalism followed by other colleges and in the second year, it started Bachelor's and in the third year we were able to launch Master's in development communication. We became entrepreneurs with our new BA and MA programs and later established the college FM-radio station which we are running nowadays. The CJMC is a team, I believe in teamwork headed by one-person leadership. I will talk everything through with my team, I'll accept any feedback from them, and if I think that it is valuable, I'll apply it. I don't want to run +2 as it is not part of my dream. My dream is to establish an internationally recognized media college in Nepal. On behalf of the CJMC I approached the American centre many times requesting them to support us with international experts from the USA in order to teach in our college, but disappointingly, for the last 10 years, they have not paid attention to my requests. If the USA is a democratic country they should listen to these matters. At least, they call themselves the biggest spokesperson of democracy. If I was only educated in the US, the UK or Canada! Even though I'm not a communist, I am considered to be the product of Russia. I approached the Norwegian embassy in the same way. I spoke by heart: 'Why don't you support me?' This led me to the Norwegian partnership.
I would love to hear about the philosophy that guides your teaching today. What do you want to give the next generation of Nepali journalists on their way?
If you can dream, you can do it! The other philosophy which guides me is to do challenging and unique works that people often do not attempt to do. I am determined to abolish the old school of journalism in Nepal with the help of international partnerships in order to introduce a new area of media education in the country by establishing a university of mass communication for all South Asians.
So that's also what you try to impart to your students, I guess.
Exchange is an essential part of the program that you offer to your students?
In the Bachelor's program we included subjects like human rights and democracy, conflict management and peace building, security and media organization. Tomorrow's media persons should know how to deal with army and police, regional conflicts as well as English literature. This course was designed by experts under the initiation of the CJMC. I shared it with my team, and they were always supporting it. For the Master's program in development communication I invited experts from several universities, from the UK, and some of the media professors here in Kathmandu. We are offering something new which nobody here in the media market offers.
Usually, mainstream journalists come to study at CJMC. Most of them here in the market that you may meet are the products of this college. We have international partners in Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, in Oslo such as the University of Life Sciences and the Oslo University College. In Asia, our parterres include the Communication University of China, the Dhaka University in Bangladesh as well as the Lahore University in Pakistan. We sent 32 students abroad. I doubt that any private media college has sent so many students abroad. We sent two students to the Communication University of China. The Chinese embassy managed somehow to give two scholarships for the college, although I had not approached them.
Our college is called College of Mass Communication and Journalism and they run the University of Communication of China. Maybe the name triggered something. One scholarship was given by the Pakistani embassy, so one of my students started his Master's in Lahore and returned back. I sent one student in 2001 for a month to Germany with an institute in Northern Germany. I sent 40 students to India under the SAARC exchange program for a ten-day tour, offered by the Indian embassy. I sent 13 students to Bangladesh under a Norwegian scholarship. But my hands are tied up. I cannot implement any new things in the syllabi. Under the existing affiliation I do not want to run any other media subjects. I proposed to the university in Northern Germany to run a joint Master's in photography and videography. My intention is to expand this college at the international level. Under the foreign affiliation, we will be able to launch various new multimedia subjects such as computer animation or courses about western media and how these work.
You seem to have a lot of ideas in your mind. How would you realize them?
That's why I've told you a lot of the things in order to promote them publicly, to go international and to make this college become the college I dream about. It is just the idea that has to be implemented. CJMC is internationally renowned and recognized; it has more than 12 partners. I want to see my students editing a monthly newspaper, making documentaries or participating in the South Asian film festival. As I mentioned, I proposed to my German partners to start a Master's in photography and videography. First, it will be like a landmark in Asia. I went through many websites of media colleges and none is focusing on a degree in this area. Second, geographically, Nepal is the best place for all the neighboring countries. Visitors from India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan can easily get visas to Nepal. Such an international program can only be started with certain difficulties in India, because even if Nepalis do not need visa for India, for other nationalities in the region, it is difficult. There are conflicts all over the region. Nepal can be the best platform to announce international admission and the students in the neighboring countries can contribute to a project together. As a consequence, the students will understand the real value of media. Third, I will move to a bigger building where I can attract these students from the neighboring countries because I will have funding by that time. Fourth, if you speak about women empowerment, why does nobody support it? Benefit for both is the motto, one way benefit doesn't work. Internationals can put their effort along with my students such as going to field reporting and taking real pictures with professional cameras for organized photo exhibitions in Kathmandu, Afghanistan, and even Germany. Scholars will come to make a research documentary along with my students. This is what I dream about.
