The new news age
The mainstream and online media have a voracious appetite for hard news because they need to keep feeding the beast. Press meets are cheap to cover on deadline, they do not need much context or analysis.
Politicians know that, and provide reporters with soundbites masquerading as 'news'. In this symbiotic politico-media landscape, politicians know that journalists know that it is all spin. But they still need it for their perpetual news machines.
Politicians play to the gallery, and the mainstream media laps it all up to push it out as straight news through social media handles. As politics and media merge, it is also getting difficult to tell the difference between what used to be the mass media and social media.
The tail is wagging the dog. Social media videos and posts by politicians become grist for the mass media, which then pushes it out as news via the same platforms on the social web. The public therefore has no need to subscribe to or read newspapers, or tune into the evening news on radio or tv. Everything they want to know is right there on their smartphones.
In the past, newspapers competed with radio and tv. More recently, the legacy media vied for readership with news portals. Now, online news sites have also become legacy media since they rely on the same revenue sources: advertising or corporate promoters. Paywalls, subscriptions and crowd-funding have not worked in Nepal for online media.
At a time when journalism has an ever more important role in safeguarding democracy and press freedom against populist demagogues, media companies are at their financially weakest, struggling for revenue, and to remain relevant.
International Press Freedom Day on 3 May serves as a reminder that a financially dependent media cannot be politically independent. Governments around the world know this, and are glad the press is no longer holding power to account.
Much of this was on display this week as Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the RSP’s Rabi Lamichhane, and Gagan Thapa of the NC all took to social media either directly or through legacy media reporters to position themselves in the new scenario after by-elections.
Between inaugurating a new cable car and attending a trade union event on 1 May, Prime Minister Dahal squeezed in a meeting with Rabi Lamichhane of the RSP.
Dahal and Lamichhane lead the third and fourth largest parties in Parliament, and need each other. Lamichhane’s political capital went up after his party’s wins in last week's by-elections. Lamichhane is driving a hard bargain, and is not in a mood to settle for anything less than Home Minister and deputy prime minister.
If Dahal does not maintain the magic 138 votes in Parliament, he will have to seek a third vote of confidence. For his part, Lamichhane needs the post to make his dual passport case go away.
In the coming days, it will be revealing to read into social media posts of politicians, as journalists try to go beyond the soundbites to make sense of why they are saying what they are saying.
Sonia Awale is Executive Editor of Nepali Times where she also serves as the health, science and environment correspondent. She has extensively covered the climate crisis, disaster preparedness, development and public health -- looking at their political and economic interlinkages. Sonia is a graduate of public health, and has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong.