Investigation, introspection, and investment in media

Second annual Himal Media Mela comes to an end as journalists examine how newsrooms can be more professional

Rabiraj Baral of Media Kurakani moderates the session on ‘Investing in Investigative Journalism', which included CIJ editor Kiran Nepal, Devendra Bhattarai of Kantipur, and Deepa Dahal of Ukaaloas panelists. Photos: GPOEN RAI AND SUMAN NEPALI

The Himal Media Mela 2023 sponsored by Ncell continued on Thursday with its fourth panel, ‘Investing in Investigative Journalism’, followed by a session on Media Introspection, which is also the theme for the two-day conference.

In the session moderated by Rabiraj Baral of Media Kurakani, investigative reporters and editors examined what it takes for a journalist to be an investigative reporter, as well as the need for Nepal’s newsrooms, to facilitate investigative reporting. 

Kiran Nepal, editor for the Center of Investigative Journalism, said that investigative reporting must move beyond CIJ into all of Nepal’s newsrooms. 

“The reason that investigative reporting is at the center of journalism at present is due its impact in creating credibility and trust in media,” said Nepal, who was previously the editor of Himal. “As such, all reporting must be investigative.”

Panelist Devendra Bhattarai of Kantipur in 2021 wrote an investigative story for the CIJ about Bhutanese refugees forcibly evicted by Bhutan in 1990-92, and arrested by the Bhutanese authorities. Bhattarai was previously based in Kantipur’s Qatar Bureau, and has also written extensively about the issues of Nepalis living abroad in the Gulf. 

But even as he considers his earlier stories to be investigative as well, Bhattarai explained that he only began doing investigative journalism after being a journalist for almost two decades. 

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Himal Media Mela Day 2- Second half

In March, Kantipur published Bhattarai's investigative report uncovering racketeers defrauding 875 Nepalis of millions under the pretext of sending them to the US  as Bhutanese refugees with falsified documents from the Home Ministry. Since then, Nepal Police has arrested individuals involved in the racket, including a current secretary at the Vice President’s office on Wednesday.

“Everything I learned about investigative journalism has been through my own study and on the ground experiences,” Bhattarai notes. “Through my years as an investigative reporter, I have learned to read my own stories twice, pay attention to detail, and fact-check rigorously.”

Deepa Dahal of Ukaalo, who previously worked in radio for a significant amount of time in Surkhet before reporting for the independent online news platform, and has during her career reported on health, science, education, politics and the environment. 

“As reporters, we are players of an editorial team, and as it stands, it is not enough for a journalist to want to become an investigative reporter,” said Dahal. “All the skill and the passion to be involved in investigative journalism will not matter as long as newsrooms do not have an interest.”

Kiran Nepal agreed that journalists need to be patient and curious, the newsroom environment must be open to investigative stories, and newsroom—especially well-established ones—  should be willing to allocate resources into investigative reporting. 

“Journalism is a challenging and often dangerous profession, investigative journalism even more so.” continued Dahal, adding that existing biases and prejudices surrounding women in the workplace make investigative journalism more challenging for women.  “Those who want to get into this aspect of reporting must be prepared to spend any amount of time and play the long game to complete the story.”

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Himal Media Mela 2023 day 2
Kanak Mani Dixit, co-publisher of Himalmedia, Umesh Shrestha of Center for Media Research - Nepal, Babita Basnet of Ghatana ra Bichar, and Rajendra Dahal, editor of Sikshak magazine during the panel on media introspection.

Meanwhile, moderator Kanak Mani Dixit, co-publisher of Himalmedia, opened the panel on media introspection to discussion by noting how trolling enhanced by algorithms has become a tool that individuals on social networking platforms, political leaders, and other figures.

Dixit identified the need for the media to reflect on the capability, study, worldview, ideology, and independence of the newsrooms. 

The panelists also discussed how media in Nepal have an agreement not to criticise one another. 

“If we do not reflect on our own practices, there will be questions as to who is supposed to  hold the media to account,” said Dixit.

Umesh Shrestha of Center for Media Research - Nepal, however, spoke about the difficulty for media professionals to question their practices because of a risk of attacks  attacked by the members of the media itself. 

“The one important thing to ask ourselves – introspect – is why is trust in media so low,” added Dahal.  “A major reason why mainstream media is losing trust of readers and audience is because they don't fact-check and have aided in spreading misinformation.”

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Himal Media Mela Day 2- Second half

Babita Basnet of Ghatana ra Bichar added that it is difficult to those in media to question themselves, seeing that they  are so used to 

Rajendra Dahal, editor of Sikshak magazine, said that contrary to what reporters are taught, it is not possible to be objective, but it is important to be factual and truthful. “Fact checkers have been doing some amazing work,” Dahal added.

Dahal also pointed out the lack of proper education and instruction to facilitate and teach aspiring journalists.

Basnet spoke about the challenges faced by women in media, drawing from personal experiences and citing recent research by her team that showed 88% of women in media experiencing online harassment by colleagues, from reporters associated with other media houses, as well as from news sources. 

“Nepal’s newsrooms need to address the challenges faced by women expeditiously,” said 

Speaking to the combined experiences of the panelists, Dixit added, “It is also important to the current generation of journalists to know about the history of journalism in Nepal, and how journalists have contributed to making Nepal one of the Nepal having one of the best environments for press freedom in Southasia.”

Added Dahal: "It is important that we look to the past so that the media might have a better future.”

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Himal Media Mela day 2
Rishad Patel co-founder of Splice Media.

At the end of the day, Rishad Patel, co-founder and business consultant at Splice Media in Singapore, gave a presentation on how to build a viable media business.

Patel spoke to the need for media conferences, commenting that journalism in 2023 was not limited to news, but also meant bringing together a crowd of talented and expert minds to share ideas and thoughts. He noted that the media is immensely powerful, not because of its connections with businesses and advertisers, but because it helps people make informed decisions.

“The business strategy for media is not simply grants or looking towards multimedia,” said Patel “It is about asking where [the media] is, where it wants to go, and how to get there.”

Patel likened content to a product and the audience to a market, saying that the media must test with the market about the kind of content they prefer and seek feedback. The key, Patel explained, is to talk to people and listen to what they have to say.

“Media should be obsessed with a product-market fit,” he said. “The future of media is user-centred, demand-driven and interest-based.”

Patel said that media must be focused on building something that is valuable enough to pay for, and not try to force-fit old media concepts into new, digital formats.

Said Patel: “The media business is not broken, it has actually transformed for the better. Technology itself is not the disruptor. There  is no one audience, and that gives [the media] an opportunity to be hyper-specific, and move forward.”

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