In a country where the bulk of the population–nearly 83 percent–lives in rural areas and there is a growing disconnect between urban and rural areas, it is the responsibility of the mainstream media to try and bridge this gap instead of further perpetuating it. The print media in Nepal is getting increasingly influential in the policy making, political and academic arenas–a trend witnessed across South Asia. However, does the coverage in the medium facilitate the cause of rural Nepal or does it tend to neglect ground realities as well as distress issues in rural areas?
According to a recent study (yet to be published) conducted for Martin Chautari on ‘rural reporting in mainstream English print media in Nepal’, the media has continued “to remain Kathmandu-centric when it comes to reports highlighting broader trends, big picture stories or policy initiatives or gaps in rural areas.” The study, based on a sample of four English newspapers across three months (January-March, 2012) claims these newspapers had just two stories from rural areas on an average each day, and even these stories where largely event oriented and triggered by specific incidents, instead of reflecting existing trends and patterns and highlighting the larger framework and policy context. While this study is specifically about the English print media, rural coverage in vernacular media isn’t much better either.
The media is nothing but a reflection of the society; it is perhaps as good or as bad as the society itself. Hence, in a society where politics happens to be the constant state of mind and where urban and immediate issues dominate the thinking minds, the media merely reflects this urban-rural dichotomy. This justification, however, cannot be good enough. The media, with its power of outreach and ability to disseminate information to a wide audience, cannot hide behind the veil of common social attitudes. It has a greater role, a more enhanced responsibility than the common man, particularly in a developing society that is at the brink of drawing up its future course and needs the media’s inputs and insight in doing so.
The media in Nepal, unfortunately, has failed to play the role of this catalyst, as is evident by its poor rural reportage. In India, barring a few stalwarts, rural reporting remained largely a neglected journalistic territory for the longest time. However, the introduction of the marquee job guarantee scheme with a massive budget allocation and tremendous political and electoral impact (over Rs 400 billion at one point) changed the dynamic. When reporters started visiting villages to cover this scheme, they began spotting other trends and thus, began a new, relatively more vibrant phase of rural reporting.
In Nepal, however, any such awakening is yet to happen. The media is missing out on key areas and from purely journalistic interests, a gamut of stories. Rural issues are one such category. Other areas like the Right to Information Act, that has now been in place for five years, is also yet to be explored as a journalistic tool and as an instrument of extracting crucial information by journalists. The media across the world where freedom of information exists as legislation has made effective use of its mandate.
Journalists in Nepal need to up their ante and be more responsive to and responsible towards society. But in the media, it is usually a top down approach that determines things and not bottom up. Perhaps, the leadership teams of Nepali media have some thinking to do