In Conclusion..

Nepal Blogs is almost 2 years old. While a typical 2-year-old is loads of fun and countless frustrating moments, this blog has been a completely fun project and I have no complaints.

During December we focused on Nepali Citizen Media and the challenges faced by citizen journalists and bloggers. Lack of respect for free speech and underdeveloped culture of accepting and welcoming healthy debate and critique stands as the biggest challenged for Nepali journalists. Same is also true for citizen media.

Technical hurdles, legal issues and financial constraints-they are all tertiary. As long as the culture stays polluted, problems will persist.

It is very encouraging to see that in spite of all the hurdles Nepali mainstream and citizen media is growing and breaking new grounds. From a blog on Libertarianism to the technology, culture, fashion, personal and political blogs; Nepali blogosphere is  vibrant and improving (content quality and technology wise).When I started a blogger of Global Voices (in 2008), I never thought that this day would come so soon.

I consider myself part of this movement ( lucky to be) for better communication, giving voice to the ignored issues and creating an alternate platform for public discussion.

I am taking the liberty to push my luck little further. Nepal Blogs is going on permanent hiatus. No, don’t be relieved (not so fast!). I will be around, but this time it will be about result oriented projects and activism, and limited blogging.

Please follow my twitter feed @bhumikaghimire for updates.

Thank you for your support and encouragement. Happy New Year 2012.

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?

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)

Nepali Citizen Media and Bloggers’ Code of Ethics

We were discussing Nepali mainstream media and the ethics lapses that hurt the profession and its standing in the society; and focused on active politicization of media and ignoring conflict of interest situations.

With regards to the citizen media, there haven’t been many (publicized) incidents of ethical lapses, but that does not mean the problem does not exist.

For instance, back in April, a misstep by Mysansar raised questions regarding user privacy.

“Regarding the ongoing scandal at the Finance Ministry and alleged involvement of prominent industrialist Binod Chaudhary in the forced resignation of Finance Secretary Rameshwor Khanal, Mysansar has this post:

http://www.mysansar.com/archives/2011/04/id/18122

It is a good post. At least they are asking questions mainstream media is avoiding but there is a problem.

In the post, they have published IP address and email of commentators who it seems have sent comments supporting Chaudhary and questioning Mysansar’s intentions from Chaudhary Group’s computers.

Now, Mysansar does not have an explicit privacy policy for it’s users but publishing email and IP address of commentators you don’t agree with is certainly not a good practice. What worries me is that this sets a precedent for vendetta blogging rather than having a constructive dialog.

I request Mysansar to delete the email and IP addresses immediately and respect privacy of these users.

What do you say?”

Plagiarism also hurts Nepali blogosphere.

“At Twitter we had long discussion with Rabindra Rijal, who discovered that a new website has been stealing feeds and publishing articles without any attribution or links.

I visited a website-NepalNepal.com, and found, what I believed, was a talented writer. After reading three articles , it was clear she was lifting them from mainstream news sites and posting them without any credit or link.”

Literary and entertainment blogs and websites seem to be victimized more often.

Then there is the infamous “Twitter Kanda” or the Twitter scandal that rocked Nepali social media circles earlier this year.

“A user at twitter posts some unflattering comments about his boss. Next thing he knows, his comments are published in a national newspaper. He is not notified before the comment is published, and almost lost his job.

What do you think? Is it ok for a national newspaper to publish a tweet, publicly available and not protected, without notifying or seeking permission from the user?

Before you make up your mind, let me share some facts.

The national newspaper in question here is Kantipur Daily-Nepal’s largest circulating national daily. The tweet was published, along with couple of other randomly selected ones, in its Friday supplement  Hello Sukrabar.

Ashish Luitel, Kantipur reporter, who is behind this tweet sharing experiment, defended his action amidst avalanche of negative comments. At Twitter-where else? Nepali bloggers (including yours truly) called his action breach of privacy.

He responded that because the tweets were not protected and publicly viewable, there should be no expectation of privacy.

Well, I disagree. Yes, the tweets were publicly viewable but that does not imply that the user was ok granting a national newspaper rights to publish it and make it available to larger public. How many times have we griped about our bosses? if all of that were to be made public, no one in this world would have a job. Social media has extended the sphere of debate and also blurred the line between private and public. You post something at Facebook or Twitter, and if you are not careful, it comes back to haunt you.

User in this incident, should have kept his tweets private, if he expected privacy; but is he not allowed to be silly about his boss without being nationally ridiculed? Is the media so powerful and ever-present that even random acts of silliness now make it into national newspaper?

Also, for a publication like Kantipur, does it make any sense to pick random tweets and publish them-without approval from users or notifying them; when the tweets are just too random to make any sense?

The published tweets, are all over the place and don’t contribute anything to discussions now going on around the world or in Nepal. At Twitter, Nepali youth are organizing fund-raisers to help social causes, some are debating civil servants and their right to politics free work place. To ignore all that and to select few tweets that are not part of any coherent debate, just for the sake of it is pathetic waste of time and space.

