A journalist on an all-expenses paid junket was recently at Kathmandu airport immigration arguing that he didn’t have to fill out the departure form because it was “unnecessary trouble”. Following his lead, ten of his other colleagues did the same, going on to brag about how they used their press passes to cut queues, skip checks and get faster service.
Such is the sense of entitlement among editors and reporters that they don’t even realise how hypocritical they sound – the same people who report on the misuse of power by public officials show no qualms about abusing theirs.
To be sure, there are many responsible and considerate journalists around. Unfortunately, it has been my distinct
(dis)pleasure to meet and travel with arrogant and ill-mannered ones who feel they are above everyone else.
Nearly all the 20-something reporters on a recent airline fam trip to Malaysia were men. They were determined to exhibit their zero civic sense, demonstrate scant consideration for others, and were setting a very bad example to foreigners about Nepal and Nepalis. Appearing late for every program, littering, and playing loud music were some of the more minor transgressions.
Crude, uncouth behaviour and lack of respect for the hosts sullied the image of our country. It got to the point where our Malaysian guide had to remind the visitors repeatedly that we were in his country not just as members of the media but as citizens of Nepal and it may be advisable to put on our best behaviour. Needless to say, the suggestion fell on deaf ears.
This wasn’t the first time it happened. On an earlier trip to Turkey, there were similar transgressions that left a bad impression on our hosts with the only consolation being that journalists from Pakistan behaved even worse. What our colleagues failed to realise was that the image we left of Nepalis as brash, undisciplined bumpkins would affect the treatment of fellow-Nepalis in future.
Malaysia is the top labour destination for Nepalis, with Qatar coming in a close second. Almost 40 per cent of Nepali overseas workers are currently employed in Malaysia’s plantations, factories and gas stations. A Nepali security guard at the hotel related how Nepali workers have become easy targets for mugging because the local police don’t bother to report crimes against them anymore.
“To them we are nobodies,” he said. The Nepali embassy isn’t much help, and as Nepali journalists on a free tour we must have reinforced that impression among Malaysians.
A journalist in the group was irked he wouldn’t be receiving a daily allowance on the trip from the airline even though travel, hotel and food were all paid for.
Another raised an objection that his visa fee would not be paid. Their argument was that a sponsored trip should cover all costs. “We are journalists, we can’t afford unnecessary expenses,” whined one.
A journalism professor once told our media class at university that reporters should not even accept a free coffee from a source. That may be a bit too extreme and counterproductive for us in Nepal, but the point is a valid one: where do you draw the line on freebies?
Accepting a junket, a free lunch, or a bottle of whiskey from an embassy at Dasain makes you a taker, and opens you up to an obligation to the giver. When we go on a free trip, attend a paid conference, the sponsors feel they have more power to dictate what you write. And in the end it will be the individual’s sense of integrity that will determine how true we are to ourselves and to provide fair and objective reporting to our readers.
On the bright side, for every Nepali journalist that will stick a chewing gum on the back of a bus seat and a hack who won’t throw an empty bottle in the bin for the fear of looking less macho, there are others who are mindful of our actions and behaviour. May this kind grow in number.