Dev Raj Dahal
Today's society is driven by knowledge and information. It is, therefore, key to empowerment of people. Mass media—television, press, radio and internet-- is a medium of communication between the political system and the people, the workers included. Both media and trade unions constitute a part of larger civil society. The rise of modern mass communication has expanded the "public sphere." Karl Deutsch calls communication "a nerve of the polity." Key properties of the political system—demands, conversion, decisions and feedback—become operational through media. The market economy cannot function in the absence of free flow of demand and supply of commodity, labor and essential goods informed by the media. Civil society makes solidarity with the larger social groups and workers through media. As a result, media is called a system of cybernetics—the science of communication, steering and social control which mirrors the entire health of the nation and human rights of citizens.
The role of media is central in making the inclusive state, democracy rooted in popular sovereignty and sustainable peace. In this context, it is important for the Nepalese media to keep the hope of workers alive and kicking by serving key roles in democracy consolidation. Truly independent media spread democratic ideology and play an important role in the stability of the democratic system. They signify public rationality and multi-voices of the workers in the articulation of their rights, demands, condition of work, wages, health and safety, and other provisions. But, media in Nepal are unevenly distribution like per capita income. Similarly, the digital divides have put blue collar workers, unorganized and dispossessed in the receiving end. Technological change largely favors skilled workers. Media must highlight this issue so that the divides between knowledge and manual workers does not destabilize the economy.
Since media constitute the prime channels of transmitting messages, Nepalese politics is increasingly articulated in the "communicative space." Media can contribute to ease the nation’s transition process by creating space for social justice, democratizing the public sphere and legitimizing trade union initiatives. These factors are essential to strengthen the integrative capacity of the political system and its external adaptability and open the workers’ mind to universal principles of democracy, human rights, core labor standards set by ILO and rule of law. But, the public functions of the media are largely contingent on their own framework of ownership, finance, autonomy, control and regulation.
In Nepal, mass media and organizational communication of unions shape the overall understanding of workers about industrial relations. A strong identification of workers with unions can provide greater motivation to engage in union goals and activities. The articulation of workers' agenda mirrors not only the ideological representation of society and but also the transformation of workers into citizens and human beings. Citizenship begins with the membership of the state; therefore, civic responsibility of the Nepali media requires their contribution to public opinion formation. The state has to sincerely implement Right to Information Act 2007 and Working Journalists Act 2007 as well as provide labor market information. In this process, the Nepalese media have to provide civic awareness to workers about changing nature of economy, equip them with participatory information and resources, stimulate active public engagement and foster meaningful dialogue and ownership of workers in the agenda-setting regarding their rights, laws, social security provisions and the dignity of work. Familiarization of workers with various ideas and issues provides them a greater measure of free will and self-confidence and enable them to use their own political choice.
Union Strategies for Effective Communication
One-way communication from city to rural areas increases social control
Information is power and effective utilization of information is a key to empowerment. Workers' capacity to exercise their constitutional, labor and human rights and form preference rest on basic knowledge and access to free flow of information. The Nepalese media mirror the public life of society and express words, concepts, images and sounds to communicate preferred degree of learning and behavioral change. The direct language they use for communication of the messages about workers' concerns can open employers and the government to workers’ legitimate concern. Union-friendly environment provides every worker autonomous power to deliberate and act without any historical and social constraints and enjoy their rights and privileges. In this context, mediation of interest between capital and labor through unions is necessary for industrial peace and development.
Public sphere projects competing centers of social interests
Judgment and opinion of the media can become valid only when they are socially and politically representative in character. This requires Nepalese media to use their imagination and thinking creatively about the victims of society including the workers. Obviously, by using reflective imagination and deliberating with workers they can bridge the gap between journalists' concepts and workers' world views, collectively engage in revealing the social truth as well as provide the workers rational choice. As a mutually reinforcing medium between the system and the life-world, independent media often contest the boundaries of socially constructed public and private realm for multi-classes of society and hierarchically shaped institutional order which puts workers in the rock bottom of social development. A responsible media can reform many irrational codes of society for freedom, equality, inclusion and peace, provide factual communication, exchange common convictions and generate mutual expectations about the policy-making.
Well-grounded public sphere fosters critical debates necessary for economic democracy
Formation of valid public opinion depends on critical bilateral and tripartite social dialogues about the conditions of workers, wage bargaining, globalization's impact, economic crisis, workers plight, ILO Core Labor Standards, gender issues, child labor, reform in labor act, health and safety of workers etc. Elimination of structural injustice can create a level playing field for all. Media should, therefore, debate about legitimate roles of the state, employers and workers and the rules of the game articulated in labor laws and business code of conduct. It has to take into account the long-term perspectives of all sides, the plurality of opinions and diversity of views and stimulate creative participation of workers in the achievement of common good.
