Nepali Bloggers Breaking New Grounds

Libertarian-ism. You don’t hear this ism in Nepal that often. Political discussions in the country are largely tussle between liberal, centrist,or conservative bend. Nowadays xenophobic right wing tilt is also visible-because of regional and cultural shifts.

Surath Giri’s blog looks at Libertarianism through Nepali lens. Posts on  flat tax system, Nepali capitalism “Whatever little degree of capitalism Nepal has practiced so far has been riddled with practices of crony capitalism. The majority of the wealthy class of Nepal were either born rich or became so by political and bureaucratic connections. Why do few business houses thrive whereas majority of the populace languishes in poverty? Why do few industrialists dominate the economy? Not because they provide quality goods and services to satisfy the customers but because they happen to have political and bureaucratic connections.”, youth unemployment and the Occupy Wall Street movement are interesting.

While the merits of libertarian-ism versus liberal or conservative form of government is wide open and not settled, Giri does pushes new way of looking at things in Nepal. It has not caught on because let’s be honest, the idea of self-reliance and small government is not  attractive in Nepali context. Mainstream media has largely ignored this school of thought.

Ushaft’s blog is the Nepali media watchdog (I so hope one day our news/media organizations will have an ombudsman), until then this blog what we have. His (??) posts on press release journalism, and the outrageous child trafficking case criticize the media culture and corruption within-something the fraternity has been unable to do for a long time.

The two blogs are pushing new ideas, reaction from the media establishment is non existent. Shows that the old guard is too set in its way or is there a communication gap which if bridged could resolve the disconnect?

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Challenges Facing Nepali Citizen Media

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.

About a week earlier, an article posted at influential blog MySansar created quite a storm of debate among Nepali bloggers. Umesh Shrestha, who writes under screen name Salokya, had publicly posted email and IP address of commentators who did not agree with his view. Some cried foul, calling him move against privacy of the commentators; he has now promised to have privacy policy for the site.

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.

Overcoming Hurdles

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.
Towards Strength
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.

Sources

http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=29719

http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=5716

http://nepalnepal.com/community/blogs/entry/Nepali-Youth-Bulge

Nepali Media: Legal Aspect

Under the Interim Constitution of Nepal (2006),freedom of opinion and expression is guaranteed. Free press and right to information and right to privacy is also addressed:

15. Right Regarding Publication, Broadcasting and Press :
(1) No publication and broadcasting or printing of any news items, editorial, article, writings or other readings, audio-visual materials, by any means including electronic publication, broadcasting and press, shall be censored. Provided that nothing shall be deemed to prevent the making of laws to impose reasonable restrictions on any act which may undermine the sovereignty or integrity of Nepal, or which may jeopardise the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes or communities; or on any act of sedition, defamation, contempt of court or incitement to an offence; or on any act which may be contrary to decent public behaviour or morality.
(2) No radio, television, online or any other types of digital or electronic means, press or any other communication media shall be closed, seized or be cancelled the registration because of publishing and broadcasting or printing any material by such means of audio, audio-visual or electronic equipments.
(3) No newspaper, periodical or press shall be closed, seized or be cancelled the registration for printing and publishing any news items, articles, editorial, writings or other reading materials.
(4) No communication means including press, electronic broadcasting and telephone shall be obstructed except in accordance with law.
27. Right to Information :
(1) Every citizen shall have the right to demand or obtain information on any matters of his/her own or of public importance. Provided that nothing shall compel any person to provide information on any matter about which secrecy is to be maintained by law.
28. Right to Privacy : 
(1) Except on the circumstance as provided by law, the privacy of the person, residence, property, document, statistics, correspondence and character of anyone is inviolable.

As we can see, the Constitution bars censorship-except under special circumstances (national sovereignty, communal harmony, defamation, sedation etc). But that does not mean it is a smooth sailing in Nepal.

Hindi movie Delhi Belly faced Nepal’s film censor board and several screenings were cancelled on grounds of obscenity. And last year, the country’s media authorities raised eyebrows when they put Huffington Post on the list of banned websites (turned out to be a huge misunderstanding, they actually wanted to band sex/porn related sites).

Although compared to some of its neighbors, Nepali government is not actively involved in censoring materials, slip-ups do happen and they show that the it is still a long road ahead for a truly free media culture  take hold.

Government’s apparent absence may be because political activists and caders do much of the dirty work for their party and the establishment to silence opposition.

