Adhocism and the culture of press-release journalism – I


Let me start with some examples.

  1. Kantipur as a tool of Maoist propaganda: “Prachanda shortlisted in the 100 eminent personalities of the world chosen by China”

    Kantipur: Prachanda among the 100 towering personalities chosen by China

    Kantipur functioning as a tool of Maoist propaganda: "Prachanda among the 100 towering personalities chosen by China"

    On 16th march 2010, the official mouthpiece publication of Nepal’s Maoist party wrote (Krishna Sen Online): “UCPN-Maoist Chairman Com. Prachanda has been selected among the 100 towering personalities from the different sectors of the world to take part in the Shanghai Expo that is going to be held after two months in Shanghai, China. During the period, continuing for 6 months, Prachanda will take part in a special interaction programme there. In the Expo, science and technology, industrial production and economic development will be exhibited.”

    In reality, the organizers of the World Expo Shanghai had approached many celebrities for it’s campaign named “100 celebrities talking about the World Expo Shanghai.” The official notice of the organizers from 2009 says that they had received manuscripts from 90 such celebrities and expected the number to exceed 100. No other credible news source talked of it as China’s recognition of the personalities as “the 100 most eminent in in the world.” It was just a publicity campaign and an attempt by the fest organizers to gather wider recognition..

    It was a time when Maoist Chairman Prachanda was trying desperate measures to get back to power. To increase his bargaining power with others (including India), he was trying to portray that China was giving him importance. Such a publicity gimmick was given front-page coverage by Kantipur just a day after it was published in the Maoist mouthpiece (see picture). Another daily paper Naya Patrika went as far as to say that Prachanda was selected as one of the 8 world leaders.

    The reader comments in the above pieces show how these papers succeeded in garnering support and sympathy for Prachanda. A few months later, Kantipur ran a report from the Expo. It read: “although it was advertised that Chairman Prachanda would address the Expo, he did not participate in any such event. The Nepalese Embassy in China said they had no knowledge of his participation as a special speaker in the event.”

    If they were mistakes, I am not aware of the paper which calls itself the country’s largest selling daily apologizing for them, leading me to believe that it was deliberate. I have also written of some other examples of Kantipur operating as a PR agency for the Maoist party.

  2. Naya Patrika sides with corrupt officials and blemishes a good civil servant

    A year ago, Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, Leela Mani Paudyal (alternate spellings: Lilamani Paudel, Lilamani Poudel) wrote in Nagarik about the ordeals of his Gulmi-Kathmandu travel after Dashain (English translation here). According to him, while traveling in a public bus, the police stationed in the highway had terrorized the passengers, were silent observers and sometimes participants in extorting money from many passengers and vehicles. The Secretary expressed sadness in the way the police tried to defend such behavior when he tried to take action against it.

    In a clear attempt to tarnish Poudel’s image and discourage him, Naya Patrika ran a completely opposite story (English translation here) that tried to show that the police were victimized by the high official. They were quoted as saying that they were threatened by the Secretary for inspecting his vehicle. The story that made serious allegations against Poudel was based completely on the statements of the police who were suspended on charges of corruption.

    After the incident, traffic police from all over the country were reprimanded by the government for involving in corruption. Two days before, Nagarik had published a story about the destruction of the Prithvi Highway due to illegal transport activities. While the plight of the highway was not new, the paper had published it apparently only after the same Secretary took steps to minimize the damage (English translation here).

    A year later, Secretary Poudel was in news recently after PM Baburam Bhattarai approved his transfer from Home Ministry. He is considered to be one of the best civil servants and has recently also been hailed for his work as the Home Secretary and involvement in the inspection of and action against food vendors producing substandard items [see endnotes]. Earlier in his career he had to face a media backlash for the work he was supposed to do. I can imagine the environment our other civil servants in lesser positions are subjected to when they try to perform their duty.

  3. Media complicit partners in child trafficking

    With examples of news coverage by Republica and Avenues TV, I wrote a long blog post about how Nepalese media helps sell children by diverting the argument and asking very wrong questions. Since then, Avenues TV has aired two more shows (on 20th October and on 4th November) of half-an-hour length on the same subject. In these shows, the alleged child trafficker is seen threatening to put the rescuers on fire and not caring if anyone died in the process. The programs carry the same trademark inflammatory language and tone. The endless pursuit of this issue by Avenues raises suspicion about if it was only lack of research on the TV’s part or a partnership with the traffickers.

