Dev Raj Dahal
Head, FES Nepal Office
How can media foster freedom in society lacking adequate security and protect their own professional integrity to carry out their jobs? Some critical tests of Nepalese democracy rest on how does it protect minorities’ rights, allows space for legitimate opposition, strike a balance between individual, group-based and human rights of citizens in favor of a mindful society and transform bi-nary code of pre-modern politics of friend and foe into a modern politics of compromise. Nepalese media have fostered the Nepalese vision of an inclusive state, democracy rooted in popular sovereignty, sustainable development and just peace that addresses the taproots of systemic conflicts. But, at the moment, media persons are demanding security from the Nepali state overwhelmed already by the various kinds of militant forces, caucus groups and non-state actors acting on their own interest and enervating its ability to create legitimate order. The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 has established the sovereignty of people and enlarged the concept of citizenship from political sphere to economic, social and ecological spheres and new form of accountability of the governance to citizens’ needs.
As an effective medium of communication between the political system and the citizens media constitute a part of larger civil society entrusted with the responsibility to protect public interest and expand the ‘public sphere,’ of interactive citizens enabling them to contribute to public opinion and democratic will-formation. Nepal’s post-conflict situation demands the construction of a rational social contract, peace-building and socialization necessary for establishing constitutional state capable of achieving governance goals and comprehensive reconciliation process.
In democratization process media serve key roles in democratic innovation, dissemination of ideas, institutionalization, deepening and consolidation. Media signify public rationality and multi-voices of the citizens in the articulation of their rights and demands for comprehensive reconciliation of post-conflict Nepalese society. Technological change largely favors knowledge-based and skilled citizens. Democracy consolidation requires not only freedom of journalists but also their responsibility to serve public’s rights. This is possible when Nepal shifts its economic policy from financial capitalism to sustainable production and generates better opportunities within the state than offered by international system.
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 effecting robust public solidarity. These factors are essential to strengthen the integrative capacity of the political system and its external adaptability and open the citizens’ mind to universal principles of enlightenment, democracy, human rights, good governance and equity for the poor. But, the public functions of the media are largely contingent on their own framework of ownership, finance, autonomy, control and regulation.
The response to the articulation of citizens’ agenda mirrors the ideological representation of society and the health of democracy. Democratic media aim to transform people into active citizens and human beings. Citizenship begins with the membership of the state; therefore, civic responsibility of the media requires their contribution to public opinion formation. In this process, the Nepalese media have to provide civic awareness to citizens about changing nature of political economy, equip them with participatory information and resources, stimulate active public engagement and foster meaningful dialogue and ownership of citizens in the agenda-setting regarding their rights, laws, social security provisions and the dignity of the profession. Familiarization of citizens 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. The state can sincerely implement Right to Information Act 2007 and Working Journalists Act 2007 if its legitimate monopoly on power is restored.
Media Strategies for Democracy Consolidation:
Two-way communication between city and rural areas increases social trust and removes emotional distance created by the dichotomy of education, economy, health and opportunities
Information is power and effective utilization of information is a key to the empowerment of citizens in public affairs. Citizens’ capacity to exercise their constitutional 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 citizens’ concerns can socialize them to public issues, provides every citizen autonomous power to deliberate, act without any historical and social constraints and enjoy their rights and privileges. In this context, mediation of interest is necessary for peace and development. Decentralization of media work is also necessary for the integration of the public sphere of the core with the periphery.
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. Obviously, by using reflective imagination and deliberating with citizens they can bridge the gap between journalists' concepts and citizens' world views, collectively engage in revealing the social truth as well as provide the them informed 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 the weak 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 a vibrant democracy:
Informed public opinion depends on critical social dialogues about the conditions of people, women’s issues, social evils, human trafficking, reform in social legislation, health and safety of media workers etc. Elimination of structural injustice can create a level playing field for all. Responsible media should, therefore, debate about legitimate roles of the state, markets and civil society taking into account long-term perspectives of all sides, the plurality of opinions and diversity of views and stimulate creative participation of citizens in the achievement of common good.
Robust public sphere activates passive citizens into effective 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 citizens powerless. It tears their attachment with the democracy, the very base of civic solidarity. Establishment of justice and redistributive policies in the political culture supports social integration of poor into the political process and makes the governance responsive to the public. To be engaged in public debate means actively express constitutional views on media platforms and creating a stake of every citizen into the nation’s bodypolitik. Solidarity among the media workers can help overcome their exploitation, enforce labor act and also security deficit caused by the attack politics of armed groups.
Civic education restores citizens’ interest in public issues, national identity and humanity:
One important democratic function of the media is political education-- training of people into the life of citizenship and human rights, respect others’ legitimate views and work for a social contract acceptable to all sides. Politicization of citizens helps to broaden their horizon, moderate the views of various identities- caste, class, gender, ethnicity, religions and regions and transform them into a single national identity—Nepali.
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, gender equality and social justice. The level of citizens’ participation in 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 citizens to democracy and their goal of social transformation.
Conflict-sensitive communication generates trust, reconciliation and peace:
The worst affected people by both direct violence and structural injustice are the weaker sections of Nepalese 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 define media profession as a normative public craft to reduce the level of 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 human 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 even ordinary citizens are not excluded. Democracy seeks to maximize the greatest happiness of greatest number of society’s members. Media should, therefore, release democracy’s potential for social, economic and political integration of Nepalese and contribute to strengthening national integrity system to control corruption and impunity and heal the wounds of society.
Media education builds competence of citizens to match with economic and technological change:
Information and education of citizens is life-long process along with the changes in the nature of technology and economy. In this sense, the contents of 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 also avoids the politics of frequent agitations as is happening in Nepal unless freedom and space of media persons are restricted.
Civic culture is the keystone of ecological, social, economic and political democracy:
A civic culture requires not only political equality but also civic competence of citizens to solve their problems related to multiple identities, ideologies and interests and contributes to social 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’s regression into pre-civilized form through knowledge about the optimization of interest of various stakeholders.
Media constitute a part of broader civil society entrusted with the responsibility to provide citizens undistorted knowledge and information about national issues, institutional access to solidarity, options for the solution to the problems in terms of the contamination of information and protection and promotion of constitutional and human rights of citizens. To make politics public, citizens should be given critical knowledge about changing nature of technology, economy and life-choice. Only then, democracy can foster peace through every one’s stake in it and inculcates a sense of social, gender, inter-generational and social justice at all levels of society. Injustice and invisibility be responsible for the collapse of communication. Media can play an important role to make democracy for everybody by reaching to even the passive and isolated citizens 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 modernity embodied in participatory democracy.