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Dhaka Tribune

Press in crisis in Nepal as media revenue dips

  • Journalists across the Himalayan nation becomes financially unviable
  • Crisis has pushed many journalists to change professions
Update : 29 Feb 2024, 08:28 PM

Bhupa Raj Khadka, A journalist with thirty years of media experience opened a store in Bhaktapur, a suburb of the capital Kathmandu, Nepal. 

He had been running a current affairs news portal for six years. But now, he is struggling to pay his two remaining reporters due to dwindling advertisement revenue.

"I saw no future in journalism, so I started a retail shop to make ends meet," he told DW.

Journalism no longer a viable career path

Khadka's situation reflects a broader trend in Nepali journalism. The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ),  an umbrella trade union reported in 2021 that more than 10% of journalists across the country faced lay offs, underpayment or delayed payments within a few months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Since then, there has been no comprehensive study on how many journalists have been laid off or quit the field.

Tara Nath Dahal, chairman of Freedom Forum Nepal, a media rights NGO, told DW that many more people have left journalism than rejoined the profession since the pandemic.

Bala Adhkari, the vice chairperson of FNJ, told DW that over 2,500 journalists countrywide have been victims to different labor rights violations, including unfair layoffs or failure to receive payments. 

"Almost 1,000 of them have approached FNJ seeking help to resolve their issues," she added.

The crisis has pushed many journalists to change professions. In its recent report, the organization Freedom Forum Nepal notes journalists have turned to teaching, businesses, and working at NGOs to meet their financial needs, while some have opted to work abroad. Many have found employment in the Gulf countries or Australia.

The FNJ has also seen its own membership plummet drop by half, Adhikari estimates.

Rise and fall of Nepalese journalism 

Nepal's media landscape thrived following its democratic transition in 1990, when a new constitution paved the way for liberalizing the media industry.

At its peak, Nepal boasted more than 7,000 registered print media outlets. Today, there are 4,859 registered print titles, including 730 daily papers. However, only 928 of all newspapers, including 191 dailies were published at regular intervals as of mid-July 2023.

Dahal said Freedom Forum had observed that more than half of Nepal's FM radio stations and TV networks went off the air since the pandemic, while the remaining ones have either severely cut the number of their employees or reduced their editorial content.

Major newspapers , except government-owned ones  have reduced the number of pages, laid off staff, and closed their regional editions. Leading Nepalese media house Kantipur Media Group (KMG) recently slashed almost one-third of its 1,200-plus jobs. This includes around 100 journalists who have reportedly been laid off or quit.

A representative of KMG said the company planned further layoffs as it faces declines in revenues. For years, KMG's flagship newspaper, Kantipur Daily, printed 24 to 32 pages – now, it has dropped to eight pages.

No salaries, perks or benefits

Activist Janmadev Jaisi said every media house in the country faced accusations of violating workers' rights, driven by management's decision to withhold payment or inflict illegal layoff due to alleged lack of resources.

"Media houses want to operate with as little staff as possible, while not ensuring basic salaries, perks, benefits and timely payment," he said.

Rabi Raj Baral, founder of Media Kurakani ,a popular blog focused on press issues , said news outlets struggle with digital transition and lack crisis management skills.

"The media sector largely opted for an easy way out by laying off staff, trimming content and/or ceasing operations" said Baral, who was also laid off by KMG in 2020 when it closed its Nepal magazine.

Advertising funds are moving away from the papers and toward tech giants such as Meta and Google

Prior the pandemic, the estimated worth of Nepal's advertisement market was approximately 12-13 billion Nepalese rupees (around €88 million, $95 million), with government advertisements accounting for nearly a quarter of it, according to the Advertising Association of Nepal (AAN).

The majority of government ads goes to state-owned media. 

Ranjit Ahcarya, who runs the Prisma Advertising agency, said his company had witnessed a 70-75% decline in annual advertising revenue for news media.

This situation has been further exacerbated by Nepal's bleak economic outlook, which is still struggling to revive since the pandemic.

"We do not have an official data of the amount of advertising revenue allocated to Nepali news media versus digital spaces, as the latter often occurs informally or even illegally," said Acharya, a who is also a member of ANN.

Acharya said the post-pandemic economic downturn made TV advertising less appealing. Consequently, they shifted toward digital platforms, which offer access to more targeted audiences at lower costs.

Who will now be the public watchdog?

Netra Prasad Subedi, spokesperson of the Communication and Information Technology Ministry, has acknowledged the current crisis of Nepal's media landscape. However, he says the government doesn't have any policies or the resources to rescue the media financially. Instead, the ministry lets the market forces correct itself.

The crisis is not only a threat to journalists' livelihoods but also undermines the media's role as a public watchdog.

Kundan Aryal, associate professor of journalism at Nepal's Tribhuvan University, said there was a decline in quality reporting and shrinking focus on public interests.

This trend has exacerbated with local bodies hiring hundreds of active journalists as press advisers and public relations officers.

"With the weak media landscape, public trust in media has weakened, its watchdog role has compromised, civic space has shrunk, and this has ultimately undermined democratic governance and democracy at large," said Dahal, from Freedom Forum Nepal.

Bimala Tumkhewa, chairwoman of Sancharika Samuha, an NGO devoted to the rights of women journalists also warns that "women and marginalized voices were already underrepresented in Nepali mainstream media."

"As the entire media sector is facing an economic crisis, they are mainly focusing on political and economic issues, rather than social and inclusion issues," she said.

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