Meaning in real terms

The Ministry of Information and Communication on Tuesday brought out a seven-page-long concept paper on the communication policy of

the government. According to it, the state-owned media will be ‘reformed’, making them more ‘neutral, balanced and inclusive’. An innovation will be regional editions of the Nepali-language Gorakhapatra with pages in local languages. Other highlights

include the passage of the bills on the right to information and working journalists, clear policy on foreign investment in the media, the setting up of an umbrella information and communication board for all the government media, the construction of information highways, and greater access of the rural people to modern communication technology. An important objective of the proposed policy will be to help the media play a greater role in the success of the constituent assembly polls.

There is little doubt that the government will continue the process of modernising and expanding the communication technology, for instance, in the areas of the radio, including FM, television, telecommunications, and on-line journalism. But it is in the software part of the news media and in the government’s approach that the public has often been let down. In this age of globalisation and liberalisation and given Nepal’s commitments under WTO, the adoption of modern communication techologies will move on at a faster rate. What the government needs to do is to ensure that even the economically weaker sections or geographically remote areas will be able to take advantage of the technologies available in the urban centres. But the question that is asked with every change of government, especially of regime, is what the new leaders will do to the state-owned media run at the taxpayers’ expense. But Minister Mahara has ruled out putting these media out of the state’s hands “for the present”.

That, in other words, means at least until the CA polls. If in the interim period, the state media cannot be made indepenent of the government, it is unlikely that in the future it will be. This is because when one party wins the elections and comes to power, it tends to keep them under its control and use them for its partisan ends, and then the opposition parties will cry foul. This has been Nepali experience with the official media. As Mahara promised, other parties and governments in the past had also pledged to let the state media function independently, but under state ownership. This is wishful thinking. The question of direct foreign investment should also constitute a key component of the media policy. This issue has generated a lot of controversy in the country, sometimes leading to unhealthy mud-slinging among the media houses. It is therefore necessary for the upcoming media policy to address all important questions and doubts about foreign investment in the media. A strong case can be made for FDI in the media in view of global trends and the transnational spread of information. But the need to keep full editorial control in Nepali hands, as recommended implicitly by the Adhikari committee, is of paramount importance.