Nepali media need to invest in the capacity building of reports to improve their coverage of human rights and inclusion issues and embrace human rights approaches while reporting elections by identifying tools and measures that support the promotion of free, fair and participatory elections.
These are the needs highlighted by a study on the media coverage of elections from human rights perspectives, carried out by Media Action Nepal (MAN) with support from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), launched on Tuesday.
Launching the report, Minister of the Government of Nepal Damodar Bhandari highlighted the need to see issues of the society that the state does not see and to bring them to prominence and national attention. He also noted the quantitative and qualitative growth Nepali media had made over the past few decades but worried that that growth had not been reflected in the media’s content. “Nepali media may be getting tangled in surficial issues and not bringing forth the deep analysis required. The Government of Nepal stands with the media for its development,” he added.
Speaking during the event, Laxman Datt Pant, Chairperson of Media Action Nepal called these findings thought-provoking and hoped that this study would encourage media owners and practitioners to introduce an effective in-house strategy for promoting issues of human rights and inclusion through their content. “This study is very important and relevant as it sheds light on newsroom awareness vis-a-vis issues of human rights and inclusion, particularly around the time of elections and also because it recommends an action plan for newsroom practitioners to follow to advance human rights and inclusion through their reporting,” Pant added.
Bandana Rana, CEDAW Committee Member lamented that the media used sexist language and portrayed women in a stereotypical way. Women candidates were also presented as weak, emotional and indecisive during elections and in the aftermath, women family members were blamed for their husbands’ or sons’ decisions.
President of eth Federation Nepali Journalists Bipul Pokhrel praised Media Action Nepal for producing reference materials for educating journalists and also for holding a mirror to journalism, He also showed just how wide an impact media content could have at all levels of the society so noted the need for the press to be accountable and fact-based.
The study has made these recommendations based on its finding that only 1.9 percent of the news reports produced by Nepali newspapers and online portals during the time of last November’s federal and provincial elections covered human rights and inclusion issues.
It looked at 7,459 news stories published in 20 media outlets (10 newspapers and 10 online news portals; three broadsheets and three portals from the Kathmandu Valley and seven broadsheets and seven portals from the provinces) over a period of 16 days (eight days before the election day, the polling day November 20 and seven days after the elections) and found that only 142 covered issues of human rights and inclusion.
MAN believes this is a woefully low number considering that Nepal is a party to several international human rights instruments and the constitution of the country also expresses commitment to the principles of human rights and inclusion.
Furthermore, out of the 142 stories, 30 stories (21.13 percent) were related to women rights, 21 (14.79 percent) to social justice, 18 (12.68 percent) to education and health, 17 (11.97 percent) to youth employment and empowerment, 12 (8.45 percent) to the rights of people with disabilities, eight (5.63 percent) to the rights of farmers, one (0.70 percent) each on the rights of child and right to food, 10 stories (7.04 percent) to poverty alleviation, seven (4.93 percent) to the rights of senior citizens and 12 (8.45 percent) were related to the rights of minorities.
Corroborating concerns from LGBTIQ+ and Dalits that their voices do not find space in the media, only two news stories (1.41 percent) were on the rights of sexual and gender minorities and three (2.11 percent) on the rights of Dalits.
Surprisingly, none of the media outlets produced stories on good governance, an issue considered vital to voters during elections.