Robust public sphere links passive workers into unions, solidarity and collective action
Ideally, public sphere of the media is regarded autonomous of the dominant interest groups of society so that every citizen can share this sphere equally. Inequality in access to daily public communication violates Right to Information Act and makes workers powerless. It tears their attachment with the nation-state, the very base of civic solidarity of even organized and informal sector workers. Establishment of justice and redistributive policies in the political culture support social integration of poor and marginalized workers into the political process and open up the institutions of governance to the public. To be engaged in public debate means actively express constitutional views on media platforms and creating a stake of every worker into the nation’s bodypolitik.
Political education restores workers’ interest in public issues, national identity and humanity
One important democratic function of the media is political education-- training of workers into the life of citizenship and human rights, respect others’ legitimate views and work for a social contract acceptable to all sides. Politicization of workers helps to broaden their horizon, moderate their class identity, accept the existence of other various identities of societies, such as caste, class, gender, ethnicity, religions and regions and transform them into a single national identity—Nepali and human beings.
Modern society is largely mediazed. The emergence of new public sphere in which media are located have occupied a central place to foster universalistic principles of human rights, social charter, social security, gender equality and social justice. The level of workers’ participation in unions and policy as cognitive, effective and evaluative persons defines their political culture. In Nepal, one can however see the location of media in knowledge-generating, projection of biased view, event-instigating, regimenting mind and providing disinformation. Those not generating true consciousness is problematic in terms of attaching the trust and loyalty of workers to economic democracy.
Conflict-sensitive communication generates trust, reconciliation and peace
The worst affected people by both direct violence and structural injustice are peasants and workers of Nepal though through tax and remittance they contribute to keep the nation’s vital economic life going. In a conflict-ridden country like Nepal, media have to pro-actively engage in reformist agenda, finding common grounds and defining media profession as a normative public craft to reduce structural and cultural violence in society. Only then they can transcend the self-centered nature of communication to capture the essence of democratic values and norms to generate trust and reconciliation in society. It is within the national boundaries that conflicts can be resolved and redistributive justice for peace building managed. Conflict and post-conflict roles of the media rest on non-violent communication, recovery, healing of the victims, reconciliation, peace building and improvement of workers and peasants’ human rights conditions.
Autonomy of media from dominant class- interest sets condition to its democratic functions
Democratic politics is not only about the self- assertion of politicians for power but about seeking a common good where no one is excluded. Democracy seeks to maximize the greatest happiness of greatest number of society. Media should, therefore, stress on the formation of a common ground so that democracy can release the possibility for social, economic and political integration of Nepalese society and contribute to strengthening national integrity system to control corruption and resolve various types of conflicts in society.
A civic culture requires not only political equality but also civic competence of workers to solve their problems related to multiple identities and professions and engage in the negotiation, collective bargaining and compromise of legitimate professional interests and contributes to industrial peace. Market fundamentalism, like class, ethnic and religious fundamentalisms, removes the common ground, escalates the spiral of mistrust, distorts communication and relapses the country again into vicious conflict. The media should work hard to prevent democracy regression into pre-civilized form through knowledge about optimization of interest of various stakeholders.
Democracy rests on building competence of workers to match with economic change
Workers’ education is life-long along with the changes in the nature of technology and work. In this sense, workers’ education, like civic education, should be transformatory in nature because it gives them a critical sense of inquiry in thinking, judgment and collective action about the entire ecological, social, economic and political processes at hand. A democratic process, therefore, must avoid the politics of frequent agitations as is happening in Nepal unless freedom and space of unions are restricted.
Civic culture is the keystone of ecological, social, economic and political democracy. Democracy requires citizens to make critical choices on public policy matters. Sustained participation of unions in development policy making requires knowledge, information and research inputs that media can offer them. Information revolution has made knowledge a key to the empowerment of workers in public affairs. Information revolution has expanded public sphere and opened the possibility for a new regime of participatory politics where principles of codetermination are applied. Conforming this spirit, the Interim Constitution of Nepal has enlarged the concept of citizenship from political sphere to economic, social and ecological spheres and new form of accountability of the governance to workers’ legitimate needs, rights, interests and aspirations. What is required is to improve the conditions of social justice, right to work, food sovereignty, education and health through social welfare state and green growth.
The fundamental objectives of Nepalese media now are to provide workers undistorted knowledge and information, options for the solution to the problems of society in terms of the contamination of information and protection and promotion of constitutional and human rights. To make politics public, workers should be given critical knowledge about changing nature of technology and life-choice. Only then, politics can foster peace through every one’s stake in it and inculcates a sense of gender, inter-generational and social justice at all levels of society. Injustice and invisibility perpetuate the breakdown of communication. Media can play an important role to make democracy for everybody by reaching to even the passive and isolated workers and peasants and energizing them to participate on the production of collective welfare. By providing critical information responsible press nurtures an informed society capable of making vital choices in the public affairs and contributing towards the emancipatory potential of rationality embodied in participatory democracy.