Nepal Samacharpatra daily is closed: The Maoists should understand that, though very young compared to the world journalism, Nepali media have gone through variety of tough tests and their effort to intimidate the critical journalism will be proved to be futile.
By Dinesh Wagle
Some reporters, proof readers and desk editors wait for vans to ferry them home after finishing the days work amidst the strike called by colleagues in printing and marketing department recently.
The Maoists are showing their draconian face everywhere. The latest comes in the form of media intimidation. While senior Maoist leaders are complaining about the big media houses not helping their party, the party’s worker unions are staging protests in newspaper offices aiming to close down the publication. In the veil of fighting for the benefits for the laborers in the printing press and circulation department, the Maoist unions are primarily aiming to stop the newspaper from being published. They tried to create problem in the APCA, the publisher of the Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post, a few weeks ago. They tried to stop the publication of Kantipur and the Kathmandu Post a few days ago. Because of their protest, Nepal Samacharpatra daily wasn’t published a few days ago (and the paper hasn’t appeared on the newsstands since yesterday).
I am a reporter, not an agent of publishers. Some readers might find me kind to publishers but that is because I denounce the protestors’ intention to close down the publication and support a newspaper’s right to get published at any cost. I support anyone who comes with genuine demands and puts them forward responsibly. When you are working for media, you must understand its nature. A newspaper company is not like a beer factory. Publishing newspaper is not like manufacturing biscuits. You can not just announce that you are going to stop the publication of a newspaper just because you claim that the management is not listening to your voice. You should make your voice louder.
A few days ago, reporters in Kantipur Publications clearly stood against such intention of agitating laborers of the printing press, hawker/cycle boys and marketing department. While we supported some of their demand to create a branch of a Maoist affiliated trade union, we strongly opposed their call to stop working so that the paper wouldn’t be available on market the next day. To stop the publication would mean acting against the freedom of expression and public’s right to information. [The slogan of Kantipur is Your Right to Information.]
“How can you even say that?” reporters protested. “On which moral ground do you raise of voice to open the trade union in the office when you destroy the paper itself? What about our responsibility to readers? Even king Gyanendra couldn’t close this newspaper and now you, the employees of the newspaper, trying to stop it from being published?”
Of course, very few in the world, more so in a country like Nepal, are satisfied with their job. Also the tension between workers and owners is not a new phenomenon. But what’s the use of protest when you are harming your own office? In all these protests, the unwanted infiltration of the Maoist is clearly seen and felt. Their leaders are striking via speeches and their unions are trying to create instability by exploiting the worker’s desire to get better payment and facilities. The Maoists should understand that, though very young compared to the world journalism, Nepali media have gone through variety of tough tests and their effort to intimidate the critical journalism will be proved to be futile.
I was also in the office that day and the newsroom team worked hard and smart to bring out eight pages (regular its 12) of Kantipur without display ads (usually Kantipur prints a lot of advertisements). The good news of the day was that the agitating workers also resumed their work on the last minute as the papers were about to go through the printing press. The Team Kantipur spirit, at last, prevailed.
Unfortunately, the same is not happening in Kamana Prakashan Samuha and Maoist party must take responsibility if it has any morality. Here I reproduce an editorial published today in the Kathmandu Post about the closure of Nepal Samacharpatra:
Nepal Samacharpatra, a national daily, has suspended its publication for the time being since Wednesday (June 20). Its sister publication- Mahanagar- was closed on Tuesday itself. The management of these newspapers has said it was forced to take the harsh decision following the obstructions by the hawkers. This is for the first time that a mainstream national daily has gone out of operation due to rift between the workers and the management. Since continuity is the credibility of a newspaper, this disruption is a huge blow not only to Samacharpatra but also to the free media in Nepal. Even during the draconian rule of King Gyanendra, which tried to gag the independent media, no daily newspaper went out of print for a single day. The closure of Samacharpatra should, therefore, be taken seriously by the media fraternity, civil society and the political parties.
The circumstance under which these two newspapers have been forced to shut down is dubious. Samacharpatra had outsourced its distribution to Customers Solution Pvt Limited. The hawkers, who were actually employees of Customers Solution, created obstructions demanding formation of a trade union in Kamana Prakashan Samuha, the publisher of Samacharpatra. Trade union is the right of employees ensured by the law and no management can – and should – try to trample the right of the workers. But how come the employees of one company demand to form a trade union in another company?
The fact that the hawkers are trying to form All Nepal Communication Press and Publications Trade Union, which is affiliated to CPN (Maoist), raises many questions. Is this the tactic of the Maoists to arm-twist the independent media? Are they trying to send a message to the independent media houses that criticism against them will invite dire consequences? Are the Maoists, who have faced the wrath of the media in recent days, making a strategic but indirect move, to cow them into submission?
Minister for Information and Communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara’s comment that “it is an issue to be sorted out between the management and the workers” lends credence to the suspicion that it could be a tactical move of the Maoists. Any media house or an industry is obliged to talk and negotiate with its workers but not with someone who are not even its employees. So, the obstruction by hawkers at Kamana Prakashan is not an issue between the management and the employees. If the Maoists think that they can silence growing media criticism against them by encouraging their trade union to take on the media, this is a strategy completely wrong-headed and could be counter-productive in the long run. The Maoists should not forget that Nepal’s media has already demonstrated adequate fighting spirit to defend its freedom.