Some journalists define racy, juicy intrigues, salacious scandals, torrid affairs of the amorous kind, pernicious wheeling-dealing and anything out of the ordinary as ingredients of "sexy" news. For most journalists, anything with a potential to interest their audiences is to be chased in all its facets.
The question of women’s participation for empowerment is something that is paid lip service more than putting it into practice in Nepal. The media sector is not an exception. As is the case with almost all other sectors, the mass media industry and related professional organisations lag behind in what they seem to say and what they actually perform.
Less than 80 of the 1,319 delegates to the 23rd general meeting of the Federation of Nepali Journalists were women. This turns out to be 5.5 per cent of the total delegates. Moreover, 44 of the represented districts were not represented by any woman delegate. In the Kathmandu Valley, Bhaktapur drew a blank as far as women’s participation was concerned. Rolpa and Rukum, often described as the fount of the Maoist movement in Nepal, did not send any woman delegate to the general convention.
As for institutional branches, only one broadsheet daily newspaper from the Kathmandu Valley included a woman in its delegation to the convention. Kantipur publications had two women - one from Kantipur daily and the other from Nepal weekly magazine - in its 19-member squad. Organisations bringing out the Gorkhapatra, The Rising Nepal, Nagarik, Republica, Annapurna Post, The Himalayan Times, Nepal Samacharpatra, Rajdhani, Naya Patrika, Karobar and Himalaya Times sent all-male teams.
Of the 10 nominees of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, only one was a woman - and all of them residing in the Kathmandu Valley, and all but one belonging to the Brahmin-Chhetri castes. The five "Foreign Branches", too, were represented by only males. Solukhumbu presented a very positive message by sending a team with women holding the majority. A record four delegates in the six-member team were women.
Recalling that Nepal’s first women’s magazine Mahila was launched in 1951, with Sadhana Pradhan and Kamakshya Devi as its editors, it is regrettable that Nepali women half a century later are yet to make a strong presence in terms of responsibilities given and roles played. They have not been able to make a major leap to news writing. Broadcast media operators are focussing on them only as a source of attracting listeners largely for their voice and commercial advertisement.
As for their active participation, women scribes attribute the obstacles to media owners’ failure to entrust women journalists with more responsibilities and the latter’s lack of due interest "beyond just becoming presenters".
The media in Western countries do not raise such issues often and extensively whereas they devote a lot of time and space to, for instance, the poverty in North Korea and income gaps in China. The latter two countries have communist systems, and this gives ulcers to the capitalist world.
Governments charting out policies to address their concerns confront rival ideologies, but when the media, professing to be free and fair, show their ideological biases for so long, the situation calls for more critical watchdogs of the Fourth Estate.
Most media strategy is to maximise profits by attracting primarily the elite, the rich and the urban, which does not promote but narrow the free market of ideas. Consumer commoditisation for revenue is seen as the fuel that drives the media engine. Business biases lead to pandering to bottomless desires for delivering maximum numbers of audiences, thus frequently treating gossip and rumour as a staple for the media that, as a result, turn into scandal sheets or rumour-mills.
The centrality of audience, content and reach is sidelined. The motive of a media owner can compromise media principles in the absence of a committed, sovereign and bold editor to captain the information disseminating ship of a truly independent variety.
Emerging professional media are taunted and tempted into disseminating biased information. The mind and perception should be first rid of biases to allow the flow of unhindered information on and about all sections of society without any colouring or doctoring.
An inclusive forum is not forbidden to marginalised groups or to those holding opposing views. FM radio services in Nepal have spread significantly by way of their numbers, combined hours on air, collective presence and cheap radio sets. Of the slightly more than 330 FM radio stations on air, 60 per cent claim to be community radios, although the government has ignored defining what constitutes a community radio.
FM radio contents, however, leave considerable room for improvement to offer services effectively in terms of locally produced programmes that are relevant, in good volume and inclusive in terms of communities covered, information sources tapped and diversified topics invoked for prime time use. This is at least the case with programmes produced by radio networks in the Kathmandu Valley, often through the sponsorship and finance of INGOs.
In whose interests?
The reality is that most FM radio stations presently have news and current affairs programmes that are produced in the Kathmandu Valley aimed at prime times. Quite a few FM stations use wholesale contents produced by four or five broadcast networks headquartered in the valley. This goes against the spirit of promoting local issues and local talents. For prime time is to the broadcast media what the front page is to newspapers and cover story for magazines and other periodicals.
Many programmes for broadcasting are produced with NGO or INGO funding, although the sponsorship is not always mentioned. The problem has infected not just the commercial broadcasts but services claiming to be a community radio.
At 111 years, the Gorkhapatra, at best, reaches on the same day of its publication in about 50 districts, and by the next day in more than 20 districts. Bajura and Achham do not receive any daily papers for days. The story of most other newspapers is not much different.
Kathmandu is one of the densest media capitals in the world. It accounts for more than a tenth of all the radio stations in the country and most "national" newspapers - dailies and weeklies - are published in the capital. Bulk of the news publications categorised as regular by Press Council Nepal originate in the Kathmandu Valley. The situation needs to be corrected so that public access to the mass media is easier and speedier while also ensuring that contents and their producers along with information sources are inclusive.