Published in The Telegraph Nepal on Nov. 21 by Dev Raj Dahal (Head, FES, Nepal Office) ::
Media constitute a part of larger civil society entrusted with the responsibility to protect human rights, expand the domain of public sphere and contribute to public opinion and democratic will-formation. Nepal’s post-conflict situation demands additional contribution of media in the construction of a rational social contract, a workable constitution, peace-building and socialization necessary for establishing constitutional state capable of achieving governance goals and comprehensive social reconciliation processes.
Mass media serve key roles in democratic innovation, dissemination of democratic values, ideas, ideologies and concepts, shore up support for bolstering the infrastructures of democracy, such as political parties, civil society, election, communication and civic education. These roles can help the consolidation of democracy. The normative values of modern democracy are: sovereignty of people, social inclusion, principle of affected, subsidiarity, establishment of negative and positive rights and awareness about the public issues. Mass media can promote these values in society if journalists feel a sense of security to their life and liberty of profession. The public functions of media in a country like Nepal, however, rest on their own framework of ownership, finance, autonomy, control, regulation and accountability. Conflict-sensitivity of journalists is essential to move the country to peaceful direction.
Nepalese media have provided civic awareness to citizens about changing nature of political economy, equipped them with participatory information and resources, stimulated active public engagement and fostered meaningful dialogues and ownership of citizens in the agenda-setting regarding their rights, laws, social security provisions and professional dignity. Familiarization of citizens with various issues has provided them a greater measure of inner vigilance enabling to use their free political choice in public affairs. Nepali state can sincerely implement Right to Information Act 2007 and Working Journalists Act 2007 if its legitimate monopoly on power is restored and media serve as a vibrant link between the input and output functions of democracy and promote what Juergen Habermas calls “communicative action,” an action essential to nurture understanding at the political sphere. Mediatization of public sphere has enabled politicians communicate more to media persons than among themselves and link the netizens of virtual world to visual world of citizens.
Media Strategies for Democracy Consolidation
Information is power and effective utilization of information is a key to the emancipation of citizens from multi-dimensional self-subordination. Citizens’ capacity to exercise their constitutional and human rights and form preference rest on basic knowledge and access to free flow of information. The direct language they use for communication of the messages can socialize citizens on public issues, provide autonomous power to deliberate, act without any structural and social constraints and enjoy their rights and privileges.
Democratization contributes to the creation of a robust public sphere
Representative character of media enables citizens to shape their political choices, makes their judgment and opinion valid. Obviously, by using reflective imagination and deliberating with citizens Nepalese media can bridge the gap between journalists’ concepts and citizens’ world views, engage in revealing the social truth and provide them informed choice. A responsible media culture can reform many irrational codes of society and create rational ground for freedom, equality, inclusion and peace.
Democratization fosters critical debates necessary for a deliberative public
Informed public opinion depends on critical social dialogues about the conditions of people, women’s issues, social evils, human trafficking, reform in social legislation, health and safety of media workers etc. Elimination of structural injustice can create a level playing field for all. Responsible media should, therefore, debate about legitimate roles of the state, markets and civil society taking into account long-term perspectives of all sides, the plurality of opinions and diversity of views and stimulate creative participation of citizens in the achievement of common good for Nepali people.
Democratization activates passive people into active, attentive citizen
Ideally, public sphere of the media is regarded autonomous of the dominant interest groups of society so that every citizen can share this sphere equally and exercise their Right to Information Act to make decisions on public affairs transparent. To be engaged in public debate means actively express constitutional views on media platforms and creating a stake of every Nepali citizen into democracy. Solidarity among the media workers can help overcome their exploitation, enforce labor act and also security deficit caused by the attack politics of pre-political, anti-political and armed groups. One vital democratic function of the media is civic education– training of people into the life of citizenship and human rights, respect others’ legitimate views and work for a social contract acceptable to all sides. Democratization helps to broaden their horizon, moderate the views of various identities- caste, class, gender, ethnicity, religions and regions and transform them into a single national identity—Nepali. Those not generating true consciousness is problematic in terms of attaching the trust and loyalty of citizens to democracy and their goal of social transformation.
Democratization reduces private ego of leaders and generates public trust, reconciliation and peace
The worst affected people by both direct violence and structural injustice are the weaker sections of Nepalese though through tax and remittance they contribute to keep the nation’s vital economic life going. In a conflict-ridden country, like Nepal, media have to pro-actively engage in reformist agenda, shape “common background condition” for a “common ground” for the resolution of constitutional questions such as federalism, form of governance, judiciary, election and citizenship. It defines media profession as a normative public craft to reduce the level of violence in society. Only then they can transcend the self-centered nature of communication to capture the essence of democratic values and norms. Post-conflict functions of media in Nepal rest on non-violent communication, recovery, healing of the victims, reconciliation and peace building
Democratization liberates citizens from colonialism, feudalism and corporate interest
Democratic politics is not only about the self- assertion of politicians for power but about seeking a common good where even ordinary citizens are not excluded. Democracy becomes vibrant if there is a constant flow of feedback between the leaders and citizens through the medium of communication and continuous rationalization, reform and renewal of society’s resilience. Democracy seeks to maximize the greatest happiness of greatest number of society’s members. Media should, therefore, release democracy’s potential for social, economic and political integration of Nepal’s diverse society and contribute to strengtheningnational integrity system to control corruption and impunity, generate social investments for livelihoods security.
Democratization builds civic competence to adapt to ecological, economic and technological change
Information, education and economy provide means for national adaptation. They nurture citizens’ life-long learning process along with the changes in the nature of technology and economy. In this sense, the contents of civic education should be transformatory in nature because it gives them a critical sense of inquiry in thinking, judgment and cooperative action on ecological, social, economic and political realms. A democratic process also avoids the politics of negation and agitations as is happening in Nepal. Freedom and space of media persons should not be restricted through undemocratic laws except in cases pertaining to national sovereignty, social cohesion and peace in the country.
Democratization contributes to the creation of a civic culture:
A civic culture requires not only political equality but also civic competence of citizens to solve their problems and contribute to modernization of society and social peace. Fundamentalism, whether market, class, ethnic and religious, removes the common ground, stokes the spiral of mistrust, distorts communication and risks the country’s relapse into pre-civilized form. Knowledge about the optimization of interest, ideology and identity of various stakeholders of Nepal can remove fundamentalism and restore the normalcy of public life.
As a part of broader civil society media persons are entrusted with the responsibility to provide citizens undistorted knowledge and information about national issues, institutional access to solidarity, options for the solution to the problems and protection and promotion of constitutional and human rights. To make politics public, citizens should be given critical knowledge about changing nature of technology, economy and life-choice. Only then, democracy can foster peace through every one’s stake in it and inculcates a sense of social, gender, inter-generational and social justice. Injustice and invisibility mark the decline of democracy. Media can play an important role to make democracy for everybody by reaching to even the passive, poor and isolated citizens and energizing them to participate on the production of collective welfare. By providing critical information responsible press nurtures an informed society capable of making vital choices in the public affairs and contributes towards participatory democracy rooted in popular sovereignty.
Thanks the author: Ed.