Talking about journalistic practices in Nepal, how would you rate the credibility of the country's media in general?
Credibility of Nepali media ... well, this question is a bit complicated for me. I trust Nepali media because I am informed through various channels. You get different versions stories same issue in different Nepali media. If we speak about the term credibility I want to say that Nepali media is doing its best to give information to the people but regarding credibility again, there are many kinds of misinformation, misinterpretations and manipulations from political parties and businesses. Additionally, each media house is also driven by their self-interests. So, in the present situation, unfortunately, I cannot say that Nepali media is 100% credible.
How would you define the relationship between media educators, like your college here, and the media industry in Nepal?
Ten years ago, we had the predominant attitude in this country that anybody could become a journalist. But after CJMC got started, it became obvious that in journalism we also need higher educational standards. What this relation looks like now is that all media educators and most of the media persons, who are degree holders of different colleges in mass communication and journalism, are related to media industries. They are working in many media houses such as Kantipur TV, ABC or Sagarmatha TV. There was the need for promotion, better qualification, learning and writing. The media industry started realizing that media education is necessary for working media persons. All the media houses want qualified people. Those people who work in different media houses, publications, channels and FM radio stations started giving priority to those journalists who have an education in media. It became a mutual support. If you don't have a degree in mass communication and journalism, but your colleague has one, he or she is likely to get promotion before you. A deeper link has developed between those two poles, education and media industry. We also need to be educated in this field, not only experts, because a journalist's pen can kill 1000s of people through wrong information and misinterpretation (which we can say happened during the conflict in our country a few years back), but a doctor may kill only 1% of his patients.
I found out that you are the chairperson of the Women's Journalist Association in Nepal. What is it that female journalists can accomplish that male ones can't? What are the advantages or disadvantages of being a female journalist?
I'm against feminism. All the feminist activists, at least most of them here in my country working in the name of gender, have married a man who already had a wife and children. Women in Nepal can never work together, I have never witnessed that. It only works maybe for a few years. Men and women can work together, if I had in this college only female faculty members, this college would never have come so far. It would have vanished years ago. A woman cannot see another woman being a vice principal and director for ten years. Maybe men can also work together, but for sure not women.
I was thinking about this issue especially in connection to journalism. What can female journalists do that male ones can't?
I feel that female journalists can accomplish everything. If anybody claims that media houses do not give priority to female journalists, I don't have anything to say. A media house cannot ignore highly educated female applicants. I am supported by men who are very sincere, earnest and dedicated. They all do whatever I request them to do for the sake of the college. If I ask them to approach the communication ministry for the expansion of the FM radio, they are with me. But none of the females would have ever been with me in such a way. I am not worth supporting just because I am a woman or I am doing good things. In the Bachelor's level here in the CJMC, we have more female students than male ones. In the Master's program it's almost 50-50. CJMC gave scholarships to two female students, so we are gender balanced; we are not giving scholarships to men, but to women in order to encourage female journalism. All the rest about gender and women empowerment you should discuss with somebody else, that is not my part.
How do you relate to new media, social media etc.? In what ways do you use Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook personally as well as to promote your college?
Social media has been very effective these days in Nepal. But I personally don't involve myself so much in them. In the morning I mail my international partners in a fresh mood if I have any good news. I simply try to inform them, for example about the Africa film festival that we are conducting in June. During the same time, I logon to Facebook. I go through it once and accept if there are some friend requests or comments but I don't use it a lot. It is just because I have no time to chat and to involve in all these things.
Ok, perfect, I think we're done with my questions!
Oh, I want to tell something about my mission. The mission of my life is to establish a university of mass communication in Nepal. Unless I establish such a university in Nepal, I'm not able to bring a drastic change in journalism education in this country. So, to end the old schooling of journalism education here, I am trying my best to establish a separate university where I will start a new era in journalism education in our country.
Posted by Editor on May 7, 2012 3:14 PM