Media As Mediators
Dev Raj Dahal
The self-perception of media is the defender of public interest. The idolisation of public, respublica, implies the fight for the interest of plebs, the ordinary citizens. This perception is more symbolic than empirical in nature. Still, free, fair and diverse media are considered integrating factors of society. As a medium of communication between public institutions and citizens, they coordinate polite conversation of everyday life as they see the world and prefer it to be. News is public good and, therefore, journalists are public figures liable to the creation of a deliberative public. By offering credible news and views they turn public affairs transparent and power accountable.
Nepali journalists have played vital roles in reporting the burning issues citizens face. They have offered consciousness and democratic stir through the message of sounds, images and texts inducing behavioural effects. A number of rescue and rehabilitation missions of media for Nepali citizens, trapped by conflict, offered them a new lease of life. Others, as guardian of public morality, have unveiled the objective truth and criticised arbitrary use of power. They dared to lay bare the dirty trade of those elites who had financed journalists to project their images not matching the reality. Still other thrilling types have inflamed the emotion of citizens on tragic issues exciting public action against the malice of status quo.
Those rehearsing in infotainment cheered in self-parody. Some eased fun and commercial ad, the purpose of which is to earn money, not the free flow of information and narration of events. Ideology-oriented ones engineered consent for oneself and confused the rest of the world. Defense of public interests is the pivot of public culture of fair media. They bind Nepalis in a live dialogue enabling them worthy of decent judgment about issues. Ironically, partisan difference of journalists neutralise the values of a public affirming A. Asa Berger’s views of media a “hypodermic needle” slotting their own message to the captive audience snubbing democratic duty of reasoning.
Nepal’s constitution has amplified the rights of citizens and recognised their sovereignty. As a democratic watchdog, they can spur their execution for a rational order. An ugly tension exists in Nepal between constitutional ideals of freedom, equality and right to information and struggle of journalists for a progress of internal preconditions without which media freedom becomes an empty ideal unable to protect the founding dream of democracy- the liberty of conscience. The edifice of free space is vital for them to organise one’s life according to one’s values, break the calm of unhealthy conformity, socialise Nepalis and build their link to humanity. The ethical function of Nepali media is to moderate extreme views and positions articulated by fragmented sub-national culture media and move the nation to mindful unity.
Formation of a vibrant public sphere animates vital jobs: set a platform for well-versed debate to shape public opinion and improve civic competence of Nepalis, transparency of public affairs so as to prevent the economic concentration of media, alleviate fair reporting untainted by monopoly, control excessive profit and errant motive of owner, manage social cleavages and contribute to deepening democracy in many creative ways.
Monitoring cleavages: Nepal’s main cleavages are geographic, income, gender, age, caste, class, religion, federalism, secularism, representation, narration and recognition of diversity. Many of the identity-related cleavages have already become proxies for social and political separation, spar and stir. Nepal’s adoption of multiparty democracy and media pluralism aiming to cope with many cleavages is marred by undue factionalism and breakup of parties and media enterprises. Their image projection has made political sphere jarring fabricating captive audience and drowning the silent screams of the weak. Populist media, envious of the wealthy and fear of the poor, cut the mediating factor and harbour a subversive tool to erode polity’s ability to serve average Nepalis.
Politics as a site of promise heaves grievances of citizens feeding cleavages. Nepali media, caught in a battle between professional ethics and career, cannot fully mediate them without the aid of justice and solidaristic action. These cleavages hit the nation’s fault lines. This entails journalists to handle the multitudes in three areas. First, education about early warning of flash point can help mitigate it, broad reporting and rational habit formation of actors can contribute to building civic knowledge to unite the Nepali nation, allow disparate citizens to gain equal rights and duties and close multiple choices for actors for conflict creation.
Second, aggregation and expression of citizens’ interests and their diffusion into parties, parliament and government can beat the spiralling silence, cynicism and conflict and build a trust in the polity. A thriving polity eases feedback between leaders and citizens via fair media. Third, democratic media defend reforms of society. They reduce cleavages arising out of discrepancy between inputs and outputs of polity and supply and demand of economy, cut violence potential stoked by varied causes and drive to policy to solve them.