Ashish Luitel was nice enough to answer his critics and present his side of the story, unfortunately his experiment of adding some “hip” stuff into boring sections of Hello Sukrabar by inserting random tweets shows the fickleness of Nepali media and is a sad testament to the fact how un-evolved they are on matters related to social media and privacy.”

Ethics hurdles facing Nepali citizen media can be broadly categorized as:

# Lines blurred by technology

#copyright, privacy, content ownership

#preserving standards

# and the need to re-define the interaction between the mainstream media

In an effort to strengthen Nepali blogosphere, a code of ethics was introduced (and signed by handful of bloggers present during the unveiling ceremony). There were some who opposed the move, unfortunately, and refused to sign. Although the code of ethics movement has slumped a bit, it is an important effort and hopefully will be revived soon.

 

Moving on, from ethics to the blogs-we will discuss Nepali language blogs tomorrow.

Nepali Media: Ethics and Integrity

Earlier, we were discussing hostile environment Nepali journalists and bloggers face. It would be a big omission to ignore the issue of journalistic ethics and integrity at this juncture because  apart from the troubling reality that often the attackers hype the ethics lapse to justify their acts;  it is important to keep the basics strong so that the media elicits respect and not suspicion or ridicule.

Case 1: BBC Nepali+Anti Corruption Campaign+Media Glare=Conflict of Interest

Couple of days back, I discussed this issue at my Facebook page, here I am sharing the post

“In Nepal, corruption is a deeply entrenched disease. Every sector is affected. Just released report from Transparency International ranks Nepal as the second most corrupt nation in South Asia, slightly better than war ravaged Afghanistan.

Stakes are high and inaction is not an option. We all agree on that. But do we also agree on how to fix this ill?

For couple of months now, anti-corruption campaign lead by journalist Rabindra Mishra and supported by many (including some high profile social celebrities), has been sloganeering against corruption. They have also been selling t-shirts with anti-corruption messages and engaging the public and government employees to stand up against corruption.

A noble deed and the campaign has my full support. I absolutely hate their tag line and the modus-operandi; but hey, you have to start somewhere.

However, I do have serious reservations regarding their structure.

Journalist Rabindra Mishra is a respected name in Nepali journalism. He is currently serving as the head of BBC Nepali and also leads a charity organization. His work, philanthropy wise and as a journalist, is much appreciated. But..

Yea..there is a BUT in this story…

As a head of a news organization, which by the way covers Nepal’s notorious corruption problem, is it ethical for him to lead a very public anti-corruption campaign?

We Nepalis raise up stink when a politically affiliated person is part of media establishment. His ideology will affect news coverage, we cry.

Isn’t this a similar scenario? Because of his involvement in an anti-corruption campaign, Mr Mishra has formulated certain views and understanding of the situation. When working as a journalist, those views can and will hinder him from providing free and fair coverage of corruption related matters.

Also, the campaign has brought him closer to the high and mighty of Nepali establishment. This proximity affects his news coverage, and his judgement. Thats the reason why many journalists skip White House functions, to stay away from those they cover.Because personal connections do not facilitate balanced views.

I see Mr Mishra’s involvement in the anti-corruption campaign as conflict of interest. His work, as a journalist and as an activist, are valuable but they cannot go together.”

 

Case 2: Politicial Activists Masquerading as Journalists= Unethical Journalism

In Nepali context, the principle of fair, balanced journalism has a different meaning; and sometimes that meaning is just a synonym for unethical practice.

Earlier this year, Binod Bhattarai at Republica commented on unethical practice of political activists masquerading as journalists,

“In less than two weeks, Nepal’s journalists will elect a new leadership at Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ). Unlike in the past years, the run to represent around 9,000 Nepali journalists is becoming more and more of a contest to watch. However, it is not just about who wins or loses; instead, it is more about how wide the partition among journalists will become by the time it is over.

I spoke to a potential candidate who was holding his chips close to the chest early this week. Having contested and lost in an earlier bid to become an office holder, this time he wanted to play his cards right by waiting for a green signal from one of the three main political parties (or their unions, rather) before entering the fray. Should that not happen, you will not hear of him. ‘‘It is impossible to win unless I get an endorsement from one of the three main unions that control the block votes,’’ he said. ‘‘Only then will the votes I may receive on my journalism credentials be meaningful.’’ Losing as an independent candidate earlier had taught him exactly what was needed to win.

Up until a few years ago, the ‘invisible hand’ that blessed candidates for FNJ leadership was obvious but far less apparent. That has changed. Some weeks ago, newspapers reported that CPN-UML leader Pradip Gyawali had camped at the Press Chautari convention (inaugurated by the prime minister) to endorse the selection of Shiva Gaule as its candidate. There are conflicting reports on what his exact involvement was for: Some say he was there to anoint the candidate, while others said, he chaperoned the entire process. “

This open involvement of political parties in journalist unions, and journalists openly flaunting their proximity to a party is troubling and downright unethical practice.

Lapses like these hurt Nepali journalism’s integrity and standing; and provide more ammunition to those who cannot stand free speech.

We will discuss the citizen media in this context tomorrow.