In the current political transition in Nepal, the term ‘power’ has become supremely significant in all spheres—from the individual level to the overall polity and society. There has always been some kind of struggle in Nepal in the name of power and currently, multiple power wranglings seem to have engulfed Nepal’s polity. To maintain peace, power is necessary but political parties are way too busy squabbling among themselves to wield any effective power.
As a result, the invisible power of the media today seems stronger than legal and administrative power; the media has worked as a watchdog and helped in maintaining discipline in the society in this governance void. What would the state look like without the media? Can the government single-handedly control corruption and other ills prevalent in the society, without the help of the media?
Looking at the society anthropologically, the role of media is imperative in keeping a check on societies. It can be said that the media has helped in controlling corruption as well as instilling some sense of discipline and propriety. The media is prevalent everywhere, as the gaze which is constantly examining and scanning all that is happening around us. It produces a state of consciousness through the automatic implementation of power.
Power tussles among countries, political parties and communities are becoming more pronounced by the day. The power for which they fight is coercive, direct and visible. However, coercive power is not the need of this era. The media’s power, on the other hand, is subtle and invisible. The media has, in fact, compensated for the absence of a strong law and state authority in many cases.
According to philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, power exists everywhere as it circulates in multiple directions. In the modern society, media has played an influential role in several respects. For example, sometimes the fear of the media and its impact makes corrupt bureaucrats wary of accepting bribe. It could be argued that political leaders are also afraid of being watched by the media and they try to work in tune with the country’s rules and regulation not only to follow the law, but also to avoid inviting unfavorable media gaze.
Sometimes, the media works more effectively than the law of the country and in some sense, it could be said that political leaders seem more afraid of the media than laws. It has, in fact, governed us in such a way that its governing power seems far more effective than that of the government.
Media has been able to exercise this control over people and inspire faith because many of us rely on it as a reliable source of information, and as a just and impartial means of disseminating knowledge. Applying Foucault’s point here, the power of the media forms the centre of the society and works in a capillary form.
However, often those who control the media are guided by economic interests, and their main aim is earning profits rather than disseminating valid and accurate information. According to German sociologist Jürgen Habermas, “media are related to the sociology of business enterprise”. Those who control the media in Nepal seem to be interlinked with the corporate as well as political sectors in some way. Their main interest often is to reap various benefits by manipulating the public through clever use of language, ideology, images and pictures.
Political scientist Thomas Ferguson argues that the mainstream media is controlled by large profit-maximizing investors, and they do not encourage the media to disseminate news. Sometimes, the investor group may hold some resentment towards the government regarding tax laws and other business policies, and there could be a chance of them misusing the media house they control to seek revenge from the government. Some individuals who own media enterprises may even have political affiliations and other business interests, thus influencing their coverage.
For a robust democracy and for effective governance, the media should function as a watchdog of the government and political parties; and in a democracy, people should have the right to know absolute truths about the government’s activities and decisions, which is where the media ought to step in. Media is one of the four essential pillars of democracy.
Nepal is in the process of state restructuring, and is now undergoing a unique political transition. During this rather unstable political situation in Nepal, the Nepali media has a responsibility towards helping the government complete the peace process and in fostering good governance. It should play a catalytic role to lead the peace process towards a logical end by monitoring the activities of political leaders closely.
The people of Nepal have great expectations from the media and therefore, it has a tremendous task of establishing a culture of democracy and freedom, and disciplining the political leadership and society at large by continuous monitoring, even in the absence of a state authority.