Voice of the entire nation

Journalists at the Himal Media Mela discuss maintaining credibility and inclusivity in Nepal’s newsrooms


The Himal Media Mela 2023 continued on Wednesday afternoon with media professionals and academics from across Nepal discussing how the advancement of technology contributes to misinformation, disinformation, and the legitimisation of flasehoods. And how journalism centred in Kathmandu has lead to the underrepresentation of the rest of Nepal in media, and how lack of diversity in newsrooms affects content.

Verify, verify, verify

The panel on Journalism in the Age of Deep Fake and Alternative Facts moderated by Kantipur’s Sajana Baral was prefaced by a collection of deep fake videos involving celebrities and political figures, made both to comedic effect as well as to mislead the general public.

Shiva Gaunle of the portal Onlinekhabar noted that the biggest challenge to the newsroom in an era of social media and AI has been access to genuine information, and the ability to turn that into meaningful stories.

“While primary information was instantly verifiable in the past, newsrooms are now having to be careful, visible sources of information must also be treated with caution and suspicion,” said Gaunle, adding that the evolution of AI and the consequent development of deep fakes has shown how easily information can be manipulated.

Gaunle added that the race among Nepal’s newsrooms to be the first to put out content has been at the expense of the credibility of the media. 

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2023 Media Mela
Onlinekhabar's Shiva Gaunle, NepalCheck's Deepak Adhikari, and Digital Right Nepal's Santosh Sigdel in conversation with Kantipur's Sajana Baral during the 'Journalism in the Age of Deep Fake and Alternative Facts' panel at the Himal Media Mela on Wednesday.

Deepak Adhikari of NepalCheck commented on the mainstream media’s reluctance to establish fact-checking mechanisms, pointing out the need for each newsroom to have in-house fact-checking desks and ‘disinformation reporters’.

“Journalism is no longer the credibile profession it used to be, and as such, radical transparency can play a huge role for the media to regain the audience’s trust,” said Adhikari. “Additionally, while it is given that journalism is a competitive profession, newsrooms in Nepal must also practice radical sharing — collaborate, and share resources in order to come up with quality investigative journalism.”

Santosh Sigdel of Digital Rights Nepal presented a more optimistic view of the role of legacy media. “The antidote to misinformation and disinformation is the truth, and there is still trust in traditional media because people still look to those media to confirm facts,” he said. 

He added: “As such, our biggest responsibility is still to steadfastly provide factual information to the public so that they might make informed decisions.”

Read also: Media mêlée in the age of AI, Kunda Dixit

“The rest of the Nepal is as newsworthy as Kathmandu”

The ‘Nepal is Not Just Kathmandu’ panel, moderated by Birgunj-based Nepali Times columnist Chandra Kishore heard a spirited discussion on how even as Nepal has adopted a decentralised political structure, that devolution is not reflected in the country’s media landscape. 

“Journalism has not been able to utilise federalism, so much so that the practice in even regional media has been historically to cover Kathmandu,” said panellist Bipul Pokhrel, who was previously based in Dang, and is currently the president of the Federation of Nepali Journalists. “Local issues must be the first news for local newspapers and as such, media must be focused towards solution-based journalism within their own communities.”

Montessori Rajbhandari of Communication Corner that manages the Ujyalo FM agreed that news from the centre is seen by the public as more noteworthy, and is taken as involving more skill and hard work, and therefore seen as more worthy to read. That is compounded, Rajbhandari added, by the curiosity of Nepali audiences towards what they see as the centres of power.

Read also: The new news age, Sonia Awale

2023 Media Mela
Nepali Times columnist Chandra Kishore moderates the panel ‘Nepal is Not Just Kathmandu' with FNJ president Bipul Pokhrel, Montessori Rajbhandari of Communication Corner, and Paschim Today's Dirgha Raj Upadhaya.

“But politics is not just limited to Singha Darbar, the political process is alive and well in our villages,” said Rajbhandari. "So, stories from beyond Kathmandu should be given equal importance.”

Meanwhile, Dirgha Raj Upadhaya of Paschim Today based in Dhangadi pointed out that regional media were much more capable of providing credible information from the grassroots than mainstream media while emphasising the need for newsrooms as well as the audience to altogether stop considering issues from Kathmandu as ‘national’ and the issues of everywhere else as ‘local’.

"What do the media in Kathmandu, who are too busy writing about Rabi Lamichhane and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, know about how starvation plagues the people of Bajura?” questioned Upadhaya. “Local media brings mainstream issues to the forefront much more effectively than ‘national’ media can."

Inclusive newsrooms and inclusive content

Meanwhile, in the last panel of the first day, panellists recounted to moderator Shobha Sharma of Setopati their personal experiences of starting out as media professionals as they scrutinised the level of inclusion and diversity in Nepal’s newsrooms.  

Dharmendra Jha of Rastriya Samachar Samiti questioned whether there is space or an environment in the newsroom for diverse issues to be raised. “The amount of stories about women, about the Dalit community, about the Madhes is directly proportional to the presence of people from those communities in Nepal’s newsrooms,” he said.

Read also: Media as the custodian of the people, Shristi Karki

2023 Media Mela
Rastrita Samachar Samiti's Dharmendra Jha, academic Yam Bahadur Dura and Nagarik Daily's Pabitra Sunar discuss Inclusive newsrooms and inclusive content during the final panel of the day.

Academic Yam Bahadur Dura discussed previous studies that looked into the type of content in Nepali media, noting that there is indeed not much diversity in the bylines of stories, with most written by the dominant caste groups.

"Given how socio-culturally diverse Nepal is, every community must be represented in our media, be it in terms of media professionals or content,” said Dura, adding that what is taught in Nepal’s classrooms should also be reflected in practice in the newsrooms. 

Pabitra Sunar of Nagarik Daily added that people on top of the chain of command in Nepal's mediascape are unwilling to let go of their power and privilege. She said: "Newsrooms need to be inclusive for two reasons— firstly, no one should be prevented from being able to pursue the profession that they want. Secondly, a newsroom that is representative of diverse communities fosters a more creative environment.”

Read also: Paradigm shift in Nepali media, Shristi Karki