For global media, the year 2020 was the year of an extraordinary flow of news of loss, disruption, stress and plight. The real-life stories of the year were the ingredients of several exclusive news items across the world. But none of them was good. The biggest health crisis of the century world posed unprecedented challenges also for the media industry around the globe. Hence, the year 2020 will be defined as the year of disruption and acute difficulties. Now at the beginning of the New Year, entire the world has shown hope with the new ways of thinking about the future. The world, shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to recover in 2021.
Difficulties Despite the exceptional difficulties, the people around the world ultimately found the ways to live in a new normal. In a bid to defeat coronavirus, the alternatives were employed in various walks of social lives. The news along with the entire media industry is one of the areas of human endeavours. At the beginning of 2020, people even scared of touching the newspapers, as there was a rumour of speeding of the virus through the newsprint. Subsequently, restrictions over the mobility hampered the process of distribution of newspapers. Nepali news media industry, growing continuously after the 1990 political changes, faced an acute financial crisis in 2020 due to the outbreak of COVID-19. One of the major effects of the pandemic was severe cut-down of scheduled advertising in Nepal. Besides the print, production of radio and television programmes has also greatly been affected. Media outlets suffered from the scarcity of contents because of fewer events in the various walks of life ranging from sports to entertainment and politics in 2020. Over time, though the things are not returning to normal like in the past, the world has entered into the state of new normal. The approaches are being adopted in the field of education, tourism, aviation, transports and even in the field of religion. One of the creative outcomes during the intensified outbreak of the pandemic in Nepal was uses of new media to update the domestic and international news. During the period of restriction over the mobility, people rapidly began to shift from print to digital platforms. Even in Nepal, the consumers of news and views started to provide more time to be engaged in digital platforms. Thus, the year 2020 will also be remembered for this visible change. After the restoration of democracy in 1990, Nepal entered into a new era of openness and witnessed the emergence of several broadsheet dailies in the next two years, and within a decade radio and television channels began to proliferate in the private sector. Hence, the year 1990 was a benchmark that created a distinct Nepali media landscape. Before 1990, there was a big state-owned publication house, nationwide radio and television channels, with the low-budget-weeklies serving as alternative voices in politics. Thus a visible media industry with independent players from the private sector could make their presence felt only after 1990. After three decades of that major change in the media realm, the Nepali media industry was forced to consider the process of production and distribution of the contents in 2020. Specifically, the process of distribution has been greatly affected by technological advancement. COVID-19 played a pertinent role to boost the digital contents. Some of the online news portals initiated in 2020 have demonstrated the examples of success in drawing the attention of the audience. During the early years of the new millennium, Nepal saw a moderate shit of the audience to the digital media for information, entertainment and views. In the difficult circumstance created by the pandemic, most of the Nepali audience adopted the habit of consuming digital contents to a wider extent. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the available data show, Nepal’s internet traffic has increased significantly. People, who were forced to stay inside the home, developed their habit of getting engaged with the social networking sites and also the news portals. The constraints, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic on the people’s physical movement, have hastened their digital migration. Yet, the news media are far from being the main beneficiaries of this shift. YouTube, Facebook and TikTok generated unedited contents to synchronise with the rapid transition towards digital contents. They are the most attractive destinations for a majority of the migrating audiences. This transformation of Nepali media landscape signals the necessity of reforms in the process of production and presentation of the professional news contents. If the news portals serve edited contents and supply the materials as per the need of the audience, they will seek updates from the news portals.
Optimism The year 2020 has left various effects on all walks of social life in all continents. As 2020 has drawn to a close, there is widespread optimism in 2021. The world will confront challenges from the last year. However, there are perspectives to tackle the challenges in the new normal situation. So hope is high that the New Year will certainly be a happy year for Nepal and the rest of the world.
(Dr. Aryal is associated with the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Tribhuvan University.)