For a media outlet, an ability to manifest the diversity of society has become the determining factor to be trusted and independent. With the restoration of democracy that ensures right to expression and press freedom, Nepal witnessed an evolution of a vibrant pluralistic media landscape. Subsequently, the quest for inclusion in terms of ethnicity, culture, gender and other forms of social diversities started to reflect in the Nepali media.
Changing scenario The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and journalists, has expressed its satisfaction over the changing world scenario. Committed to quality and independence of journalism, the IPI holds that media organisations are globally reckoning with systemic racism by diversifying editorial staff to better reflect the communities they serve. Recently, amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, at its 2020 virtual world congress, it stated that many media organisations are coming forward by being frank with their audiences about their history and the challenges they face. According to IPI, as organisations like BBC look at targets and direct action, some newspapers put themselves publicly in the editorial eye by treating their journey as a story worth reporting. A story worth reporting can only flourish well with diversity in newsrooms. In this context, it has been accepted that to yield the contents to serve the diverse population, first of all, the newsroom must reflect diversity to enhance the acceptability of the contents. The IPI congress considers the present situation as an opportunity for newsrooms to embrace a long-overdue transformation. It is an attempt to understand what audience value and re-examine the fundamental ingredients of news. A survey assessment of media capacity, credibility and literacy entitled ‘Media and the Nepali Public,’ conducted by Media Foundation Nepal in 2012, had revealed that there is a low representation of minorities in Nepali media human resource. It had demonstrated that the majority of journalists, almost 70 per cent, came from the Brahmin/Chhetri caste followed by Newar, Madhes/Terai community or Janajati background in the country. Federation of Nepali Indigenous Nationalities Journalists (FONIJ) has been demanding for ensuring the provision of proportional representation of all the communities in both the state-owned and private media. The Federation’s members are raising the issues concerning diversity and sensitivity in a newsroom and the role of media in promoting pluralism and diversity. Nepal’s constitution has recognised the country as multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural with common aspirations of people living in diverse geographical regions. It has envisioned building a civilised and egalitarian society by ending all forms of discrimination, oppression and injustice based on caste, ethnicity, religion, cultural practices, customs or any other forms of practices. One of the four directive principles of the constitution is to promote national unity by developing relations of cooperation between federal units by maintaining mutual understanding, tolerance, and solidarity among various castes and ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural groups and communities. The first directive principle under Article 50 stresses embracing the norms and values of fundamental rights and human rights, gender equality, proportional inclusion, participation and social justice. Against the backdrop, the Nepali newsrooms have been changing rapidly over a decade. While the 1990 democratic movement established multiparty democracy and pluralism, the second people’s movement in 2006 created a threshold for recognising the diversity in all spheres of society. A strong view has prevailed in Western society that journalism has always suffered from a lack of diversity. Alexandra Borchardt, Director of Leadership Programmes at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, opines that demographically uniform newsrooms have been producing uniformly homogeneous contents for decades. And, while editors around the world have increasingly recognised that this is a problem, too little has been done to address it. She argues that the lack of diversity in the media has worsened in recent decades. For her, the problem is not just that newsroom homogeneity results in an incomplete view of the world and of the reading and listening public. It continues to encourage adopting the dominant culture rather than challenging it. As a result, newsrooms remain ill-equipped to reach out to new audiences. According to Maya Binyam, a lecturer in the New School’s Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism Programme, at the apex of the civil rights era during the 1960s in the US, the media industry, like all American enterprises that claimed for themselves the capacity for redemption, began to develop a racial consciousness. She argues, over the next two decades, advocacy groups assembled to protect the interests of non-white journalists. The American Society of News Editors, popularly known as ASNE, founded with the charge of promoting principled journalism, adopted a set of resolutions in 1978. Chief among them is a modest pledge for parity: by 2000, the racial makeup of newsrooms would match that of the general population. As Binyam comments, by the end of the last century, though, it was clear that the industry would fall significantly short of those aspirations, and the target year was pushed back to 2025.
Initiatives for inclusion As the lack of awareness of the importance of media pluralism and diversity has been realised around the world, significant efforts have been made not only by the government but also by the media industries themselves in different parts of the world. For instance, there are initiatives for inclusion in the US where media houses run the minority editorial training programme, a crash course in reporting, copyediting, and photography designed to increase the number of non-white journalists in the newsroom. In Nepal too, in the aftermath of 1990 political changes, the overall atmosphere has become conducive first for the promotion of media pluralism, and then for diversity in the media contents. Hence, there is a hope that these pre-conditions of functional democracy would be strengthened in the days to come.
(Dr. Aryal is associated with the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Tribhuvan University.)