Media mêlée in the age of AIThis year’s Himal Media Mela will discuss the survival and relevance of journalism
The theme of this year’s Himal Media Mela is ‘Trust and Introspection’, highlighting the need for journalism to reinvent itself and regain its credibility for impact.
We face much of the same issues in Nepal and worldwide as we did last year: political disarray and a looming economic crisis at home, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a Sino-US Cold War, and more evidence of record breaking heat that is an ominous sign of climate breakdown.
The only difference is that this year, all of these crises have got worse.
In Nepal, we have more or less the same leaders, the same disputes, the same reactive media content that we have seen over the past two decades. Besides trying to find a new role for journalism in the age of AI, Nepal’s traditional press also has to turn the gaze on itself.
Because of its relentless emphasis on the negative, journalism tends to make citizens cynical. Despite our disillusionment with politics, Nepal’s human development parameters have improved, voters showed in last week’s by-elections that there is a groundswell of support for reform, and unlike other countries in the region Nepalis are still free to complain about how miserable we are. Nepal is a relatively open society, and to a certain extent there is rule of law.
Let us hope we can build on this in the coming decade of the 2080s BS. But imagine how much further we might have been if there had been a peace dividend after 2006, better governance and transparency in the years since.
And now the country faces the twin challenge of the Himalaya being both a climate and geopolitical hotspot. The media landscape has also changed drastically in the past year, as it has the world over. Mobile internet has spread further, bandwidth has expanded. This has led to shorter attention spans, and a mass migration of users to social media platforms.
Across the world and the region, there are ominous signs of democracy in retreat. In the past year, the independent judiciary, the legislature and the executive have all been further weakened in the world’s largest democracy to our south. And to the north, we have the Great Firewall of China.
At a time when we need a robust and independent media to tackle global crises like climate collapse and the steady depletion of freedoms, the press as we knew it is weaker than ever before. The legacy media now also includes digital portals, and both our business models are collapsing. Independent journalism is even more vulnerable to political and corporate pressure, undermining our public service role.
Newspapers, tv stations and portals in Nepal do not compete with each other, we compete with Google and Facebook and independent content providers.
Nepal’s media industry, supported by private sector advertising, was the amplifier of every sphere of development: health, education, business, science, culture and heritage, the arts and technology. That role has eroded.
And all this is happening as news competes with entertainment for collective attention. The publishing industry is no longer a one-way street from newsrooms to doorsteps. It is an eight-lane highway of interactive websites, apps and comment threads. And now, we are all hurtling into this long dark tunnel called Artificial Intelligence without knowing what is on the other side.
Maria Ressa calls this “toxic sludge of anger and conspiracy a pipeline of hate, a hyper socialisation, and the tyranny of trends”. How is media going to survive algorithmic radicalisation to manufacture customised mass persuasion? Facts do not matter anymore, fact-checking doesn’t seem to make a difference when codes make us distrust everything and everyone. Traditional mass media is no longer the gatekeeper. Everyone is now guarding their own doors and windows.
Over Wednesday and Thursday, the Himal Media Mela will hear from practitioners and supporters of media from Nepal and the region on how journalism can keep up with these changes, be meaningful, and survive into the future.
Readers and viewers will not come to us, our content has to go where they are. If facts do not change things, we have to tell our stories better. We have to be explainers and share how we do the stories we do, and why they are important.
Excerpted from Welcome Address to Himal Media Mela on 3 May 2023.
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