'Journalists of corporate media are more distressed in Nepal’

KATHMANDU: Journalists working with the corporate media houses in Nepal are found to be more distressed than those of smaller and community based media outlets.  Panelists of the Webinar on “Covid-19 Economic downturn and safety of journalists in Nepal” organized by Media Action Nepal (MAN) on July 10 voiced their concerns about fellow journalists and discussed ways overcoming professional safety challenges the latter  are facing amid COVID19.  

The webinar started with Laxman Datt Pant, Chairperson of MAN, pointing out that “under the excuse of COVID19 and economic crisis, more than 500 hundred journalists have lost their jobs and more than five thousand face employment threats.” He added that Kathmandu based corporate media houses including Kantipur Media Group, Nepal Republic Media and Annapurna Media Network have forced hundreds of working journalists to quit their job. “Through we are aware about the situation in the capital, we need to know the current situation of journalists in other provinces as well”, Pant added.

Representing Province Number 1, Taramani Sapkota, Editor of Jhapa based online portal Sajilokhabar.com, said more than 30 dailies were printed before COVID19 whereas only six are active now. Similarly, a number of radio programs and weekly papers were inactive during the lockdown period. “We are not sure when and how many of these will resume” he said. Radio stations are forced to play songs throughout the day just to keep working.” Representing Province Number 2, B.P Sah, Janakpur based journalist, said that apart from the threat of losing their jobs due to economic crisis, journalists are facing a new law passed by the Provincial Assembly that threatens press freedom. The new law allows confiscation of communication equipment hindering journalistic work.

“With the increased spread of pandemic, journalists have to do more work than usual as people expect more and more updates.” said Gita Chimoriya, a reporter with Community Information Network (CIN) in Kathmandu. “Some media houses are sacking journalists calling them inefficient or unproductive. This is unethical towards borderline workers as they need support, both moral and financial, now more than ever.” Madhu Sudan Dawadi, journalist representing Province Bagmati stated that media outlets are not getting any revenue due to lack of advertisements. He also said that the circulation of newspapers has dropped drastically and some papers have gone Black and White. “The only silver lining in this crisis is that working journalists have been issued ‘corona insurance’ in case anyone gets ill.” he highlighted.

Similarly, for Province 5, Asmina Pandey Poudel, News Chief with  Radio Mukti in Butwal, said journalists are facing issues of unpaid work and forced leave. Representing Province Gandaki, Jamuna Barsha Sharma, reporter with the state owned National News Agency said that the main issues in Gandaki are similar to that of other provinces. She said “the issues between media houses and owners and the journalists were prevalent and have just aggravated due to COVID19. Media owners are using COVID19 as an excuse to trouble journalists.”

From Karnali Province, Suryamani Gautam, Editor of Karnalipatra daily, highlighted that the issues of income and job threat are not new to Nepali Journalists, it's just more visible during this pandemic. He also stated that journalists in bigger media houses especially in the capital are facing such issues more as compared to smaller, more local, media houses. More than 50% of media houses are closed in Surkhet-the capital city of the province. Representing the Sudurpaschim Province, Prem Bhatta, Baitadi based journalist,  stated similar issues and said “routine newspapers are not printed anymore.” He also said that journalists reporting near the India- Nepal borders have not been provided with any safety. “The Federation of Nepali Journalists did provide some safety packages to reporters here that included Masks, sanitizers, gloves, etc.” he said. “

Aarti Chataut, Act Deputy General Manager of Nepal Television spoke of the commendable work that Nepali journalists have done in reporting the pandemic. She said that when everyone was staying safe in their homes after a coronavirus outbreak, journalists being borderline workers were still risking their lives and working towards reporting and updating the nation constantly. “Many journalists are under job threat and are constantly anticipating unemployment yet for some reason, among those who have lost jobs or have not been paid, the ratio of women at risk is higher than men,” Chataut added.  Namrata Sharma, senior journalist, said that despite health hazards and economic crisis, journalists around the world have been reporting regularly on various issues like politics, environment, social issues, etc just like before and have been updating people with the truth. “Journalists working in corporatized big media houses are more distressed than journalists of smaller or community media houses. These profit making corporate media houses need to put their profits into use and ensure job security and life sustaining income for their journalists.” she said. “Considering just profit is not enough, we need to look at people, profit and planet”

Govinda Acharya, President, Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), stated that sustaining daily life has become difficult for journalists due to COVID19 and related issues. He said “around 2000 journalists are not able to live in proper homes or eat proper food due to job loss and 5000 journalists are facing job related uncertainty. We need to take this issue seriously, voice our concern and work towards finding solutions.” He added that stakeholders like media houses and the government need to work together towards finding an immediate solution to save journalists from crashing into such levels of basic life issues. Concluding the webinar Laxman Datt Pant, MAN Chairperson, stated the need to pay heed to media and journalism related laws in the constitution and emphasized on the need of appointment letter for working as journalists for safety and security. He said “that we as journalists don't pay heed to laws and join media houses haphazardly which has made it difficult to hold the perpetrators accountable for the injustice they have done.”

The webinar participated by over 60 journalists including 23 women was moderated by Priyanka Jha, Vice Chairperson of Media Action Nepal.