Nepali Times
Nation
Make-or-break media



This year's survey shows a surge in popularity of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, with nearly a third of respondents saying they'd vote for him if he stood for elections. This is popularity based on perceptions of performance and honesty. More than half the respondents think the Bhattarai government has done a better job than previous governments.

The results prove the power and role of the media in shaping public opinion. The photo-ops of Bhattarai riding a Mustang after his swearing-in, flying economy class to New York, inspecting eateries in Mugling, widening Kathmandu streets, and getting his hands dirty cleaning the Bagmati built the impression of a man who is a do-er and not a talker.

A lot of this was a result of careful media management and spin, but it seems to have worked. The public has also been watching him, and feel he has done everything he said he would: conclude the peace process, form a unity government, try to get the constitution passed. Being incumbent, there is a certain Teflon effect, where the fact that corruption is rife in the Bhattarai cabinet or that he has been propped up by India (an accusation his own party seniors openly make) doesn't seem to stick on the prime minister. Or, it could be argued, he would have been even more popular if he had cleaned up his government.

In stark contrast, the Himalmedia survey also shows that public opinion can be fickle, and trust of the people once lost is hard to win back. In all past polls, Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been scoring high on popularity, but he has been knocked off his pedestal pretty ignominiously this year. The 2012 Himalmedia survey shows his rating has plummeted to single digit, trailing way behind Baburam Bhattarai, and even behind ceremonial president Ram Baran Yadav. Again, the media's coverage of his contradictory statements, his luxurious lifestyle and rumours that he is the richest man in Nepal have turned public opinion against him despite (and perhaps because of) his high profile in the press.

One question in the public opinion poll concerned how much the people trust various institutions like the Nepal Police, Nepal Army, the CIAA and the Election Commission. The media tops the list with nearly a third of the respondents saying they trust the media the most. Given the impact the media has on public opinion of political personalities and parties, and given the faith the public puts on the media's credibility, places an even bigger responsibility on the shoulders of Nepal's media.

Unlike politicians whom they cover (and uncover), no one elects journalists, editors and op-ed writers. This means media personalities have to stand up to an even higher moral code and standards of integrity. This year's Himalmedia poll underlines the need for the media to be even more accountable and responsible so as not to squander the overwhelming trust the public has placed on it.

Kunda Dixit

HimalMedia Public Opinion Survey 2012: Complete Poll Data

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