Thursday, 21 October, 2021

Gorkhapatra Pioneers Development Journalism


Ballav Dahal


As one of Asia’s oldest newspapers, Gorkhapatra has been serving Nepali readers uninterruptedly for the last 120 years. The pioneer daily is regarded as a synonym with Nepali journalism despite the mushrooming of media outlets in the private sector. It is a national heritage that bears the cherished cultural legacy and age-old enlightenment tradition.

Ups And Downs
Established at the initiative of the liberal Rana Prime Minister Dev Shumsher on May 6, 1901, Gorkhapatra has witnessed many ups and downs. It had to struggle hard for its survival at different points in history. A bitter truth is that many rulers in the past were found misusing it as their mouthpiece. Those in power still seem to treat the Gorkhapatra and its sister publications as a means to serve their petty partisan interests. However, as a state media, it has remained effortful in imparting accurate, balanced and credible news and information to the readers.
Being a living heritage of the country, the Gorkhapatra has undoubtedly made significant contributions to the transformation of Nepali society as a whole. At a time when the country was in the grip of superstitions and irrational traditional thinking, the newspaper played a vital role in enlightening the people. Because of ignorance, the Nepali society had fallen far behind others. Amid such a scenario, Gorkhapatra had its best to disseminate new thoughts and ideas on a wide range of social and economic issues.
Promoting development journalism has been one of the key tasks carried out by Gorkhapatra. Knowingly or unknowingly, it had practised development journalism by highlighting numerous contemporary issues like education, health, agriculture and trade and making an analysis on development activities. Development is about creating opportunities for a prosperous and more satisfying life.
Although the concept of development journalism emerged only in the 1960s, Gorkhapatra had been covering the subject matters associated with socio-economic advancement and technological innovations since its inception.
The credit for developing the concept of development journalism goes to two Filipino journalists — Alan Chalkley and Juan Marcado. Associated with the Press Foundation of Asia, they were the first to coin the term 'development journalism'. Their main concern was that the media organisations were giving coverage to socio-economic development issues in a superficial way. Journalists at that time were found reporting press releases and quotes of governments and giving insignificant space for analysis or evaluation of development projects.
As an important component of mass media, development journalism is concerned with the collection, reporting, editing and dissemination of information on different facets of development. This form of journalism publishes and broadcasts a variety of national development activities, technological innovations and success stories. This not only generates public awareness of such pertinent issues but also encourages people to start doing something new.
♦ Watchdog
Like the mass media, development journalism also contributes to bringing about social changes thereby leading the society on the path of progress and prosperity by focusing on economic and development issues. As a watchdog, journalism also acts as a medium of development that helps in fighting poverty, social injustice and other anomalies. It also works to promotes new ideas and inspires people to get involved in development activities.
In the early 1970s, the then government had come up with a new national communication plan with its slogan 'communication for development. The Department of Information under the Ministry of Communication had also introduced a guideline to implement the plan. The communication sector must play a key part in bringing about socio-economic progress in society. The guideline stated: "The communication medium is very powerful and it creates awareness among people, brings about developmental welfare changes and cooperates to speed up the process of development."
The plan of communication for development had aimed at improving the management of the communication sector. It had accorded top priority to the development of communication adapted a policy to engage more people in the process of development. Gorkhapatra started laying its much focus on the news items related to agriculture, construction of bridges and small roads, livestock farming, poultry farming, among others.
In the early 1970s, Gorkhapatra introduced 'Hamro Gaonghar' as a regular column to give more coverage to the development activities being carried out in rural areas across the country. That column would give importance to a variety of development schemes ranging from constructions, rural lifestyles, agricultural activities, drinking water projects, expansion of education and health services and so on.
Following some years, a separate press commission was formed to collect suggestions and ideas for giving a boost to development journalism in the country. The commission called for utilising mass communication for achieving development goals as it recognised journalism as a significant tool for generating massive public awareness of development activities. In line with the commission's recommendations, Gorkhapatra started covering more development activities outside the Kathmandu Valley.

♦ Prospects
Taking a cue from the nation's oldest publication, many newspapers are now promoting development journalism. Thus, the publication deserves due credit for executing this form of journalism that the country needs to attain economic independence and inclusive development. Being an entity of the government, it may not be easy for Gorkhapatra to hold a critical approach to tricky political issues. But it has the potential for extensively highlighting development issues. With its offices operating in seven provinces, Gorkhapatra has still had a long way to go for serving more readers by covering a myriad of development issues with much vigour and enthusiasm.

(Dahal is deputy executive editor of TRN)