all the news you should print

a sabbatical rest, day 101

Most days I read the English version of three Nepali newspapers. It’s a way to understand more about the culture, and to sort out the complicated politics. This is important because it affects the work I hope to do here as a consultant on journalism education.

The newspapers are full-size broadsheets, and today, like most days, their lengths are 8-10 pages each. I also read the international version of the New York Times, which is about twice as big. I wouldn’t have to read the Times to find out what is going on at home, however; the Nepali papers also cover regional (think Myanmar currently or India and China always) as well as European and American stories. I have all four of these papers delivered to my apartment for less than $5 USD per month.

I read today, for example, that Dolly Parton’s uncle died. Not only that, but I can find out about the social media habits of Indian film celebrities. Lots of news about football—that’s soccer in this part of the world. I saw a piece about jobless claims in the US. The three papers vary in the mix of Nepali vs International news, but Modi—the prime minister of India—got his second vaccine shot yesterday. If you need to know.

Reading an English newspaper is of course a sort of elite activity. In one of the world’s poorest nations, I doubt if many people can indulge in such activity. I can’t yet figure out what is being covered in the Nepali newspapers either, except perhaps for the pictures. They tend to be the same pictures, so I expect they are covering the same news. All news is local, which would suggest they are covering Nepali news, and particularly political news, with a little more passion than the English papers.

This is probably the case since rajneeti, literally the “king’s business,” dominates the front page of the English papers as well. I’m not yet ready to write about Nepali politics, although I’m learning a lot about it. Nor can I address the geopolitical influences at play, although in some future posts I will try. My purpose here is to describe the differences between the three Nepali papers I read, and offer some very limited observations.

Rising Nepal. Tagline: All be happy, all be well

Rising Nepal is the government paper, which is easy to tell since every ribbon the prime minister cuts or speech he gives is featured on the front page. He appears to be in full election mode and takes credit for any good news. The paper often reads like a collection of press releases, although I’ve learned more about Nepali history and culture through their Friday feature articles than through the other papers. Despite its clear political leanings, I’ve found the editorial page sometimes allows (mild) criticism of government policies. (It would be hard to overlook some shortcomings). The reporting itself often lacks context. For example, they reported the results of the election by journalists for officers in the Nepal Journalism Federation as of press time, but with no indication of union or political affiliations or issues involved.

The Kathmandu Post. Tagline: Without fear or favor

The Kathmandu Post provides a lot more context, although with some political bias. The context is helpful; background and analysis, broader perspectives, and a little more about trends. There was an article today about the sources of foreign aid in Nepal, with a helpful chart. (At $2 billion last year, aid accounts for 23% of the national budget.) I love the feature photos, and the paper itself is well-designed and inviting. There is a bias, although I may not be able to tell you what it is. My guess is that it is affiliated with the opposition party. I’m sure my colleagues will inform me if I’m wrong. Their front-page coverage of the journalist election did not report the incomplete results but did cover the political affiliations at play, and the concerns of various experts and candidates.

The Himalayan Times. Tagline: Nepal’s #1 English Daily

Then there is The Himalayan Times, which strikes me as more neutral, although that is probably impossible in this political climate. They didn’t cover the election of journalists at all, perhaps (wisely) waiting until the results are final. Politics and the number of Covid-19 cases were front-page news, as they typically are in all the newspapers. But they had a story about a Nepali ninth-grader in Texas who had correctly pointed out their geography textbook incorrectly identified Nepal as a former British colony (it wasn’t) and placed Nepali in a Sino-Tibetan language family (it isn’t). Good for her. The publisher is going to change the textbook.

This may all seem a little esoteric, but it has practical implications for an emerging democracy. And for me. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Journalists here are members of unions, which are affiliated with political parties. This makes an independent press virtually impossible since the parties provide the funds and resources for the election of journalists to leadership in constitutionally mandated organizations that provide oversight.
  2. The media, even the private media, is subsidized, so politics has undue influence on the press. This is not just in the government newspaper or broadcast outlets; this has a dampening effect on both opinion and reporting more generally. This means the press here cannot fully cover the extent of corruption (remember that $2 billion, for example) in any fully professional or comprehensive way.
  3. This also affects journalism education, my chief interest, since faculty have to navigate the political affiliations of both students, who have been involved in party politics since high school, and administrators, who are often political appointees. They have their own affiliations, too.
  4. In addition to the political pressures, there are historical, economic, and cultural influences as well. While the country is figuring out what it means to be a democracy, it is also figuring out how to be less autocratic and embrace human rights in areas of caste, gender, etc. Journalists are themselves living in a complex cultural transition, which affects how they think and write.

So am I. I’ve come as a consultant, hoping to facilitate conversations about journalism education, but right now I feel I have more to learn than to teach. There are no easy answers and little that I know or understand is directly transferrable.

Perhaps, however, there are better questions to ask. Good questions can be clarifying, and I’ve always thought communication education involves teaching students to ask better questions and tell better stories.

It’s a place to start. Even for me.

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