Difficult year for Nepali journalists

Journalism in Nepal has faced a most challenging year (Photo by Kuber Chalice)

Journalism in Nepal has faced a most challenging year (Photo by Kuber Chalise)

By Kuber Chalise
Editor of Karobar National Economic Daily

KATHMANDU: It is between the devil and the sky for Nepali journalist. First they lost their jobs because of Covid-19, and then the government came heavy on them as the politics polarized in Nepal.

As the Covid-19 started spreading, Nepal government imposed lockdown on March 24, 2020. The movement was restricted, and the newspapers found it difficult to operate the daily business. The concern of the safety of the journalists, and the restriction forced the newspapers to stop the print editions. Around 200 publications, across Nepal including the national broadsheets like Karobar National Economic Daily, halted the print editions due to the difficult situation created by the severe health concern and safety of the journalists. As the journalists are also the frontliners, there was no option to halt the publications. The rumours that the Covid-19 could be spread also through the newspapers and bank notes forced the publication houses to close their print editions, though temporarily.

Since the newsprint were halted, the media houses kept their online editions operational to inform the larger public as their duty. The journalists worked from home, and kept the online editions of their publications operating.

According to a national survey report of Nepal Press Institute (NPI) and Bournemouth University UK, the Covid-19 pandemic caused psychological and financial impact to the working journalists as well as reduction in the news output. The report also revealed that Covid-19 has affected the mental wellbeing of a majority of Nepali journalists with 83 percent of journalists reporting sense of vulnerability, 75 percent journalists feeling increased anxiety. Likewise, some 62 percent Nepali journalists reported grief and 25 percent mentioned that they suffered from depression.

Most of the media houses except few, reduced the pay, and the pandemic also significantly affected Nepali journalists financially, the report reads, adding that the Nepali journalists have been impacted financially due to Covid-19, as some 38 percent of them faced pay cut. On top of that, it was very difficult for the media houses also to operate as the global pandemic crisis has forced then to reduce the number of pages and print frequency of the newspapers. The revenue was hit as the businesses were closed, except few. When any type of the pandemic or natural disasters occur, the businesses cut their advertising directly hitting the newspapers.

The situation got worse also due to lack of preparedness of both the journalists, and the media houses. Last time, Nepal had faced such grave situation was in 2015 during the devastating earthquake. But the impact of the earthquake remained far lesser compared to the Covid-19 as such scale of pandemic had hit Nepal, may be, a century ago.

After 120 days, the government took off the national lockdown, and continued with restricted movement. The vehicles were allowed based on importance and with odd and even numbers. The newsrooms started operating, albeit with a quarter of the journalists. The remaining journalists continued to work from home for their own and their families’ health and safety. The printing of newspapers started but with limited print runs, and with reduced pages.

In July, Nepal government announced the budget for the new fiscal year 2020-21, but did not offer any relief package for the suffering media houses, and journalists.

Likewise, around 450 media people are recorded as having contracted the virus, according to the FNJ. “Some even lost their lives.”

The uncanny situation also gave rise to the flooding fake news, which could have been otherwise verified in the normal situations.

According to a Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) media rights monitoring report, from March 24, many journalists have received threats, reprimanded, and barred from reporting. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and media rights bodies continued asking the media houses and the government to address the severe issue, including media rights violations.

According to FNJ, there were 2,000 news organizations, including 700 FM radio stations and 500 daily newspapers, before the Covid-19 pandemic. But more than half of them are closed now, also due to 80 per cent decrease in revenue and no government relief package. The situation became worse giving rise to drastic increase in media rights violations with journalists harassed.

The pandemic forced the journalists also to leave the job. “About 10 percent of the survey respondents were considering to change their profession,” according to the report ‘Effects of Covid-19 on Journalism’.

The media houses lost both advertisements and sales revenues as the major source of income went down by up to 80 percent, according to the Nepal Media Society. As the print, sale and circulation of print media remained at severe risk, some online news portal, television stations and print media also made quarantine in the office space itself to keep operating. Despite the challenges, the way journalists played their role to keep people informed in this crisis is admirable. Few media including Karobar National Economic Daily maintained the e-papers to keep the people informed.

As the Covid-19 pandemic situation improved, the journalists faced another crisis. After the December 20, unconstitutional move of the incumbent prime minister KP Sharma Oli, the political cyber bullying to the journalists, who write about the government irregularities and mismanagement is increasing drastically. Although the Supreme Court has already ruled that the Prime Minister’s move to dissolve the House was wrong, the polarization of politics has continued.

To fight the oppositions and the partisanship due to intra-party rift, the government formed a cyber-army to attack journalists and intelligentsia personally. “Journalists still continue to face obstacles while accessing information and reporting,” according to the FNJ.

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