Exploitation, huge gender-based wage gap continue in Nepali media

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KATHMANDU/June 23: Lack of cooperation from authorities, exploitation by media houses and gender-based wage gap are some reasons why journalists of Province 2 of Nepal do not see a future in their profession. Media authorities and working journalists raised this point while discussing the COVID-19 pandemic and the issue of professional safety of journalists in a webinar organized by Media Action Nepal (MAN) on Wednesday, June 23.

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Minister for Internal Affairs and Law of Province 2 Gyanendra Kumar Yadav, Chairperson of the Mass Communication Authority (MCA) Shyam Sundar Yadav, Chairperson of the Media Council Shiv Hari Bhattarai, member of FNJ’s central committee Rinku Mishra (Gayatri), Province 2 President of FNJ Rajesh Kumar Karna and reporter of the Birgunj-based publication Prateek Daily Bimala Gupta along with Advocate and Human Rights Activist Ganesh Prasad Ghimire spoke about the issues plaguing the province’s journalists and proposed some ways to solve them.

The webinar, moderated by MAN’s Province 2 Coordinator Hadish Khuddar, had more than 30 participants on Zoom and was streamed live on MAN’s official Facebook page.

Rinku Mishra shared that while FNJ could pressure and warn big media outlets against firing or deducting the salaries of their reports, the Federation could not do the same for smaller organizations. “They have very limited resources and are on the verge of closing down permanently. So, there is very little they can do for their staff,” she said, arguing that the proportional distribution of public service advertisements was the only way to save such small journalist-run news media.

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Reporter Bimala Gupta revealed the worrying conditions journalists had to work in in the province. “Reporters are recruited and promoted not on merit but rather their relationship with media owners. They are not given leaves and do not receive legally ensured benefits. The pay is meagre and there is a huge wage gap between male and female journalists,” she said, adding that these problems had a greater impact on women journalists, leading many to quit the sector altogether.

Reporter Bimala Gupta revealed the worrying conditions journalists had to work in in the province. “Reporters are recruited and promoted not on merit but rather their relationship with media owners. They are not given leaves and do not receive legally ensured benefits. The pay is meagre and there is a huge wage gap between male and female journalists,” she said, adding that these problems had a greater impact on women journalists, leading many to quit the sector altogether.

“Why do we journalists, who raise voices for others, stay quiet about our own mistreatment and exploitation?” she asked everyone present in the webinar.

MCA Chairperson Yadav admitted there was a lack of support from authorities, especially for women journalists. But he assured that the Authority and Council would work to change that.

“The MCA and the Media Council have been formed to help the journalists,” Yadav said, informing that the Authority had distributed masks and sanitizers to journalists in all eight districts of Province 2 to help them stay safe during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Regarding ads, Yadav informed the Province 2 government had allocated Rs. 20 million for public service advertisements which would be given to the more than 300 media operating in the province proportionally. He also mentioned that the government had been providing scholarships and fellowships to encourage people, particularly from the marginalized groups, to study mass communication and journalism. He also elaborated on the provincial media strengthening program which would be implemented from the coming fiscal year to help small media get back on their feet.

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FNJ Provincial President Karna to immediately provide relief to working journalists and media organizations within the 12 days remaining of the current fiscal year. He also opined that the Rs. 20 million budget separated for advertisements would not be sufficient when divided among all the media of the province.

Karna also emphasized the need for transparency while distributing ads through a one-door system so that some media do not get improperly prioritized over others. He also called the government’s attention to the implementation of media laws and policies. “They are there on paper but the disinterested employees have been hindering their implementation,” Karna complained.

Media Council chair Bhattarai agreed with all the points raised in the discussion and stated that both the Media Council and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law were determined to address them. “But there are administrative hurdles that have prevented us from working to our fullest extent,” he claimed. Nevertheless, he believed that the government needed to assist journalists in their time of need and would introduce various schemes and measures such as the establishment of a journalist welfare fund.

MAN Chairperson Pant praised the establishment of the MCA and the Media Council as media-related bodies in Province 2 and said that they provided an opportunity for the province to set an example in the development of journalism in the country. He also urged institutions like the FNJ to force large media houses to be responsible for the safety of their journalists. He also reminded everyone that the key to media sustainability is the development of its content to attract advertisers. “It is not advisable to be reliant on the government as it erodes media’s independence and stifles its ability to hold the powerful to account,” he noted.

Pant also reminded everyone that the key to media sustainability is the development of its content to attract advertisers. “It is not advisable to be reliant on the government as it erodes media’s independence and stifles its ability to hold the powerful to account,” he noted.

Pant also requested the provincial government and lawmakers to consult relevant experts and stakeholders while drafting media laws and to focus on issues like gender inclusion and sensitivity.

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After listening to all the participants, Minister Yadav said that the province was committed to institutionalizing federalism and media was key to that. He assured everyone that the government would provide relief to journalists and would focus on assisting the families of reporters who lost their lives to COVID-19 and facilitating the treatment of those currently in the hospital battling the infection. He also revealed the government’s plan to roll out insurance for female journalists from the coming fiscal year and introduce a scheme where journalists active in this field for more than 30 years would receive some amount as a retirement fund.

The Minister informed everyone that the issue of public service ads was currently with the federal government but it would expand and improve the system once it came under its jurisdiction. He remarked that Province 2 wished to establish itself as a media-friendly province and would do everything necessary to help the media sector. He also thanked Media Action Nepal for holding the webinar and said it would create a common understanding of issues among the people.

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 1-level webinar will be held on Wednesday, June 25.