The screening of the documentary, Flames of the Snow produced by Anand Swaroop Verma alerted the Mumbai policeat a screening held last month. In the present scenario, this is not surprising given the fact that it is about the Maoist revolution in Nepal.
Verma has written extensively about the Nepali revolution ever since its inception in the Hindi daily Jansatta. Last year he parted ways with the newspaper following ideological differences with the editor. He has also covered the breakdown of apartheid in Africa and has been publishing a monthly Hindi magazine called 'Samkaleen Teesari Duniya'. In this interview Verma speaks about the ideological trends in the Nepali media and his views about media responsibilities in reporting people’s struggles.
How did the Nepali media cover the Maoist revolution when it was at its peak?
The Nepalese media never referred to the Maoists as terrorists after all, that term is only a recently popular one. They were simply termed as 'rebels'. The first person to have referred to them as terrorists was Jaswant Singh when he was the Foreign Minister, and the Nepalese people opposed to the usage of such a term. But there was mention about their terror in the media. Yet, the flow of information was not restricted. In the current scenario with the Maoists finding themselves on soft ground, the media is back to critiquing them.
But overall, the Nepali media is not as biased against its own people and their struggles, as compared to the Indian media today. Because if any newspaper were to constantly critique the revolution, then the people would have identified it as a newspaper which was bowing down to the monarchy. So the biggest newspapers like Kathmandu Post and Kantipur (owned by a Nepali resident of Indian origin) would surely critique the revolution but would also balance it out with news about the monarchy and its tyranny, or would publish such news also which would be in favour of the Maoists.
But after a point in time during the revolution, the media began to hail the Maoists. Every newspaper would have several interviews with Prachanda, Baburam Bhattarai and some commanders. Later, most newspapers began to fill their space with positive news about the Maoists.
Can the media in Nepal be referred to as an 'industry' like it is done in India?
There hasn't been much development of the media in Nepal. Nepali newspapers like Annapurna Post and the English newspaper Himalayan Times are very popular. The latter has the backing of Dileep Padgaonkar, and when the newspaper was launched, there was much noise against it as the people believed that it was a way of establishing Indian hegemony. Another newspaper called Republica in English and Nagrik in Hindi have been recently launched. But there are many small newspapers in Hindi which are widely read. Some of them support the Maoists, while some others oppose to them. People also read the Maoist newspaper called Janadesh and Jannishad, whose circulations run into lakhs. The revenue is through local ads. These newspapers would also have just about 8-10 pages only. And since there is no industry there, they did not even have that pressure for cronyism – this is quite unlike India.
In any country, the media also bears in mind the demands of the readership. They present the views of the people, as well as manufacture views. But it also observes that if a certain view has been stuck in the minds of the people, then they would not want to lose the readership by changing that view. Broadly, people are anti-monarchy in Nepal, although much was written about the monarchy in good light before the royal massacre in 2000. But after that episode, the views dwindled drastically. The people hated King Gyanendra and his son Prince Paras to such an extent that no newspaper would dare write anything in their favour, unless, of course, they were die-hard monarchists.
Where does the media stand in the present scenario of uncertainty? How is the morale among journalists?
The journalists there are politically broadly Left. Most newspapers today have youngsters as journalists who may not be too well informed. Hence the journalists' union – Nepal Federation of Journalists – regularly conducts various seminars and talks for them. The union is very strong and makes itself heard on various issues. They try to portray themselves as neutral but are Leftists. If there are extreme atrocities by the Maoists – which, too, is inevitable at times – the union does come forward to demonstrate against such acts. In a certain way, they are still able to be the watchdogs of the society. Usually, the President and the Secretary of the union are not from the Nepali Congress. They would be members or have allegiance to one of the various factions of the Left.
The journalist's union raises its voice against any media organisation which may have fired any journalist on flimsy grounds or if anyone hasn't received an appointment letter after much time into the service. The union strongly fights for the economic rights. There is no penetration of foreign capital into Nepal yet, but if there is any, I am sure it can be opposed to some extent with the help of the media.
During the time when the Maoists were in power in 2008, and Baburam Bhattarai's wife Hisila Yami was the Water Resource Minister – she has also written several articles on women's issues under the pseudonym Parvati – the Asian Development Bank (ADB) proposed a scheme for the Melamchi water project. ADB was giving funds for the project but stated that they would themselves appoint the contractors. But Yami said that this wasn't possible and that she would do the appointments instead. ADB said that they would not give the funds if they did not have their way in appointing the contractors. Yami refused to budge. Since it was a government of alliances, the Finance Minister, who was from Nepali Congress, made much noise about it, stating that the Maoists wouldn't let the country progress. But after seven months, ADB finally gave the funds based on Yami's terms and let the government choose the contractors for themselves. So it was a good fight. The newspapers hailed Yami for refusing to budge and for taking a nationalist stand. So if such battles are fought with the nationalistic view in mind, the media in Nepal is supportive of it. Similarly, when they feel that Indian intervention could put a dent to their nationalism, the media reacts immediately.
Your writings have included the Apartheid in South Africa and the Maoist revolution in Nepal. What in your opinion is the duty of a journalist while reporting about any people's struggle?
Firstly, let's acknowledge that the media in the globalisation era is a skewed. In today’s age of economic globalization the electronic media has become powerful and a key element of reporting is the blackout of people's struggles which affect the investment climate. Once Jyoti Basu had said that if you constantly publish news about blackouts and strikes, who would want to invest here? In a meeting on internal security with chief ministers in September 2006, Manmohan Singh had said that getting the media to play a more positive role would be useful and that this should form part of an overall media management strategy.
Young Indian journalists who have not taken a political stance often fall prey to misinformation. In the midst of people's movements, I feel it is the duty of journalists to counter official misinformation. We need to give correct information to the masses. For this, we may have to develop an alternative information network at a national level. If every city has a few people who can disseminate correct information we could deliver the truth to the people. In doing so, we shouldn't fall into the trap of ideologies that revolutions propagate. It is our obligation to make the people well-informed citizens with the right information.