Violence and threats have pushed many to embrace self censorship. Bhuwan Sharma reports at IPS,

“While many are used to violence never being too far away from their work, especially at the height of the 10-year Maoist insurgency, what worries journalists is the fact the culprits behind these attacks are almost always never apprehended.

Already, fear has driven the staff of ‘Janakpur Today’ newspaper, the chairman of whose publishing group was killed by unidentified gunmen on Mar. 1, to finish work as early as they can and leave the office by 6 p.m. before nightfall, says Ajit Tiwari, a journalist who reports from the eastern plains of Nepal. “

Nepal’s ranks 119th out of 178 in 2010 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom index. From the summary of the report at Nepal Monitor,

“RSF says that that after an apparent improvement in the situation in 2010, political instability and an increase in activity by several political parties and armed groups are threatening media freedom and the safety of journalists, especially in the districts.

“Some political leaders are providing political protection to people who are threatening and attacking journalists and media,” Reportaers Without Borders said. “This encourages a climate of impunity that is endangering all the achievements of previous months regarding press freedom.”

Impunity and lack of leadership-are often repeated when discussing threats to Nepal’s budding media, and yet successive governments have failed to address the issues properly.

For citizen journalists, facing adversity is even tougher because they do not have an organization(employer) supporting them and the current press laws are not very clear on protections a citizen journalist has.

For suggestions on safety for citizen journalists, here are some posts:

http://ijnet.org/stories/ten-tips-citizen-journalists-cairos-tweet-nadwa

http://gizmodo.com/5853582/how-to-be-a-citizen-journalist-without-getting-killed

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/demotix/4903493/Safety_and_Citizen_Journalism/

Citizen Media Resources

Your Guide to Citizen Journalism : MediaShift at PBS, by  Mark Glaser

“The idea behind citizen journalism is that people without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media on their own or in collaboration with others. For example, you might write about a city council meeting on your blog or in an online forum. Or you could fact-check a newspaper article from the mainstream media and point out factual errors or bias on your blog. Or you might snap a digital photo of a newsworthy event happening in your town and post it online. Or you might videotape a similar event and post it on a site such as YouTube.”

The 11 Layers of Citizen Journalism: Poynter, by Steve Outing

DIGITAL MEDIA ETHICS : University of Wisconsin-Madison, by Stephen J.A. Ward

The ethical and real hazards of citizen journalism: London School of Economics, by  Charlie Beckett

Citizen Jane, and Other Volunteer Journalists: Why Do They Do It? : HuffPo, by Laura Paull

The New Age of Citizen Journalism: Columbia Journalism Review (Audio)

Hyper Local News Sites in Nepal

Nepal’s current mainstream media landscape geared more towards reporting political, entertainment and social news and analysis. Focus on the macro level issues has meant local stories get relegated to couple of lines in the inside pages-unless they fit the breaking news category.

Growth of citizen media/social networking/blogging is pushing local issues into the national and international arena.Collaborative sites like Mero Report are an important part of highlighting the local issues, especially since it has a bilingual (Nepali and English) approach and encourages posts in regional languages too.

Facebook and Twitter also play important role in facilitating discussion on local community level issues. This Facebook page on the indigenous people of Nepal, and they also have an active Twitter account.

Using regional languages makes hyper local sites accessible to many who would have been left out otherwise. The national media-especially print media’s  attitude towards regional languages has contributed to the information gap in the country and it has also alienated those who do not have working knowledge of English or Nepali.It is strange that there so much being invested towards English language journalism and yet local languages are completely ignored.

This Facebook page is on Newa issues and most of the posts are in Nepal bhasa. They also tweet in Nepal bhasa @newa_issues. Similar efforts are needed to strengthen reporting and exchanges in other regional languages, for instance Bhojpuri, Maithali, and Tamang.

Earlier we discussed how a “Huffington Post” for Nepali blogs could help energize and publicize citizen media in the country. Adding hyper local news initiatives to the mix could really widen the horizon for Nepali citizen media.

