Promoting Conflict Sensitive Journalism

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In Nepal, when conflict resolution and conflict sensitive media coverage are talked about, two major civil conflicts, including the Maoist Insurgency and the Madhesh uprising comes to mind. Recently, during the launch of a report on Conflict Sensitive Journalism (CSJ) and Communication in Nepal, by the Media Action Nepal (MAN), there were several reflections on what can be considered as conflict and sensitive media coverage related to the conflict in Nepal. The MAN report clearly states that “looming economic crisis, rising unemployment, high level inflation and inequality are likely to cause social unrests in the society. The media should pay close attention and report independently on these issues.”

Gender-based violence, local grievances including community rights and communal and ideological clashes are some of the conflicts which could flare up if they are not handled well. This is indeed very important, it does not only cerate political unrest that conflict. In fact, there have been several instances where issues faced by the minority and marginalised groups have taken up rights issues and have tried to draw attention to their plights. A few examples can be taken as the very first Muslim-Hindu crisis that flared up in Nepalgunj and Lumbini. Although the Muslim population in Nepal have been less than 4 per cent, during research and reporting that I had done in the late 1990s, my interviewees had specifically mentioned that the Muslims in Nepal felt very safe although their population here was very small. 

Access to justice 

Even now their reflections are more or less the same.  Looking at how the media covered the above-mentioned two incidents, I do not remember reading anywhere on the reflections of how the Muslim communities felt safe in Nepal and why the riots suddenly flared up. With the advent of multiparty democracy in the country it is absolutely important that minority communities like the Muslims and cast based issues like Dalit community marrying those form Brahmin and Chhetri communities, among others, get highlights. Here the media needs to be very sensitive on how to report so as to help in accessing justice but avoid undue mileage for hidden agendas mostly of politicians. 

Gender-based violence cases, especially reporting of rape and incest are almost a daily phenomenon in Nepal today. As laws get promulgated for such issues to be addressed, it is important that people who have been victimised by different unequal behaviours in the country start taking support of such laws and start asserting their rights. This is one area where there has to be conflict sensitive coverage by the media. There is a need to highlight the injustice faced by such communities and individuals but there is also a need for media coverage to make sure vested interest of politicians, religious leaders or any other communities or individuals who want to make such incidents favourable to their personal interest is not catered to. That is what conflict sensitive media response is.

The role of the media should always present the facts in the form of information for the general public. In autocratic regimes, the rulers use the media to release false information via the media they control. Now, in the capitalist market-led economy, the corporate sector has a large control over media globally. This leads to several conflicts during war, production of ammunitions, market access to struggling farmers, especially in rural parts of economically challenged countries, race and gender-based violence. The world is now dominated by the corporate media, and in today’s digital world the social media has become a tool for sharing the facts with a large mass. 

Therefore, conflict-sensitive reporting has become even more difficult these days. In the past, the government-owned media used to be the source of controlling what goes to the public but now there is the corporate world and citizen journalists who feel they have the right to contribute to the free flow of information and influence the global population. People still relate to the Maoist unrest as the major conflict that happened in Nepal and look at how it was resolved! The MAN report states that ‘when it comes to conflict transformation, transitional justice remains a pending issue. In 2015, the government of Nepal formed two commissions-The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of the Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP). Both these commissions are seen as a failure to achieve what they were set up for.

Win-win situation

The MAN research team stresses the fact that current level of understanding and knowledge of Conflict Sensitive Journalism in Nepal is inadequate and should be improved. They point out the fact that Nepali universities running journalism courses still have not included topics on CSJ in their curriculum. The report also states that the media houses do not train journalists with this focus. There definitely needs to be a discourse on why and how to train journalists to cover conflict situations so as to arrive at a win-win situation for both the parties of a conflict but justice should prevail for the victims and survivors. 

However, it is also important to sensitise media houses and journalists that war-inflicted incidents are not only conflict-related. There has to be a broader understanding that issues like the citizenship issue, the state of impunity in giving justice to rape victims and survivors, the killing of Dalits because they marry people from the so-called higher castes, the rights of migrant workers within the country and outside are all conflict issues. The media coverage should be such as to release the facts but also to do continuous coverage for positive impacts from the perspective of accessing justice for the oppressed, the survivors and those who are still suffering.

(Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate namrata1964@yahoo.com Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)

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