Thursday, 6 May, 2021
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OPINION

Public Access to News Media Data In Nepal



Harsha Man Maharjan

 

The data related to news media are important for advertisers, news media and the public. Due to this, many countries have mechanisms to collect such data and make them public. These data are helpful for making sense of the condition of the news media sector. The public access to these data is a way to make news media more "transparent". What kinds of data related to news media workers, audiences and revenue are easily available in Nepal?

Media workers
No organisation makes the data related to the total workforce of news media organisations public in Nepal; the publications and websites of a few organisations provide us some data. The website of Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) mentions that it has 13, 264 members. Likewise, sometimes reports prepared by the Minimum Wage Committee include some data related to journalists working in different media organisations. For example, its 2018-2019 report mentioned the total number of journalists working in few online media. According to this report, some 100 journalists worked in Onlinekhabar.com. Though these numbers give us a sense of journalists working in news media in Nepal, the datasets don't give the total picture of media workers.
It means we don't have detailed information on the journalists working in newspapers, radios, televisions and online media.  Similarly we don't know how many people are working in printing presses in these newspapers. And we don't know the total workforce of the news media sector. 
The data we have about the audience of private newspapers are self-claimed. Often private newspapers don't disclose the data about their audiences; few ones mention such data on their websites. For example Kantipur Publications claims that the circulations of Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post are 453,000 and 95,000. However many insiders don't believe the data as they think the numbers are inflated. Similarly Press Council Nepal also regularly collects the data related to the circulation of newspapers. Many newspapers provide such data to the council for their classification. Often these data are not made public. In fact as critics have pointed out such figures are not vetted.  Yet, one can know the circulation of the publications of "public news media", Gorkhapatra Corporation through yellow books.
In comparison to newspapers, media owners cannot easily know the number of audiences of their radio stations and television channels. So often radios and televisions mention their coverage and the area where the signal is available. For example, Radio Kantipur claims its coverage is 75 per cent over Nepal, but these data do not tell us about the number of actual listeners who listen to the radio. Though signals are available, people may not listen to the radio station. Similarly, the website of Nepal Television claims that its reach is over 72 per cent of the population with terrestrial reach over 50 per cent of the landmass in Nepal". The website does not cite any research for this data.
Though in digital media, the exact data on the audience can be collected; such data are not easily made public. There is also a trend of citing the traffic analysis provided by websites like Alexa.com, but insiders know that the traffic can be boosted by paying certain fees to the website.
So, we need better data about news media audiences in Nepal. Though Sharecast Initiative Nepal has been doing media surveys for a few years, its main focus is to know which kinds of media are popular in Nepal. For example, Nepal Media Survey 2020 conducted with a sample of size 4,832 found that respondents regularly using radios, televisions, newspapers/magazines and the internet are 59 per cent, 61 per cent, 32 per cent and 44 per cent, respectively.

Revenue
We do not know the revenue of private news media organisations as they do not need to make public its revenue. So even media workers don't know the income and expenses of the organisations where they work. During my fieldwork for the doctoral research on the digital transition of Nepali newspapers my informant in Gorkhapatra Corporation raised an issue of 'lack of transparency' in private media organisations. They told me that the Inland Revenue Department felicitated Gorkhapatra Corporation for paying the highest tax in 2015 in the category of publishers.  They inquired how that could be possible when there were other publishing organisations which did more transactions than the corporation. 
Thus, the access to the data related to the revenue of private news media organisations is not easy. Only in case of "public media" organisations can we know their revenue. We get the data about the revenue of Gorkhapatra Corporation, Radio Nepal, Nepal Television, and Rastriya Samachar Samiti by going through the yellow books.
We need an Audit Bureau of Circulation jointly formed by the news media sector, advertisers, and advertising agencies. In fact National Mass Communications Policy 2016 has envisaged such a mechanism but it has not been established. It will collect the data related to audiences of news media such as print, radio, television and online. These data will be helpful for advertisers to select appropriate media.
We can have a voluntary mechanism of making the financial statement of news media organisations public. This can be done on the occasion of their anniversary. It is important for at least two reasons. First, both media workers and the public will know the economic condition of the organisations. Second, this will make news media organisations more "transparent". 

(Maharjan is a senior researcher at an academic NGO, Martin Chautari, and writes on issues related to media and technology.)