List of Nepal (includes diaspora) focused Hyper local news sites

Last updated  Dec 13,2011  11:20 PM(EST)

Citizen Media in Nepal: A Look Back

Back in 2007, Citizen Journalism in Nepal was still a vague fad. An excerpt from my piece for Toward Freedom magazine (27-11-2007)

After the April 2006 revolution, which saw the Nepalese King lose most of his powers and reduced to a strictly ceremonial figure, Nepali web focused citizen journalism has seen a rapid growth. According to WebLali, a roughly compiled directory of Nepali blogs and Blogger, there are about 200-300 blogs on various topics ranging from politics to aviation and tourism. The number seems insignificant, but in the Nepali context it is big achievement. Consider this: based on 2006 data, there are only 249,400 internet users in the country and GDP-per capita is $15,000. Only 48% of the population is literate.

Present scene looks encouraging, but citizen journalism in Nepal is still in its infancy and faces many problems. These challenges include the country’s troublesome record on press freedom, a rise in attacks against journalists and activists, ethnic tensions and financial constraints.

In early November of 2007, journalist Birendra Shah was kidnapped; his whereabouts remained unknown for about a month. Later the Maoists guerrillas admitted to the kidnapping and murder. Although the reasons remain unclear, it is widely speculated that Shah was killed because he was working on a story linking Maoists to cross-border smuggling. In June, Reporters Without Borders published a report saying that 72 journalists were attacked or threatened by armed groups including the Maoists since the beginning of this year.

In last four years, blogging, social networks, video sharing platforms and online forums have pushed Nepali  media into a new era-where citizen input is getting recognized and reader engagement and interaction is encouraged.

Major news websites-Kantipur, Republica, Nagarik, Nepali Times, The Himalayan Times, all are making an effort to structure their presentation to attract more reader participation and contribution from bloggers. Compared to international media outlets, the push is weak, but the shift in attitude cannot be ignored.

For instance, the landing page for Kantipur has a discussion section, link to their Facebook and Twitter page, and the articles come with a “social media bar” which makes sharing easy.

In addition to making the media more interactive and responsive, social media is also responsible for the growth in Nepal’s citizen media. They act as an amplifier-strengthening voice of a concerned citizen, and sometimes as a bridge to connect a citizen journalist and the media.

Bloggers /citizen reporters are part of  mainstream media outlets like Republica, and The Nepali Times-although for most part, they are limited to opinion/personal story journalism.

Blogs like Mysansar and Meroreport ( citizen media collective) have successfully established themselves as sources, thereby creating new roles for citizen journalists and breaking out of the usual opinion, rant pigeon-hole.

Meroreport has also introduced hyper-local citizen media; where local stories, most likely to be ignored by the national media is featured. With bilingual approach (Nepali and English, but Nepali certainly dominates) they have managed to move beyond urban areas and expand their readership and contributor base.

Mysansar on the other hand has evolved into mini media, with its share of corruption and human trafficking expose and huge following.

Bloggers  as part of mainstream journalism and blogs emerging as trusted new source-the scenario presented above is very positive and encouraging, however, it is also misleading.

For all the success earned by MySansar and Meroreport, there are bloggers who don’t see any problem plagiarizing content. (Previous posts on content piracy and copyrights:

https://bhumikasa.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/on-digital-rights-and-piracy/

https://bhumikasa.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/digital-securityprivacy-and-copyrights/ )

and there are regulators and individuals who don’t respect free speech and free expression rights-as exhibited by the Press Council’s overreach on MySansar-Chaudhary Group bullying scandal.

Citizen media landscape in 2007 was vague and uncertain. In 2011, although much has been achieved, the base is still weak-thanks to legal loopholes,  political uncertainty, and uneven standardization.

Mero Report Blogger of the Week: Fani Mahat

Fani Mahat is the Mero Report Blogger of the Week for June 22. Congratulations!

Resident of Rautahat, Mahat has been actively involved in journalism-print and broadcast, for last 7-8 years. He an engaged blogger too, actively supporting Mero Report.

Fani Mahat. Image via Mero Report, 2011.

Due to lack of proper infrastructure in Rautahat, Mahat was introduced to the cyber world and blogger not very long ago. He reminisces the days during Maoist led insurgency when the district didn’t even have proper telephone lines, and that was just 5-6 years back.

Mahat’s blog focuses on social issues and he appreciates the comments and feedback from readers. He sees a lot of opportunities for journalists in Nepal, provided they work on their professional capacity building and stay on the right side of the law and society.

On citizen journalism platforms like Mero Report and blogs, Mahat says that they are a great medium to share local information with a global audience and says that more Nepali journalists should join in.

Fani Mahat’s Mero Report profile can be viewed here.