Categorize media, ensure proportional distribution of advertisement

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KATHMANDU/June 21: Proportional distribution of advertisement is an essential prerequisite for the sustainability of Nepali media. Media stakeholders emphasized this point during the Bagmati provincial level webinar on ‘COVID-19 impact on the media sector and the issue of media sustainability’ organized by Media Action Nepal (MAN) on Monday, June 21.

Minister for Internal Affairs and Law of Bagmati Province Keshav Raj Pandey, President of Advertising Association of Nepal (AAN) Som Prasad Dhital, Bagmati’s Communication Registrar Rewati Sapkota and Chairperson of MAN Laxman Datt Pant along with Secretary of the central committee of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) Srijana Aryal, President of FNJ’s Bagmati provincial chapter Shiva Devkota, Vice-President of FNJ Chitwan Prameeta Dhakal and Media Educator Yam Bahadur Dura shared their insights and observations on how the pandemic has impacted the province’s media and media personnel and, the sector can be made sustainable for the future.

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The webinar, moderated by MAN’s Bagmati Province Coordinator Madhu Sudan Dawadi, had 41 participants on Zoom and was streamed live on MAN’s official Facebook page.

Speaking at the virtual program, Dhakal from FNJ Chitwan spoke out the plights of the journalists of the district who have been out of work since the coronavirus outbreak began in the country last year. She also complained of a lack of help and support from the local government.

Devkota presented a wider picture of the state of journalists in the whole of Bagmati Province. Many small news outlets have closed, he said, dissatisfied that the government had not extended any relief packages to media and journalists in the province. “Instead, the government of Bagmati has prioritized the establishment of its own media house which is against the principle of the freedom of the press,” he said.

Many small news outlets have closed, he said, dissatisfied that the government had not extended any relief packages to media and journalists in the province. “Instead, the government of Bagmati has prioritized the establishment of its own media house which is against the principle of the freedom of the press,” he said.

Minister Pandey assured all the media personnel present at the webinar that the government was committed to building a strong and free press in the province. He informed that the provincial government had facilitated the vaccination of journalists and introduced the COVID-19 insurance scheme. He also shared that the province was holding discussions for the implementation of a fellowship program for coronavirus-infected journalists and told everyone that there would be many packages and schemes for the media in the coming fiscal year such as increasing the budget for public service advertisements and focusing on the proportional distribution of government ads.

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Pandey also clarified that the establishment of the government media house and information bank would neither go against press freedom nor hinder the progress of private media. “They are to aid the private sector. They will collect information from places where reporters have not been able to go and disseminate them to newsrooms across the province,” he said, further adding, “The government media house will also be run in partnership with the public and private sector. Bagmati’s government does not plan to control it.”

The Minister also mentioned that ample discussions would be held with the stakeholders before the government took any decision.

But FNJ Secretary Aryal questioned the provincial government’s motives. “Are the journalists not already reporting from remote places that the province needs to establish a separate media house for it?” she asked. “At a time when we are discussing bringing the four state-owned news organizations – Rastriya Samachar Samiti, Gorkhapatra, Radio Nepal and Nepal Television – under public ownership, we should not be establishing more government media. Instead, the government’s focus should be on supporting the existing media and making the sector sustainable for working journalists,” she remarked.

Are the journalists not already reporting from remote places that the province needs to establish a separate media house for it?” she asked.

Sapkota, who is the first provincial communication registrar in the country, talked about the work he has done since his appointment in 2019. However, he acknowledged that he has not been able to do everything he set out to because of resource and budgetary limitations.

MAN Chairperson Pant highlighted the need for the government to categorize the media. “The government should support public service oriented, small, socially-accountable, community media. But currently, its resources are also going to big so-called corporate media which are the cause of many problems,” he stated, elaborating on how the ‘big’ media had unfairly laid off many journalists without their due pay and had forced many others into forced leaves or to work for half salaries. “How right is it for the government to be responsible for the salaries, insurance and safety of the reporting working in huge profit-making corporate media organizations?” he questioned.

How right is it for the government to be responsible for the salaries, insurance and safety of the reporting working in huge profit-making corporate media organizations?” Pant questioned.

Similarly, Pant also reminded everyone that dependency on the state would not bring sustainability. “How much can the state give and for how long,” he said. Also, he warned that dependency on state apparatus would erode the watchdog role of the media.

He also addressed the issue of licensing and said that it was a tertiary issue that should be discussed only after the issue of education. “We compare journalism with medicine or law and talk about licensing but for a doctor to apply for a license, he/she must have studied medicine; for a lawyer to do the same, he/she must have studied law. So, if we want licenses journalists, we must first focus on imparting basic education,” Pant noted, also adding that licenses should not be given by the state but rather by professional associations.

Media sustainability primarily depends on advertising. Understanding this, MAN also invited AAN President Dhital to speak in the webinar. He said that advertisements were the right of media organizations but stressed that it was not something to ask or give. “It depends on factors like content quality and reach,” he said.

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Dhital, however, informed that the present size of the advertisement market, which is 12 billion, was not enough to sustain the ever-growing number of media organizations and floated the idea that perhaps the number of media outlets needed to be reviewed. He also worried that the authorities were trying to “play” the media in the name of short-term relief instead of formulating long-term policies.

Dhital, however, informed that the present size of the advertisement market, which is 12 billion, was not enough to sustain the ever-growing number of media organizations and floated the idea that perhaps the number of media outlets needed to be reviewed. He also worried that the authorities were trying to “play” the media in the name of short-term relief instead of formulating long-term policies.

Dhital also expressed AAN’s commitment to improve on past mistakes and prevent unhealthy competition among the advertisement agencies and urged media houses to do the same.

This webinar is part of a series of virtual interaction programs that Media Action Nepal is holding in each province, focusing on the various aspects of Nepali media and how they have been impacted by COVID-19. The next Province 2-level webinar will be held on Wednesday, June 23.