Web Of Complexity
The media has been much in the news in recent days. First came the news that the minimum salary for working journalists would be a fixed amount of almost 20,000 rupees per month. The wage for journalists may or may not be implemented in full as there is more than one possibility of getting around or bending the fixed limit. The fact that this wage structure does not apply to all media houses but to the so-called first class media houses, TV companies and FM radios leaves adequate room for manoeuvres by the media owners. This apart, the government has also come out with what amounts to a policy on mass media that could make or mar the nascent media industry in the country.
Rights and duties
The role of the media in shaping the short and long-term public opinion and even the way people think needs no elaboration. Hence, there is a need for the media industry to be perfectly aware of their rights and the resultant written and unwritten duties that come with such rights. This is specially true in developing countries where the thinking is that what is written and spoken in the media and reach the people cannot be anything but the absolute truth.
Most people in most of the developing countries tend to take the media as the carrier of the truth, and nothing but the truth. One often hears some people saying, “This must be true because I read it in this or that newspaper or I heard it in a certain radio.” In such a situation, it is criminal on the part of the mass media – or any other type of media that caters to the public – to betray the people’s trust and faith. The recent developments in the media sector have to be viewed in this light.
The government’s decision to frame some laws and rules regarding the media industry may not be a bad idea. But we are at present in an age when the western idea of media freedom pervades around much of the globe, and the right of freedom of expression is seen as one of the most important aspects of fundamental human rights. The rights enjoyed by the media is the follow-up of individual rights and must be seen as such, and in any legal scheme, there should be no attempt to curb this right as long as it does not hamper the rights of others.
Journalists, their organisations as well as related international media organisations have shown keen interests in the developments taking place in the media sector in Nepal, and this is as it should be. No government, either in this country or in any other country, should be allowed to arbitrarily formulate media laws and rules that could hamper the healthy development of the media in the particular country.
In our own case, we have had plenty of such rules regulating the media, and these keep on changing with the changes in the government. This kind of behaviour by our political leaders tend to raise more than a few eye brows and tend to cast doubts on the government’s sincerity towards the healthy and robust development of the media, something that is essential if we are to walk the western system of democracy.
For instance, at one time in the not-so-distant a past, there was a rule that prevented the monopolisation of different media outlets by a single media house. The concentration of media outlets among a small number of media houses or even individuals, as we all know, is not a healthy sign and could lead to misguiding the people and downgrading western-style democracy.
Apparently, political leaders in power thought differently, and it is now possible for a single individual or a media house to own all forms of media outlets including print, electronic and digital. This is one area where media experts in the real sense need to carefully weigh all aspects of this area and provide the necessary inputs to the government.
The leaders who lead the government must also think how best the people of the country can be served by the media and not look to the short-term benefits that their decisions as government leaders can bring to them individually or to their respective parties. For it ought not to be forgotten that no matter which party is in power, the government has to work for the interest of the people and the nation.
In this respect, Nepal Press Council, which is a government body, should not be used as a recruitment ground for the party workers. This body once upon a time used to be headed by a sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court. It is presumed that the head of that body will be an impartial person who judges the complaints received against the different media in an impartial manner.
But soon after the restoration of democracy in 1990, the Press Council began to be headed by staunch supporters of parties that came to power. Was this meant to heighten the prestige of this body? Hardly. The Press Council should be developed as a real neutral body that is able to arbitrate impartially when complaints are lodged against a particular media by individuals or by institutions. For media, like any other individual in a democracy, has to be responsible and cannot go on a free-for-all spree without paying due attention to the rights of individuals or institutions.
The role of journalists of all kinds, whether print, electronic or web, need also to realise that they are not above the law. Laws apply to them just as much as they to others in the country. In this regard, the journalists and the media need to respect the right of privacy of the citizens, and they should not point fingers at anyone, specially ordinary citizens, without proper backup evidence.
Privileges for journalists
But having said this, journalists do need privileges when performing their duty, without which they will not be able to carry out their duty properly and be able to disseminate correct information to the people. Hence they should also be able to break free of any unnecessary hurdles that might be placed before them by the media barons who might have their own axe to grind. The media world is a complex web, and it is up to the journalists to break free of such complexities in order to help the people get the right untwisted news and information.