• Wednesday, Nov 25, 2020
  • Last Update : 07:46 pm

South Asia's independent journalism shrinking during pandemic

  • Published at 07:48 pm September 16th, 2020

Prakash Rimal said that many media outlets were struggling financially as revenue from the advertising sector had dropped by 80%

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the media sector by shrinking the field of independent journalism in South Asian countries, panellists have said.

Governments in various South Asian countries have become more authoritarian during the pandemic. New laws and regulations are being issued in the countries to stop any criticism of the government, according to the speakers.

The speakers raised such concerns at a webinar on "State of Media in Nepal during the Covid-19 Crisis and beyond”, organized by ARTICLE 19 South Asia and Media Advocacy Group (MAG) Nepal on Tuesday. 

Participants included Hari Bahadur Thapa, former editor of Nepal’s daily Annapurna Post, Govinda Acharya, president of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and Prakash Rimal, former editor of The Himalayan Times. Faruq Faisel, regional director for ARTICLE 19 South Asia, chaired the event. 

Speaking at the event, Faruq Faisel said: “The Covid-19 situation has put the media industry in Bangladesh and Nepal in a similar crisis. A holistic assessment on the current situation of journalism and the media sector is essential to fit in and sustain in the new normal. The focus should be more on shifting to digital media and new media, research based investigative journalism and strategies to increase the revenue of media companies.’’ 

Also Read - Survey: Over 60% of local newspapers have shut down in Covid-19 pandemic

Hari Bahardur Thapa emphasized the need to understand the negative influence of investors and owners, who are more business oriented and use unethical tactics to unjustly retrench workers and staff.  

He said: “The media industry in Nepal is still young. Most of the investors and owners use the media for their own gain. As a result, it is important to safeguard the integrity of the media sector by protecting journalists.’’ 

Thapa also observed that with two-thirds of the seats being occupied by the majority in parliament, Nepal's current government has become authoritarian in style. Any criticism of the government is being strictly silenced. It has created fear and insecurity in the minds of journalists that has resulted in “zero criticism” of the government in the Nepalese media.

Govinda Acharya said 600 newspapers and 6 radio stations across Nepal had been shut down due to the Covid-19 situation. More than 2,000 media workers were fired. 

He added that at least 50% of the journalists currently working were not getting regular salaries. In addition to a crisis of livelihood, working journalists also had to fight to get reliable and accurate information on the coronavirus situation.

Also Read - UK high commissioner: Press freedom, journalists’ safety important during Covid-19 pandemic

Prakash Rimal said that many media outlets were struggling financially as revenue from the advertising sector had dropped by 80%. Most of the media companies had not been paying their employees for 5-6 months on the pretext of the coronavirus. 

Ensuring that journalists received their fair pay on time should be a priority right now, he mentioned.

The panellists agreed that livelihoods and understanding the impact on the sector after the Covid-19 situation needed to be assessed seriously. 

Additionally, Govinda Aachary noted that while the focus remained on Covid-19, other things such as corruption and criminal issues were being neglected, which could lead to problems in the future. 

Babita Basnet, editor of Nepal's news media Ghatana ra Bichar and executive director of MAG Nepal, moderated the discussions. 

Journalists, editors, industry experts and human rights defenders from Bangladesh and Nepal were virtually present on the occasion.

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