    The second of these programs contains footage of the press conference organized by the alleged trafficker at the Reporters’ Club. Since most news in Nepal is a lazy re-ordering of words from press conference and releases, many other news outlets must also have carried the same version of the story by now.

    To my information, Nepalnews has already done so. In yet another example of trial by media, Nepalnews has even declared who the victims and criminals are. This case is now pending decision in Nepal’s court- hence the media has also violated the sub-judice rule in addition to exposing the extent of irresponsibility they are capable of.

    None of these media entities including the Republica has apologized or carried the other side of the story. The same issue has been treated totally differently by the Indian media and recently also by the British Telegraph, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. The organization in question has published its response on its website, but it’s as if there can be no news without a press conference or a release. [The following is the video response from the organization]

    Is Anuradha Koirala lobbying for the traffickers?

    To make matters more interesting, a very respected figure in Nepal, Anuradha Koirala (the pioneer anti-trafficking campaigner, founder of Maiti Nepal and winner of the 2010 CNN Hero of the Year) has bought the arguments of Avenues TV. Although it might be too far fetched at this point to say that Anuradha Koirala is also helping sell children (or to say that Anuradha Koirala helps child trafficking or is involved in trafficking), it is another indicator of the power and influence that the media enjoys in Nepal. Seek to 28:47 in the video below to hear Anuradha Koirala referring to the coverage of Avenues TV and asking the Prime Minister to take actions against The Esther Benjamins Trust for it’s recent rescue mission.

  4. “Verification and accuracy of information is not our job”

    A month ago, a blogger pointed out some flaws in report published by some papers about a website. It appeared that the newspapers including Nagarik and Nepal had done no work on their part to verify the information they were provided with. Such trend in Nepalese media is almost a rule rather than an exception when it comes to technology, science and other specialized subject areas. I have observed many stories on VOIP and internet issues that are completely off the mark.

    Such stories/reports usually present partial information and one side of the story as the complete truth. They reek unprofessionalism and show complete lack of effort by the writer. Reading some of them makes it clear that the writer was used, duped or paid by his/her sources to publish as news what is in-fact a press-release.

    Bloggers also suffer from the disease

    After the recent earthquake in Nepal-Sikkim region, one of the most popular Nepali language blogs My Sansar wrote about Triangle of Life. There are enough articles online with the same content as My Sansar’s and if there was nothing to add, just linking to one of them would have been enough. Instead, the blogger Salokya (Umesh Shrestha), who is a professional journalist working for the Nagariknews portal (thus with enough knowledge about the etiquette of linking and republishing), decided to use the material to suggest readers that the described technique was a life-saver during earthquakes. If you google “the triangle of life,” all the top results say the technique is either controversial or a myth. It is clear Salokya didn’t even do this much before republishing the material.

    A year ago, I had received a chain email with the same content as Salokya’s blog and I had tried to find about a good earthquake safety technique for Nepal. I haven’t found a good answer and am still looking for one. It is said that Duck (Drop), Cover, Hold was meant for Western countries where houses are built strictly according to the building code. Since there is no clear idea about which houses in Nepal are built to code and which aren’t, it is difficult to say how the buildings will collapse. Although Nepalese experts also recommend “Duck, Cover, Hold,” I’ve been wanting to ask what they have to say about the Triangle of Life. [Note: My Sansar later added this small notice at the end of the post: "some commenters of this post have said that this technique is controversial"]

  5. Adhocism

    I wrote a post on some ignored issues related to #maharagate last year. It was after some editors decided to appear concerned following the leak of a Maoist leader’s tapped telephone conversation with questions to the government like “who else is being tapped and by who?” The Nepalese media (and media-men including the same editors) that doubles as activist whenever the situation suits has never raised this issue before or after the incident.

    Every year there is serious food deficit in many parts of Nepal. There is almost a deafening silence about this all round the year and when people start dying of hunger, the media puts on its activist hat and does all kinds of things.

    At the heart of this issue lies a host of problems and causes, of which adhocism is the most important one in my opinion.


