Dev Raj Dahal
Human life is regulated by communication of which media constitute a part, a truth producing part. It is a process of learning, awareness and coordination of behaviour. It helps to visualise the life’s prospects. Media make up a union of soft power of text, image and sound to get the voice of people into the public sphere and widen the scale of their deliberation and participation in decisions. In the multi-sided process of nation building various insights, perspectives and concepts of media are useful resources to satisfy peoples’ yearning for freedom, justice and national identity. Media thus offer a marketplace of ideas to exercise choice. Their autonomy in rules, finance, professionalism and context-sensitivity enable them to freely report about the vices of Nepali society and offer options to mitigate them.
Nation building under the state’s leadership and mobilisation of civic bodies with robust technical and financial support are the most desirable gifts in a world of disarray. Modern means of communication, cultural diffusion, justice and democracy are propelling the fusion of Nepali nations into its state symbolising an epithet of public will. Now, Nepali leaders need to transmit specific interests of groups into public and national interest and socialise them to identify with Nepaliness. It is not by the secluded tribal identity but equal citizenship that defines the Nepali state and its civic nationalism defies predators.
Its impersonal spirit can abolish feudalism and clientelism and protect citizens from alien manipulation of consciousness while producing different levels of communication through endogenous progress. Nepali nations exist in many parts of the world and communicate with each other through language, culture and civilisation. This means that spatial view alone is not enough to arrest its historicity.
Now Nepali media are gripped by a dilemma between constitutional freedom and traditional politics rooted in tribal affinity, not national affinity with the state which is a sphere of rights, solidarity and democracy. Democracy has opened a scope for multi-channel message and citizens’ feedbacks to leaders obliging them to evolve national outlook. The diversity of Nepali media has linked politics with social life - families, communities, cultural and linguistic groups, and articulated their desires so that illicit grievances do not upturn social cohesion.
Similarly, they have eased economic structures of production, exchange and distribution of public goods thus overcoming the problems of scarcity created by an imbalance of supply and demand. The current social dynamics in Nepal based on identity politics is, however, straining civic renewal facilitated by Nepal’s many post-traditional societal traits vital to bond social capital for cultivating positive multipliers of nation-building. Some media in Nepal with distinct pattern of communication are more conducive to nation-building than the other.
Nepali media’s role in building democratic life in society, political structures and parties and crafting a strong national identity cannot be misjudged but this type of media have yet to delink violence from politics. The control of the media by partisan, corporate and geopolitical interest tends to polarise the national audience into good and evil and chip the nation’s civic culture.
Professional media grounded in public interests articulate distributive justice to foster a feeling of civic solidarity which creates general loyalty to constitutional state and adapt the old pattern of life to new stimuli and demands. They are considerate, not context free, in orientation as they help build thoughtful considerations among diverse communities, shape rational consensus and add to social cooperation by hauling positive message, information, values and issues that are essential for an educated public-policy oriented dialogue. In times of crisis they bring the connectors of society in a dialogue and synthesise diverse perspectives to fit into a national will. Nepal precisely requires a pro-active role of professional media which can foster a single public identity, equality of citizens before the law, instil civic duty to each other and close the elite-mass gap.
Enlightened media can pass civic knowledge in the entire arteries of polity, help each to bridge the space between the centre, Kathmandu and periphery and across the social classes and shore up the process of national unity. They help citizens free from fatalism, stamp out social ills of Nepali society and provide freedom from all types of tutelage. The sharing of lived experience of surviving citizens can provide learning opportunities for others to build on and strengthen resilient traits of national awareness, historical experience, crisis adaptation, revitalisation and post-conflict reconciliation.
Media freedom, in this sense, is connected to social accountability, public ethics and human rights. Likewise, pluralism in news means upholding normative standards of democracy, human rights, social justice and peace and the civic spirit of a deliberative civic culture which is vital to include the perspectives, values and interests of all sides in nation-building through diverse strategies and outreach:
The unification of people in the state promises its stability and endurance. In Nepal a gap persists between Nepali speaking, spiritually-oriented rural society and the English-stressing materially-oriented urban sub-society. This dualism, rested in a digital gap, is exposing the citizens to bumpy media socialisation and disposition without higher phase of life. Wearing away of this dualism is central to building this nation. Remote areas of Nepal demand the spur of progress indicators. Integration of the periphery to the centre, Kathmandu, requires the diffusion of media channels and effective outreach of the Nepali state so that democratic nation-building can impel from the bottom-up.
Nation building implies a process of cultivating common values, sentiments, feeling, emotion and interests across the diverse people. The split in education and health of Nepal, public and private, cuts up a critical support to under-classes and diffusion of cultural memories so crucial for political acculturation of diversity to changing times. Culture itself is a distilled knowledge shaped by communication. Nepali media must help to integrate political parties, civil society, business and citizens into a national communicative space and cultivate their loyalties to the state. So long as citizen, as members of state, is clientalised to personalised leaders building responsive capacity to state staggers. This is the reason Nepali media find difficulty to judge politics from non-partisan angle.
Self-governance is intrinsic to human genes. It is based on their self-developed consciousness about the physical space, language, culture, ancestry, history, religion and laws often reinforced by the narration of media. They together make up the nation of people. Modern nation-building requires the de-tribalisation of society and transfer of tribal, ethnic, caste, religious, regional and linguistic loyalty to the state, a .state having enough autonomy and capacity aided by its resources to determine its free existence. Tribalisation of political parties, media and civil society and their inability to imbibe civic virtues risk national cohesion in the same way as clientialisation of citizens to personalised leaders. Both cut the freedom of Nepalis and their ability to defend the hard-shell of the state within which democracy is situated.
The communicative gift of Nepalis is a key to realise their inner vigilance and ability to air voice on public matters. The free flow of information offered by the media under the Nepali constitutional right to information has made them critical of a range of issues and source of their valid judgment. Attentive citizens’ expression in the social media reflect the condition of Nepalis and their needs offering opinions, options and promises for the solution of burning problems. Politicisation of citizens with added rights but few duties has, however, made Nepali politics aspiration-driven, even some media offer radical view rather than shape credible opinion and objective reporting essential for nation-building.
Media pluralism is the hallmark of democracy but diverse media socialisation of citizens has also fragmented Nepal’s civic culture. When news, views and analysis are assorted with parochial interests, the flow of information turns public sphere jarring. Nepali citizens are, therefore, seeking to exonerate themselves from this sordid fact and criticise the national leaders for the nation’s elongated political transition.
For nation-building Nepal has adhered the politics of social inclusion, partly multiculturalism, partly accommodation, federalism and promotional measures for weaker sections of society and quota for the marginalised. Nepal’s distributive justice is rooted in a proportional electoral system in the structure of governance. The national construction of the nation demands a workable social contract whereby the state find easy to reconcile social fissures through peace dividends where Nepali media can assume communication, aggregation and articulation roles to link the state with citizens. Nepali media’s role lies in moderating contesting views to a middle path and enables all people to use socialised choice.
The Nepali media have marked a shift from conventional watchdog role to a vibrant dialogue forum between the state and citizens. Only an interacting public sphere can draw citizens’ policy attention. They can help to moderate the behaviour of legitimate, dissident and rebellious oppositions engaged in agitation and raise the voice of those exiled into to silence. Nepali media hold the power of public to improve the health of democracy and renew the society and the state to bounce back to a better condition capable of establishing a balance between public order, freedom, justice and peace.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)
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