Tide of Times Curtains On Critics : P. Kharel

Media cartelling and concentration are the twin evils that afflict a society whose civil society is either under constant spell of hibernation or misuses its station by serving particular party interests. Cartelling is a form of media concentration. Synchronising a particular group’s voice is a form of media concentration giving the impression of multiple choices but actually rendering an orchestrated chorus.

If journalist groups function as mouthpieces under the banners of political parties, their tall talk on the hallowed ideals of the profession will sound hollow. When such groups dominate the media landscape, no country, even with a democratic constitution, can really experience the functioning of truly independent, free and professional news outlets. If the media operate freely only to promote their paymasters’ personal interests or the biases of the editors, their station in society would be far beneath what they cry for.  

Opinion filtering through censorship translates into creating concentration camps against independent views. A reporter sniffs his way to a story, whether there are people who wish it prevented or not. Otherwise the news hound does not have a nose for news but only possesses a flesh minus the sense and sensibilities to pursue a story. The job is to find the facts; and the need is not to lose the trail, for which the nose needs to sniff, sniff and sniff.

Twin aspects of fear

Of a reporter is required not mere imagination but investigation, the former prodding but the latter revealing. Philosophers driven by enquiries are engrossed in investigations. The pursuit of investigations makes all knowledge knowable. Walter Lippmann nearly a century ago said: “When men are not afraid, they are not afraid of ideas; when they are much afraid, they are afraid of ideas: when they are much afraid, they are afraid of anything that seems, or can even be made to appear, seditious.”

Gross element, not subtle element, exists even if we close our eyes. Even in matters of pleasure, many people treasure the value of measure. When commerce controls media coverage and contents, the course of unprofessional practices creeps in not necessarily in law but in practice. Commercial considerations and political pressure or party directives result in censorship.

Free speech inspires great fear in the rulers and powerful people who have a trade or trait they want kept hidden from public scrutiny. A fear-free environ roundly rejects anti-democratic practices. Media recognise and, with it, legitimise social acceptance of events and developments as newsworthy to the audiences. They make the coverage interesting by giving an event space. This makes people drawn toward the issues and personalities brought to the fore by media coverage, which otherwise might have gone unnoticed, ignored or given the short shrift of indifference.

It is high time for contemporary Nepal to ascertain whether the media suffers from epic bias in terms of coverage and criticism. Is journalism in Nepal a pathetic victim of petty party politics? If polarised along ideological lines and banners of political parties, its professional integrity is severely compromised. News is what journalists pick up, process and present. Hence if unprofessional or incompetent hands are engaged in the service, great disservice is done—at times risking criminal proportions.

If members of the press were to be party activists bent on forging the propaganda purposes of a political party, they would pollute the profession of journalism. Intelligence agents disguised as journalists do damage to media standings, as has been stressed in the United States and elsewhere.

Gate keeping in a democratic society is a challenging task which essentially demands fairness in the entire filtering process as to what to cover, what to highlight and what to sideline or ignore altogether. Call for fairness can be ignored only at the cost of cutting heavily on media credibility. And in credibility does media authority exist.

Information integrity is a vitality that preserves and promotes the value of professional honesty. The press units need to assess whether they are functioning as information lords or information conveyors. Battling between overt bias and pristine objectivity is a constant vigil of the media of the professional variety. Conventions govern much of our lives. When people dare to take a departure from the beaten track for new ideas and innovations, many of their peers call them black sheep while a few credit them as great thinkers and achievers.

Republic of public trust

In their foraging expedition, reporters are curiosity climbers—alert, inquisitive, bold but security-conscious in order not to risk life and limb. It is a risk-ridden race but with a stack of promises of satisfying rewards dangling at the end of the line. Failure to pursue such a course would result in self-censorship: Presenting what their masters want to hear, see and read. Putting the curtains on critics who dare differ is another gross misuse of the media.

Honesty is the hallmark of history. Power of critical faculties and analyses constitutes the essential quality of credibility. Academic/professional integrity, therefore, constructs the highway for recording, recalling and candidly commenting on media performances in logical order, based on the contextual factor of the time covered by the study/story/script. Anything less is fiction—nay, it would be an injustice to lump this genre of writing with the noble profession of pure literary fiction. It is deliberate distortion and a disinformation drive rearing its ugly head. People take fiction for what it is. Not many are able to discern the fiction in what is postured as news. 

The idea of analysis is to reveal, not to conceal. Positive innovations and initiatives without having to dispense with basic professional guidelines raise the prospects of journalism expanding its scope of service. Conscience is the prime constituency of the media. As an invitee estate in the comity of three other estates sanctioned by the state, the media do not have the powers emanating from universal voting or other procedures applied to the judiciary and the executive branch of the government in a democratic society.

What is the state of impartiality and professional journalism in contemporary Nepal? The reality of putting principles into practice marks the dawn of a long, hard struggle; accepting it into intensified action triggers another uncertain battle. Accurate and fair reporting is professionalism, including the task of selecting events and issues most relevant and interesting to the intended audiences. Deliberately biased and hostile media are predators that manipulate their station in society to shield and promote their leaders/patrons while relentlessly being engaged in attacking and exposing opponents.

 

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