Note: Part two of this post will be published shortly.



Endnotes

  1. In a story about several good administrators in the government, the Nepal magazine has published the following about Leela Mani Poudel: Secretary Poudel is said to have modernized several government services. With his attributes like youthfulness, positive outlook, energy, clear vision and a can-do attitude, he has made a mark in the civil service. His work as a Consular General of the Nepalese mission in Lhasa was appreciated by China. He had also done good work as the Secretary of the Tourism Ministry but after the appointment of Hisila Yami as the Minister, he couldn’t continue it.
  2. Here’s another story from Kantipur that profiles Secretary Poudel including the good works he has done.
  3. Another story from Kantipur that describes how Secretary Poudel was transferred from the Home Ministry by the Baburam Bhattarai government because he refused to co-operate with the Home Minister in his wrongdoings. Prime Minister Bhattarai defended the decision in the name of the rule of special exception.

7 thoughts on “Adhocism and the culture of press-release journalism – I

  1. Awesome!
    Thank you for clearly figuring out details. Waiting for other parts of the article!
    But I don’t think Nepalese media will ever change – as the points you have listed will continue to be in.

  2. Interesting observations. I agree with a lot of the things you have pointed out. Responsibility of the content is a far-fetched idea for many public communicators (journalists, bloggers included) and this is not helping any cause.

    Most of the pieces in journalism are based on ‘what someone said’ rather than ‘what we found true or verifiable among what they said’. This is a trend that is not going to improve until their is public scrutiny on their content (and post such as this is a part of public scrutiny). Thank you for that.

    Follow-up of the issues media has raised is another problem with journalism in Nepal. Media seem to raise the issue, and forget about it – neither claim success nor regret errors. Maharagate is one of such example.

    And, little explanation on the news of ‘children rescue’ that Republica published. As a friend, I raised the issue with the social affairs editor and he said due to the sensitivity of the issue, they tried their best to balance it and gave more priorities to what the children themselves said to the reporter. I do understand your viewpoint on the earlier blog on asking wrong questions. But the ‘rescue’ is still a controversial issue (take note that the children and/or someone with them organized a press conference with them a few days ago and said that same thing, I don’t know if any newspaper published that but I read the news report on National News Agency).

    • My intention is not to be harsh or rude- there should be healthy criticism so that things can be reviewed and improved. Thanks for appreciating this.

      About the ‘children rescue’ story: I have written above about the press conference too- maybe you didnt notice :)

  3. None of these problems are going to go unless there is a paradigm shift in journalism, in fact a shift in our entire society where the problem of what you point out as adhocism is rooted. It is amazing how our society is so comfortable with mediocrity and dreads perfection. Much of it may be due to plain laziness, the unwillingness to make the effort, see beyond the obvious, challenge established norms. Because all of these take work whereas shoving press releases as news in front of gullible and unquestioning readers don’t. Thanks for taking the time to write this. To Ujjwal ji, many thanks for taking forward the issue of rescued children to the concerned editors. Once more here, I would like to point out that the issue is not of ‘fake rescue’ but of ‘fake orpahns’. It is as simple as that. If journalists in UK and India could see that, if my paper could see that, if Ushaft could see that, I don’t understand why Republica could not. It is either deliberate or as Ushaft says adhocism and carelessness, and I would like to add, insult to the intellect of the readers as well. One of the two. But yes I do believe that the reporter concerned did not do it deliberately and had good intentions.

    What need do we have for journalists if a crowd’s testimony can pass off as news in the papers? There’s got to be checking, rechecking and cross-checking. Pity that we the journalists are failing to do it. I don’t see any point of journalists deriding citizen bloggers anymore because turns out they are even more compromised, not to mention lacking passion which leads them to be so laid-back and careless about their work.

  4. The Americans are writing about the fake orphans as well.

    Are They Orphans?

    The American Prospect:

    http://prospect.org/article/are-they-orphans

    “One version of the orphanage scam has just been uncovered in India by the Esther Benjamins Memorial Foundation. Several years ago, a now-infamous child-trafficker traveled through Nepal’s Humla province, asking families to pay him to take their children to boarding schools in Kathmandu.”

  5. Pingback: Nepali Bloggers Breaking New Grounds | Nepal Blogs

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