Bonding of government, opposition and rebellious forces: The growing hiatus among the coalition government, opposition, alienated and rebellious forces, contradictions within the parties for leadership and constant stir of certain parties and social groups have strained the execution of the constitution. Without bridging these hiatuses through the rational projection of news and views, it will be hard for leaders to settle the cleavages. Nepali leaders talk more to media. In the age of extremes, only the flow of critical message can shape compromise formula. With no democratic frame, communication will be wild like social media charade though they serve to break the taboo of calm, egg on self-advertisement and skirt the manipulation of public opinion by mainstream media. In such a context, Nepali media cannot mobilise the cohesive forces of society for social and national integration. They need to monitor the betrayal of political trust and prevent the decay of democratic norms, values and institutions so that politics can be back to its public duty and reformist action rather than stay image-centric freak.
Multiplier of education: Democratic media’s vital tasks are: contribution to will formation and mediation of rival perspectives of individuals and groups for the defense of public and national interests. The spread of critical education through media liberates Nepali society from blind faith, prejudice and vices and blow whistle against evils’ offensive. They help modify the conformist site of the establishment and bring all sides into a moderate disposition seeking a cogent solution of the nation’s social cleavages. Nepali politics harbours a tension between usual multi-polarization of politics and a new stratification of society propelled by science and economy, where social groups favour their own group representation, not ideology and party representation. As a part of global information revolution, the Nepali media have opened the society but their ability to widen news outreach to periphery and villages remains poor. Without becoming inclusive, media function more like a cog of message engine devoid of even old values of balance, fairness and integrity. They must discover wisdom to transform people of biological and social origins into Nepali citizens. Protection of national space is vital for saving democracy from tribal and anti-political passion, the illusion of seductive promises and the perusal of the ethics of absolute ends. Nepali media need to secure freedom of citizens to prevent the rage of identity politics lacking national consciousness or their commodification into a free-floating labour.
Perspective transformation: A diverse society like Nepal is more resilient. It offers various solutions to one problem. Social cleavages in Nepal are not a problem in collective action if public interests are consistent with the normative political order and democracy is rescued from unbridled sound bites. The inability of Nepali leaders to manage social cleavages through democratic processes has twisted inertial politics. Obviously, one finds a steady decline of shared values and culture of tolerance that served as glue to Nepal’s social cohesion and peace. Journalists must excavate the positive values of the nation and engage in identifying and reporting legitimate demands of Nepalis, providing social and political representation for them in the news, grabbing the attention of decision makers and helping address the questions of public security for themselves. They are alarmed now by violent actors, powerful elites and media houses that prefer to control editorial freedom and helplessly watch the clash of cultural industries. Execution of media laws, law-based freedom and institutionalization of media culture can address self-censorship of journalists and ensure their economic security so that they do not fall prey to shady practices.
Building ownership society: Every problem is capable of solution if news and views are rationally grounded in the interest of ordinary Nepalis. It removes their fear and fury and boosts their trust in the polity. A free flow of information enables them to discover the common choice, air voice and bridge the cleavages through the compromise of legitimate interests. Democratic autonomy of media, fairness of news and views and faith in the power of reason can provide a framework of justice to mend cleavages. The Nepali media should pull their strength to save the nation from flux created by conflicting socialization of parties and the lack of positive national action. The rising power of discourses excited by Nepali media served a powerful device of communication, opinion-making, interest articulation and will formation thus easing to check inducements to irresponsibility of yellow journalism.
Credible media often defend public goods, resonate a belief in social progress and individual liberation. An explosion of multi-channel media has, however, produced a multiverse of democracy in Nepal. The bulk of media is afflicted by a loss of reflection about the ground reality. They are entangled in a rivalry among the corporate media houses linked to geopolitics and re-feudalising the public sphere. This flaw can be corrected through rule of law, independent judiciary, media ethics and mediation of social cleavages in a fair manner so that power of sovereign Nepalis stays with them.