EDITORIAL: Faulty report

Nepalese media have become the most vibrant and fearless, the least liable to action from the State for their reporting of news and expression of views

A Paris-based advocacy group, Reporters without Borders, has just published its annual ranking of 180 countries in terms of press freedom. The report, called the World Press Freedom Index, claims to rank countries on various indicators, such as media independence, self-censorship, the rule of law, transparency and abuses. This year’s report ranks Nepal at 105th and behind Bhutan, which is ranked the 94th on the scale. The report has put Nepal ahead of all other South Asian countries, except Bhutan. This ranking in itself raises a big question over the credibility of the report because Bhutan is still a guided democracy; and it does not have a vibrant press. Its print and electronic media are mainly regulated by the State. Therefore, the report tries to compare the incomparable.

This kind of incompatibility must have arisen from either that the Reporters Without Borders may have been guided by some kind of prejudice or from its inadequate research. To give the advocacy group the benefit of the doubt on its intention, it does not seem to have thoroughly researched the media situation in Nepal. At best it may have got its information from the usual suspects who would like to tell it what it wants to hear or who are not the most impartial and objective or even most capable providers of information about the state of press freedom in Nepal. Faulty input, faulty output. After the success of the pro-democracy movement of 1990, the Nepalese press became vibrant, with a mushrooming growth of newspapers, magazines, FM stations, and various television stations and channels.

From 1990 to the present, the Nepalese media came under particular pressure from both the State and the Maoist rebels at the height of the Maoist insurgency, but that too when they consistently took sides. But it is also true that not all journalists that had been killed either by the State or the Maoists not just for writing. But after the end of the insurgency with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord between the State and then Maoists nine years ago, the Nepalese media have become the most vibrant and the most fearless and the least liable to action from the State for their reporting of news and expression of views, whichever party may have led the government. Instead, the Nepalese media have faced threats and action from certain groups of agitators, particularly in connection with the agitation in Tarai when even the national newspapers and television channels could not print or air the whole truth just because the agitators had kept the Damocle’s sword hanging over the national media’s local reporters, not to speak of the Tarai-based press and FM stations. On reporting on such stark reality on the ground, the Reporters Without Borders have gone into flights of fancy to a considerable extent. In Nepal, even the journalists and the media who write stuff amounting to high treason or otherwise intolerable even in the so-called ‘Free World’, not to speak of in South Asia or even Asia, have gone unpunished. The Reporters Without Borders can easily check  the fact. To make its rankings more credible, the advocacy group would therefore do well to improve its research methods in the future.

End leprosy

Eliminating  leprosy globally is an arduous task. In the year 2000 the prevalence rate of those with this disease dropped below  1 per 10,000 and thus the world was declared leprosy free. Most countries have succeeded in achieving this. However, it is indeed disconcerting that there are still countries with discriminatory laws against leprosy patients. The main challenge to end leprosy would be the detection of new patients and ending the existing discrimination being made against those with leprosy and their community. The social stigma attached to the disease has impeded the bid to eliminate leprosy.

Leprosy continues to affect people and even children are not spared. Although leprosy can be cured by administering medicine it is a tragedy that many people with the disease do not visit health centres. Moreover we need not fear the disease as it is one of the least communicable diseases. Thus, Nepal’s participation in launching of the global strategy for 2016-2020 “Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world in New Delhi” recently should be lauded. At present we are in dire need of accelerated efforts to bring to a halt the transmission of leprosy and to also do away with the stigma.