Note: This post originally appeared at FutureChallenges.org, April 2011.
Nepali Citizen Media: Rising Influence but Growing Pains Remain
Monday, April 11. At Twitter, Nepali blogger Rabindra Rijal complained that a news site was stealing his blog posts and sharing them without any credit or attribution link. He had previously expressed concerns about bloggers lifting songs from his blog and posting them as their own.
This week, while working on my project, I discovered a number of bloggers lifting up entire articles from mainstream sources and sharing them as their own without any credit or attribution.
Nepal’s blogsphere and citizen driven media is growing in size and influence but it still faces significant hurdles. Most noticeably, it is the lack of understanding on intellectual property rights and what constitutes fair use; and also absence of dialog on privacy rights of a user.
Citizen Media and Governance
For past couple of months, Nepal has been rocked by one scandal after another. While the mainstream media has covered these scandals, many have expressed frustration that the coverage has not been entirely free and in some occasion important facts have been omitted.
For instance, in covering Finance Secretary Rameshwor Khanal’s resignation and allegation of corruption with the Finance Ministry, mainstream newspaper Kantipur did not discuss two important issues which raised doubts over the paper’s independence. First one being conflict of interest situation created by industrialist Binod Chaudhary who is also Constituent Assembly member representing the ruling party and has close relationship with the Finance Minister. Secretary Khanal was reportedly investigating his company, along with several others, regarding Value Added Tax (VAT) fraud.
Kantipur provided Chaudhary space to refute allegations against his business, but did not publish the other side of the story.
Second grave omission by Kantipur was that while covering the scandal, their series of reports never really touched on serious allegations of misconduct and corruption within the Finance Ministry. They focused just on the Finance Secretary, who is well-known among civil servants for his exemplary work ethic and tough attitude towards corruption, and his disagreement with the Minister. All the while it was clear that without delving into the allegations of misdeeds within the Finance Ministry, any discussion on the Secretary’s resignation does not make much sense.
This serious lapse in judgement committed by Kantipur-Nepal’s largest circulating newspaper, shows that mainstream media has its limitations. But, for good governance, citizen’s have to have access to un-biased reporting and facts.
Nepal’s growing citizen media has the potential to fill this gap. MySansar, Nepali language blog, ran number of reports on the Finance Ministry scandal, which provided an alternate view and also included some facts missed or omitted by the mainstream media.
As I mentioned earlier, Nepali citizen media faces number of hurdles and without overcoming those, it will not be able to live to its promises.
Intellectual property rights is still an issue with limited audience in Nepal. There have been handful of instances where musicians, song writers and directors have come forward publicly and revealed that their work is being plagiarized or that they are not receiving their royalty. unfortunately, due to lax implementation of copyright laws and lack of awareness among the people about intellectual property, very few have received compensation. It is unfortunate that some well-known radio and television networks are behind in paying royalty to singers and song writers.
The world of online media is still a vast unknown to larger Nepali audience, and there are no laws specifically dealing with online intellectual property and plagiarism. Citizen media and bloggers thus are not protected. There are a number of websites openly copying work and giving credit to the author. The problem is especially chronic among forum and social networking users.
For instance this particular forum user has posted a popular op-ed from mainstream media site, without any credit or link. It may not be a deliberate attempt to plagiarize, but actions like this definitely hurt authenticity of Nepali citizen media.
privacy is another sticky subject for bloggers. Just like the absence of laws regarding online intellectual property rights, online privacy laws are also lacking in Nepal.
There is no clear understanding of what is legal and what is not when it comes to using data collected from the users, writers and those who post comments on blogs. A recent incident, where some internet service providers were forced to provide user data to the police to help investigate a criminal case, raised serious questions about privacy and data security.
Following the Finance Secretary scandal, some bloggers gathered at Twitter and are now organizing campaign to create better working environment for civil servants. Twitter is also being used by a group to fundraise for social causes. At Facebook, there are number of groups promoting Nepal, its culture and music; and there are some demanding action against corruption. Various blogs have popped up, where literature is discussed as passionately as politics and racism.
Citizen media in Nepal can fill the gap created by mainstream media by being pro-people and not being co-opted by corporate interest. It can be an asset to the public in furthering good governance and empowering the mass through information. But to fulfill the promise, the basics have to be fixed first- ensure user privacy and honor intellectual property rights.