Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Media As A Driver Of Change

Dev Raj Dahal


The information revolution marks a flux of settled way of life, removing many walls set by agricultural and industrial revolutions. It is unlocking new opportunity and linking Nepalis to a bigger world. Digital tools assume pivotal place on the cusp of this flux and transforming usual media into an automata like cybernetics. But certain subsets are commercialising the society as a major process of social change causing a digital divide like wealth gaps created by earlier revolutions and putting bulk of citizens out of the focus of public good. In uncertain times commercialisation of media alienates citizens from their native land, floats them like a saleable goods in the global labour market and flags common citizenship and shared destiny.
Enlightened and mindful Nepali media persons as sentinel of public interest inspire and enlighten citizens and leaders waking them up to the changing issues, events, rules and values. Autonomous of interest groups desired for social cohesion and nation building. But those receiving profits from business, political parties and geopolitical links face a slew of clashing imperatives. Like phony figures, they only sing the tune of those who pay the play. The indoctrinated ignorant are curled. Those pre-programmed on infotainment are flashy with less essence while those oriented to subsidiary interest demonise others. The later classes of media breed jarring views, news and analyses that confuse, not enlighten, Nepalis vital for civic engagement.
The image of mindful media as a critical mass of the change agents remains credible for they internalise universal values of human rights, democracy, justice and peace and tend democratic capacity of citizens to sustain a vigorous public sphere. Their critical views train citizens and leaders enabling them to judge issues and seek a rationale of the actions of many sources of authority, heal the crack of this injured nation and ease the tide of modernisation flow in the path of silent change.
The marvellous rise of online media has pluralised the scope of digital space - websites, internet, Facebook, twitter, Google, etc. that form a web beyond the control of Nepali polity and offers various channels of communication and feedback for citizens’ voice, visibility, choice and participation. Social media are flat, cost-effective, instant and great medium to help express, build opinion, exercise freedom and set fire to critical debates vital for social change essential to remove the vices of Nepali society. Their discourses have turned the modern life global offering even individuals a chance to frame rational view and express freedom of conscience away from the clannish conformity to dominant interests.
Artificial intelligence with technocratic power has changed the value chains of traditional media in each stage thus opening new frontiers of contact and improving citizens’ lives. But AI-driven media cannot replace the ultimate value of human decency upon which their ethics derive its virtues. Today digital order far from serving the democratic space has become vulnerable to alien spies aiming to control data, information and knowledge and deform public policy. This cyber battle for immoral aim eats media ethics of fairness. Multi-scale cooperation for the reasonable regulation of cyberspace is a moral duty of civil society, media persons and citizens. This can add to democratic values and the right of Nepalis for national self-will.
Nepal is struggling to improve its framework condition for progress marked by poverty, inequality, illiteracy, unemployment and undemocratic deal of interest groups that flop citizens’ dignity. Its weak polity lacks institutional muscle to solve problems, formulate and execute public policies and form a democratic order able to satisfy rights of Nepalis. The skewed share of media power across geographic, class and gender has set free new form of dynamics, uneven distribution of society’s facilities and shaky rule filled with inter and intra party row. The centrifugal force of geopolitics adds an ugly twist to the media socialisation stoking grievances and erosion of inter-personal, inter-institutional and inter-generational trust.
If normative public reason of constitutionalism does not govern media culture critical minorities on the edge of drift inflame their craze. In Nepal, vernacular media are diffusing information, socialization and public opinion. They need to be linked to digital media to start social, gender and inter-generational duty while new technology espouse democratic values and foster an informed and active citizenry able to engage in a conversation, invoke their right to information, democratic oversight and reach.
The social media offer Nepalis insights on many issues such as poverty, corruption, migration, ethnic conflict, economic injustice, corruption, gender violence, human rights abuses and geopolitical conflicts. Infection of society with the jarring voice and multiple narration of national questions, whatever its causes, breeds distorted communication and distances democracy from its sovereign citizens. It also divorces freedom from accountability and public morality. Sovereignty of Nepalis and liberty of the media form an enduring unity which is vital to mobilise the virtuous circle of citizens who love to loath violence as a motor of change.
Each creative initiative taken by individual journalist may seem of little effect, but when placed in the global gaze, it spells amazing flash for the other. Its cooperation, spurred by digital hub, can outdo individual experience by enlarging it into a network, then solidarity and finally into a sense of Nepali community. Solidarity is a political tool. Corporate media depress it believing that news content and coverage is determined by the interest of owners and financers, not by public interests. Cartel and monopoly of media, like economy, flag free spirits of openness, competition and choice. Ironically, the mores of modernity too tend to bend communication. This inverts media ethics, cuts editorial freedom and trims the inclusion of diversity thus marking Nepali polity’s fatal decline.
Media’s coalition with the distributive struggle of social forces may become an engine of structural change. Expanding the loop of change agents, sharing social duties and enlarging national communicative space can change the nation’s political culture. Legal reforms are other areas but they are by no means enough unless media inspire their own leaders and institutions with diverse forms of power to truly democratise the operation and ownership. Media persons symbolise the nation’s intellectual values. Diffusion of these values is essential to enable Nepalis internalise social standards turning transactional authorities and leadership transformational ones answerable for their actions. Nepali societies’ penchant to mediatisation and digitisation has, however, created many gaps between visual and virtual world marking democratic deficits.
Only a vibrant public sphere where Nepali media serve can remedy it and set it free unimpeded by greed, fear and force. In this context, widening of access to digital skills, monitoring and advocacy and freedom of expression is central to build bridges across these gaps, reduce social risks, secure communication and ensure both networking and safety for Nepali media persons. As a voice of the powerless sections of society they, however, must respond to the growing public rage over the unfulfilled promises made by politicians and revitalise the public political culture of democracy.
Time is ripe for Nepali media persons to reflect on their works, monitor and measure their performance and establish democratic processes to assess the direction of rational change of society. It is vital to underline their key challenges about impunity, self-censorship and safety. The strategies can be measured by SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic objectives and timing) rule in their works. Gender concern is ahead now in the Nepali media discourse.
But their own anxiety about falling civic space and insecure career dulls a healthy milieu and stifle citizens’ constitutional right to know. Experience and the lesions learned by missionary media zeal in response to citizens’ problems reveal a rationale as to how social change is doable and how sites of resistance against it coiled. Nepali media’s motivation and professionalism can enable citizens to become creative part of the nation’s culture rooted into free conversation.
Measure of success of Nepali media to achieve desirable social change rests on their robust coherence of goals, coordination of technological, resources and organisational means. Sustained engagement of media persons with the citizens seeking change towards rationalisation, democratisation and humanisation can unleash a flexible energy and move Nepali society to moderation, disposition and sobriety in thinking, belief and conduct.
Nepali media have, therefore, to keep abreast with the factors that set the most important dynamics, renew suitable strategies, sketch realistic programmes and project inclusive future. Imagining better freedom for media persons and citizens entails systemic knowledge that helps to create and sustain human elements in governance that address injustice, build solidarity of journalists and overcome Nepalis’ dissembled life caused by new technology, migration, atomisation of family, social stratification and new gap in wealth.
Building solidarity with the Nepalis and strengthening the circle of allies in civil society, can enable them to act in concert, enhance efficiency and nurture a robust community eager to keep the social contract. In order to keep the image of public sphere Nepali media need to summon citizens’ courage to settle predictable flaws and clarify what is fact and truth, what is their personal preference and opinion and how they can help shape critical public opinion relevant for Nepalis to make choices for endogenous change in this interlinked world.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)