In a previous post examining coverage of various development issues by the Nepali media titled Nepal's Media Needs to Move on From Breaking News, I stressed that both English and Nepali language media in Nepal need to make development issues a priority and not restrict them to the inside columns. That post was published here in late January. Has there been any change in last four months? And how does Nepali media's coverage of development issues compare to neighboring India?
Unfortunately, in last four months, development issues are still non-essential for Nepal's media. A simple observation made it clear that the newspapers are focusing more on politics and subjects that bring in advertising money and also attract younger audience. Increased coverage of "lifestyle" and celebrity news is an example.
Kantipur Daily, Nepal's largest selling paper, whose audience ranges from the urban, educated to the rural poor, has six development related stories on its May 16 paper. None of them made it to the front page, but comparatively better than sister publication Kathmandu Post. The English language daily had just one development story, which was featured in the front page - small consolation.
Friday,May 13th paper was also similar. Kathmandu Post covered just one development story and Kantipur had six.
It would be unfair to criticize the publication by comparing two days of coverage, but this is meant to be a snapshot of a sustained trend, to show that how development issues are regularly sidelined. Kantipur and Kathmandu Post are two largest newspapers in Nepal's limited media market. It can be safely assumed that they are representative of Nepal's mainstream journalism, and their approach towards development issues shows a sad reality that today Nepal's media would rather focus on discussing every political issue, push lifestyle features and waste space with celebrity "news", rather than prioritize essential development issues.
Neighboring India, which is very influential in the region and also in Nepal, is currently a hot topic among international business community and also among diplomatic and political community. It offers a huge, growing market with lot of potential and is already established as a technology leader - thanks to outsourcing boom.
To find a representative paper in the Indian's media market is near impossible, because of language, geographical and regional diversity. Taking cultural and geographical proximity into consideration; we will focus on northern India. Hindustan Times' Hindi edition has wide circulation in capital New Delhi and in number of major cities.
Hindustan Times featured just one development related story on May 16th and two on May 13th.
It is clear that media in Nepal is not seeing the value in prioritizing development issues. A section of Indian media is also echoing the same. While the mainstream media is ignoring development issues, citizen journalism-blogs, social networking sites are pushing these issues. In Nepal's context, blogs like MySansar, WhyNepal and TFCNepal are very much focused on issues like right to information, women's issues, education and reform. Numbers of bloggers are emerging as development champions like Chandan Sapkota and Ujjwal Thapa.
Question now arises, will the change in mainstream media come following public's demand or does it have to have financial merits? Also, if the mainstream fails to honor the public's wishes, will that push more readers towards citizen media and blogs?