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Looking for Relevant News in Nepali Media

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Purendra Pande calls for diversity in Nepali media coverage of contemporary topics.

There are many issues about media roles and performance today in Nepal. However, in light of the increasing public access to media content today, news media's coverage of various topics and their priorities over the issues may deserve continued scrutiny from media critics and analysts. Media representation should undoubtedly be one of the critical agenda of our media today. Without it, they won't be able to truly realize their core professional objectives of informing, educating and entertaining their audiences.

First, media must diversify their news content. They must do more than just focus only on political statements and analysis. Today, we see too much monotony in content and presentation. Competing media outlets almost always publish the same thing, presented in the same manner. Their bold-faced headlines differ only by slight modification. I am not saying this just out of impulse.

I make observations in this article as an ordinary reader and hope there are many people who share my ideas about our media.

A few days ago, I took the time and garnered the patience to review seven of our major daily newspapers. I found that they cover the same topics much of the time. It felt like they are into wordplay, trying to say the same thing with little or no difference in substance or news angles. For example the major headlines and news on June 6, 2012 in popular newspapers of like The Himalayan Times, Rajdhani, Samacharpatra, Republica, Annapurna Post, Nagarik and The Kathmandu Post concerned the options following the dissolution of Constituent Assembly (CA). However, I found many stories twisting the same message in different ways and sometimes even facts or quotes from the same source on the same topic appeared contradictory.

In The Himalayan Times, the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda", in an analogy, compared the current political mess with the sunken Titanic and the political situation with the singing and dancing of the people above the sunken ship. In another national daily, Annapurna post of the same day Prachanda was quoted as saying that Nepal is in a situation just before an accident. Thus, in these two newspapers the same person's message was printed in different ways. What do the readers make out of such contradictory statements by the same person? Did he actually say two different things or the newspapers misrepresented his quotes?

Diversity of content is not the same as varying or distorting the quotes. Had the newspapers offered diversity in terms of topics, genre, presentation, the coverage would have been more informative and people would have a wider choice than reading the same news in different newspapers. For instance, there are not many newspapers in general which are popular for their specific beats like sports, technology, and literature and so on. If one newspaper is specializing in the news of one subject like sports and another newspaper specializing in another subject like politics then each newspaper could have their own identity or niche. In other words, more options for the readers.

Of course, we already have some newspapers in the country making some efforts to specialize by publishing special sections or supplements. However, the headlines appear more or less the same in most of them. They do not look different from others because they don't offer enough unique news. Most of the newspapers give much the same amount of information about news, and it is hard to find one which actually reports details about specific news. For example, most newspapers devote significant newshole for sports news . In each newspaper, we get to read similar news of the major games in the country and out of country. However, there is little and inconsistent coverage of local or national news. For example, my review revealed that our newspapers give little space to Nepali football team. People cannot catch up with the developments in the football game within one locality or club of our country if newspapers do not cover them consistently.

Moreover, news should come with relevant background so that if a novice reader follows news s/he can understand what happened before that event. Without background readers cannot understand the context of the story and it relevance is lost. For instance, the few stories about Nepali football in some dailies focused on the general details like loss-victory, rival teams, Nepal's performance and the match scores, but these reports didn't' bother to insert some background on the match like strength and weakness of the team, the number of games the competing teams played with one another or with others recently. It seems like the dailies are not concerned about the interests of readers following the news. It's the same with the news about international stories like coal mine accidents in china. Articles miss to state whether such accidents occurred in past and what factors were involved in the disasters.

Several of our daily newspapers do not seem to be allocating some level of their priorities other than writing about certain popular figures. For instance, they often present personal life stories of popular political leaders or film stars. Doesn't it also sound interesting to know about common people from remote areas of the country? If news outlets present detailed information about people from different corners of the country and introduce them to the rest of the citizens doing so would serve to connect different people living in different parts of the country, and in sharing their experiences among one another which could be beneficial to the whole country.

Also there are many significant people who have done outstanding works in their areas but are not known to the public because media outlets have not introduced them to us. For instance Sanduk Ruit, a Magsaysay awardee, has helped around one hundred thousand blind people to regain their sight. I believe there must be several other "real" heroes who might be supporting children and senior citizens inside and outside the valley who deserve some news attention. Teachers, social workers or nurses are some of them who work selflessly but they are not recognized for their good deeds, or credited for their philanthropic initiatives.

I feel the media should write more about important things ordinary people have done or achieved rather than reporting only about trivial things the so-called important persons do.

Second, our media must broaden their coverage not only in terms of issues but also on the basis of geography. Mustang and Karnali are some of the most ignored regions in terms of media coverage. The capital-centric reporting that is there must be reviewed and coverage must be diversified. For instance, if media present certain current issues of people from one part of the country then there is a chance of finding the solution from people in other parts of the country who might have undergone similar problems.

Also news should cover the scientific innovations or development of technology in different parts of the world. It will help us to share our ideas and knowledge with different people from different parts of the world. For instance, if we search for the alternative energy resources in different parts of the world and inform the concerned readers they can adopt them in their area, if feasible. We can learn about many great technologies, acquire skills from different part of the world. News outlets should also make efforts to report about technologies developed in our own country or indigenous efforts in innovations and creativity.

Third, most newspapers carry negative news and focus almost always on complaints and problems. Stories rarely report positive developments or offer solutions. Reading such news makes people feel hopeless, discouraged and frustrated.

For instance, right now news about the dissolution of CA or its failure is bombarded in most of the daily newspapers. Newspapers and other media outlets rarely offer positive way of looking at the problem at a time when the nation is in need of hope and optimism to move ahead with confidence. True, the news that revolves around problems and a series of dreadful consequences might sound good for business, but in term of the public role of journalism, that is a wrong assumption. Relevant news is the one that gives its readers hope, courage and psychological support during difficult times like this.

Apart from what I just wrote above, news outlets also should reconsider their professional ethics in order for them to be able to relate to the sentiments of their audience. There are many cases of ethical lapses in the media, such as distortion, sensationalism, and plagiarism. Public trust is declining in the media because many people don't feel any ownership towards media. To enhance the feeling of public ownership media should reflect people's real stories.

In sum, our media today need to reassess their performance. They need to diversify their content in terms of ethnic and gender issues. They should mediate people's real problems with possible ways of resolving them. They should cover stories in context in their entirety rather than just injecting sensational content.

An earlier version of this article described Dr Sanduik Ruit as "CNN hero 2011". We regret the factual error, and it has been fixed.

The writer is based in Kathmandu and maintains interest in writing and literature. ###

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