Media And The Public
Dev Raj Dahal
Mass media such as print, radio, television and cyberspace are useful mediums to link the word to the world. They elevate life’s social bonds and carry out the surveillance functions in society. Three vital tasks of socialisation, integration and adaptation of social and political systems are performed by communications. In an economy, media supply information to ‘invisible hand’ seeking a balance of supply and demand and alleviating the scarcity of public goods. The knowledge society and economy rest on circular flow of information like in a cybernetic or human nerve system where receivers and senders are linked by signals, networks and feedbacks. Similarly, autonomous media stir citizens’ ability to learn, think, feel, perceive and know turning active observer of what is happening around them. These processes have made Nepali citizens highly alert, critical and active participant in the public life.
Learning habits of media have spurred a synergy of the social and political structures evolved by citizens themselves to pursue their strategic goals. Learners become the future multiplier of knowledge and skills to propel up policy agenda. This assists them to incise undue influence of interest and lobby groups standing as a spoiler of problem solution. An efficient response to rapid socio-economic, technological and political change and growing competition in today’s media landscape in Nepal, entails journalists to become a creative part of history. Historical consciousness of the present helps overcome the national habits of forgetfulness and confront today’s challenges. The notion of popular sovereignty embedded in the Constitution of Nepal implies the legislative power of citizens. This makes the public a sacred symbol of journalists on whose name they defend their rhythm of idiom, tone and action. Structural freedom of media is, therefore, essential to stimulate the moral consciousness of their power and engage in public’s struggle for a reflective gaze. This spreads media’s radar and renews the democratic life mini publics of the nation.
The critical questions Nepali media persons usually confront are: Are Nepalis able to exercise equal sovereignty when national media are unfairly distributed in society and their degree of participation in public affairs is determined by the level of their access, influence and control on socio-economic preconditions of modernity? How can Nepali media establish citizens’ constitutional right to know through the diffusion of information and innovation if bulk of them are dominated by party affiliation, business community, the regime and geopolitical interests lacking fairness of judgment on matters of national security, liberty, justice and wellbeing? Do media conform to the norms of public sphere and stomach valid criticism of the public or refuse to slit objective truth from power, interest and ideology?
A sober inquiry is central to know how many Nepali media exercise freedom of conscience and plot credible message to citizens and how many of them interpret truth to what they would like to see. In the case of distorted perception they cannot claim moral authority to judge actors and institutions and prepare citizens for democratic habit. On the contrary, the parasitic growth of media becomes unreflectively sensational. In no way does it greet either the return of ordinary public before the structures, processes and system or set the safe future of posterity. It only diverts public attention from the main issues Nepalis face, fragments the nation’s political culture and maintain senseless indifference to public’s unfulfilled life.
Nationally embedded media struggle to hold the current drift of Nepali society to many directions and rush to the task of nation building. Cross-cultural communication, diffusion of national heritage and culture and loyalty of citizens are vital means for adaptation of the nation in the whirlwind of new geopolitics. Culture enables to predict the behaviour of others. A generational divide exists in Nepali journalism which isolates ideologues from realists and vernacular from other languages. Another divide is between conformist socialisation by old institutions of family, community and religion that opens an opportunity to the nation’s varied public life and modern media culture that isolates one set of audience from the other and obscures the link between media ethics, economics, democracy and sovereignty.
The manifest public duties of media as suppliers of news, views, images and amusement stand compelling. They are supposed to free Nepalis from private prejudice, passivism and fatalism and enlist in the public sphere to discuss common problems. Rational public opinion allows citizens to exercise their power of choice and use scientific reason to dispel blind faith and bias whose malaises insult inner vigilance. Democratic crusade of media can liberate truth from the regime’s gadgets seeking conformity and link citizens to universal public.
