New Kind of Journalism in Nepal- II

Theme of the Blog: Those odd-looking editorials in Nepali newspapers published immediately after the Royal Takeover of Feb 1, 2005 were not odd, in fact.

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle’s Web Log

Since the government order following the Royal Proclamation suspended civil liberties, among others, we were in a great dilemma…as to what exactly to write and not to write in the paper, Kantipur, of which I am a reporter, and, at times, an editorial writer too. All reporters were looking toward Narayan Wagle, the editor. I think that day, and that moment, was one of his decisive moments in his life, in his career as a journalist and as an editor. Dito with Prateek Pradhan, editor of the Kathmandu Post, sister publication of Kantipur.

It was rumored that the editors of several newspapers were summoned to the royal palace and were given instructions, if not intimidated, as to how they should go about in the days to come. Some editors were even threatened of their life if they dared to go against the government’s wish. As the New York Times reported in its Feb 7 issue, “the king’s press secretary told some editors last week that he would not be able to help if the military decided to “disappear” them for a few hours, according to one editor who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

I saw Kanak Mani Dixit, publisher of Himal Khabarpatrika Magazine and Rajendra Dahal, editor of the same magazine visiting the offices of Kantipur Publications. Communication was totally disrupted and editors badly needed to consult with each other at that time, I guessed. [In the same evening, Kanak gave a powerful comment to BBC’s Nepali Service. He was strongly against the Royal move. I liked him and his comment and thought, from tomorrow, BBC Nepali Service would be taken off the air from various FM stations around the country.

That’s exactly what happened the following day and FMs are now barred from broadcasting any kind of news reports.] I was also confused. I had not faced such a situation before. I belong to the breed of journalists who started their career in a democratic society and were raised in a democratic environment. As of now, 10 days since the royal takeover, I am still learning to live and behave in a new atmosphere/situation. It was not unusual, in any way, for thousands of readers of Kantipur, Nepal’s most influential and largest circulated daily, to expect a hard hitting and opinionated front-page editorial on the Royal Takeover– condemning it. But since the basic rights were suspended, the paper, its management and the editor couldn’t have risked the future of the newspaper and hundreds of jobs provided by the publication.

In those circumstances came my utility as an editorial writer. Correctly sensing and judging the situation, Narayan Walge, editor, summoned me to give this order: “Dinesh, write an editorial on Charumati.” In Kantipur, reporters are encouraged to write articles and editorials on their respected field of reporting. On the very same day, an article written by me about a dance-drama had appeared on the Arts and Style section of the daily. The dance-drama was based on Emperor Ashoka’s Nepal visit and his daughter Charumati’s love affair with a Nepali hunk. Satya Mohan Joshi, 85, the legendary writer and culture expert directed the ballet. So, the issue itself was perfectly suitable for an editorial. Here I go… Hey folks out there at New York Times or the Guardian, don’t laugh at me. We in Nepal are habituated with the kind of journalism where, not so long ago, a single man would be a publisher, reporter, editor and a hawker. The situation is slowly changing after the arrival of big newspapers with large number of reporters. But we still have a long way to go to have a separate department of editorial writers who are gray-haired and expert on what they editorialize.

I wrote the editorial on the ballet. When it was published, people were kind of surprised and shocked to read that piece. As I said, the had expected an editorial about the Royal decision. So, many of the readers still read the write-up expecting that the editorial, in some way or the other, might talk about the event through satire or something. The topics themselves were not unsuitable for the editorial but the timing made them so. The next day’s editorial dealt with ways to internationalize our archery performances. Then followed a peace about Nepali cricket.

All subjects, in my opinion, were suitable for an editorial but people expected different topics in that situation. Kathmandu Post ran an editorial about socks: what kinds of socks to wear, which color and brand etc. Nepali Times, a weekly, wrote about the sudden fall of trees in the city and called upon the concerned authorities to restore the greenery in the valley. Now, international media including BBC World Service started reading between the lines. They saw a kind of revolt, hidden meaning in those editorials. The Post’s headline was “Socks in the Society”.

Was that metaphoric? Well, for some, yes. For many, all those odd editorials were metaphoric. They were voicing papers’ disapproval of what the King had done a day ago… Political reporters in different media, including Kantipur, were joking that they would be jobless in a few days if the situation continued. Some columnists were of the opinion that they won’t be able to continue their column in future. Many columns, including ‘Peepalbot.com’ of Narayan Wagle in Kantipur, are still off the pages. Even satirical column like that of ‘Under my Hat’ (Nepali Times) of Kunda Dixit seem to have been censored.

I have a slightly different opinion on this regard. I think that this (restriction) will help the Nepali journalism in the long run. Do I seem like a reactionary? Sorry, if I did. I am a democrat by heart and support multiparty democracy system in the country. Democracy will help expand journalism for sure. But the current restrictions over political reporting will help us to find different topics to cover– social ones that are directly related to readers…to the people. Why write or publish repeated interviews of ‘corrupt’ leaders as Kusum suggested in his letter?

Lets write about sports, lets write about village life, about people’s plight. Political freedom is the ultimate goal of Nepal and Nepalis. No one can block that from coming in to Nepal. Even King, in his TV address, has repeatedly promised to restore multiparty democracy in Nepal. So, let’s not worry about that guys. In the mean time, lets try to write on topics other than politics!

1 Comment » 1. Great! this is the way,journalists shuld follow. Comment by Visbas — 2/11/2005 @ 4:39 pm

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