The great feat of Nepali media lies in educating Nepalis to think sincerely about the state of the nation, free them from structural limits, fill democratic values and endow a rewarding life. This is why C. W. Mills mounts a spirited defense of “sociological imagination” for journalists. It is vital to cultivate deliberative public who can rationally decide the choices for Nepali nation. Research revels electronic media violating code of conduct and backing social passivity Nepalis. Their audiences are receding into the circle of family and friends, not forming an interactive public and shaping democratic will for social change. One must know that a multi-cultural society like Nepal cannot hold together without good media infrastructures and laws that provide access of all citizens to information, ease their communication and build right view without which the ability of regime to govern declines.
Politics turns rational if citizens are informed and guided by a lively public sphere, enlightened opinion and general interest formed through reasoned conservation. An equal, open and free public sphere fosters democratic values and contributes to the democratisation of Nepali society. Media’s analytic account of public issues and their remedy justify a search for constant progress of human affairs. But this requires them to set aside high political rhetoric where politicians stir hearts and minds of ignorant crowd without uttering any policy messages. This replaces the role of reason which can hardly become a staple of Nepali history. Media need to spur Nepali public’s fight to control their destiny and dignity. But if public opinion is monopolised by the media what is left for elected political leaders is constant alienation of electorates which does not augur well for democratic accountability. The public morality of journalists, therefore, rests on their ethical life and the sanctity of their means and workplace. Morality is, after all, the soul of freedom. It negates elusive consciousness considering it a silent enemy that only intoxicates the audience.
Nepali journalists, as interlocutors of the public, need to probe its problems in every moments of life. Social and political pluralism expects an air of media competition and professionalism where public issues get top priority in agenda setting and framing of news and views to visualise the public. Professionalism does not mean blind passion, loss of human feelings and immune to public criticism. In a troubled nation, like Nepal, context-sensitivity is essential to evoke emotional intelligence, conscience, bridging feeling and innovation beyond linear-logical knowledge of cause-effect. This moving consciousness restores an application of intelligence and imagination in reporting, not provoking, events and issues. It cleaves news from advocacy, velocity of ad and entertainment that depoliticise the public. This is why every public office in Nepal recruits one press officer to inform the public so that citizens do not fall in a trap of disinformation. Transparent communication upholds an enlightenment belief in social progress which is essential for the evolution of self-aware society. Invisibility of the public mirrors the failure of media and loss of their editorial freedom. This pulls Nepalis to a culture of silence. Only a live public sphere generated by what J. Habermas calls, “communicative action,” can refill democratic spirit of media in Nepal. This action, for him, is “oriented toward reaching understanding,” which marshals vital reason to strengthen Nepali democracy.
The public service value of media prompts journalists to uphold their duty to society. Media express the voice of voiceless, the weaker side of the public, such as women, children, powerless, disabled and marginalised and activate the concept of citizen’s equality. They make the governing power lawful, visible and accountable. Without responsible media, politics operates in a void, devoid of substantive issues, creative work and critical inquiry. In a one world of many societies, multi-channel communications also open social fractures. Awareness about these fractures, professional learning needs and methods are, therefore, critical to know the changing pattern of global media culture as it has instant implications for Nepal. An informed public can reform Nepali society and leads to a more civic course. It animates ideals, constructive criticism, activities and collective power of society vital to engage in a compromise and peace.
The hurdle to free communication, as Norbert Wiener says, is created by those allied with “the game of power and money.” When fusion of this game serves a mediating factor of citizen’s life all the systems and sub-systems created to organise citizens in a national space suffer. Pre-set filter, inattention to social issues and limited their ability to inform affect the integrity of the life of journalists. Unless they are stoutly backed by the web of court, their own solidarity across partisan lines and civil society their profession is consumed by a discord of free will and lack of essentials. Nepali journalists’ defence of the public thirst for justice rather than reflecting only the institutional biases of their employer can build the civic competence of citizens enthusing in them a feeling that their thinking and behaviour affects the track of public policy. Public accountability equally calls for a diversity of voices and a rough sense of balance in news. It demands disciplining the powerful interest that controls the access of citizens on public goods and new rule of equity vital for a civic culture.