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Lal Bahadur Airi: A young leader in charge of change

Lal Bahadur Airi: A young leader in charge of change

Lal Bahadur Airi was appointed the general manager at Gorkhapatra in 2022, for a four-year term, making him the youngest ever to hold the position. A vacancy opened by the ministry, followed by a shortlisting of candidates, and a submission to the cabinet for final approval led to Airi being selected for the prestigious position.

Before that, Airi worked as a reporter at the National News Agency and was on the board of directors at Radio Sudoor Awaz. At one point, he also held the position of district bureau coordinator at Kantipur Television.

Currently, he is also a PhD scholar. His research project focuses on how the media performs inside the federal government. Beyond academia, he has a strong interest in social work. His early exposure to social work and leadership sparked his interest in journalism as a social service platform. He began his career with practical journalism experience, which was later supplemented by an academic pursuit of the field.

“I find myself drawn to the social aspects of journalism. I’m intrigued by journalist’s backgrounds and motivations, as well as how regional influences and personal perspectives affect their work,” says Airi. “I hope to improve my knowledge of journalism’s role in constructing societal narratives by investigating these sociological processes.”

Airi hails from Amargadhi Municipality-7, Dadeldhura. He completed his SLC in 2003 and since then has been continuously involved in journalism.

“My academic background, which includes a sociology thesis produced during my MPhil, reinforces my devotion to social work. Aspiring to be a journalist entails learning the sociological aspects that impact the industry and how to properly handle a variety of social topics,” he says.

At Gorkhapatra, Airi says all operations are overseen by the management and administration in collaboration with the executive chairman. The organization manages six publications—Gorkhapatra (a vernacular daily), The Rising Nepal (an English-language national daily), Madhuparka (a literary monthly magazine), Muna (a children’s monthly magazine), Yuba Manch (a youth monthly magazine) and Gorkhapatra Online (the digital edition).

“My position comes with formulating and implementing company plans, supervising business operations, and resolving circulation difficulties, with a primary focus on administrative administration and leadership,” says Airi.

As a state media body, Gorkhapatra is responsible for a variety of state and public-related issues. With a rich history of 124 years and numerous publications, the institution has created a distinct personality. Managing a team of around 500 people is a huge undertaking. The organization must maintain people’s faith. It must also balance and manage connections between the government, public, and its own employees.

Some say that in free and democratic nations, state media is unneeded since market outlets can effectively serve public interest. They feel that commercial media can better enlighten the public, rendering government-owned outlets obsolete.

Others think that state media plays an important role in articulating the government’s position and establishing a national perspective. They feel it promotes national unity and identity by presenting the state’s perspective in a distinct manner.

State media, as shown by historic periodicals such as Gorkhapatra, played an important role in informing and educating the populace during times of scarcity. The form of state media, whether government-controlled or independent with state support, differs among countries, with the goal of balancing independence and accountability. While the need for state media to bridge government-public relations persists, the current problem is to ensure its relevance in an era of ubiquitous information availability.

“In today’s age of misinformation and deep fakes, trustworthy sources are critical for giving accurate, unbiased information,” says Airi. “They bridge the gap by facilitating open communication between the government and the public, establishing trust and clarity in the information landscape.”

Social media poses a challenge to traditional mainstream media, resulting in difficulties such as lower revenue and audience engagement. However, it has democratized information access, allowing a variety of viewpoints to be heard. Platforms like Gorkhapatra use social media to improve public access to news, shape public perception, and battle disinformation.

“Gorkhapatra has undergone a significant shift from being a government mouthpiece to a platform that presents public opinion. It highlights public concerns and includes public opinions in its material, positioning itself as the people’s voice,” says Airi, adding that despite encountering business issues, its reach has grown via digital platforms.

The challenges of declining productivity and advertising revenue have prompted a reevaluation of content quality, leading to a greater emphasis on public voices and critical reporting. This shift has not only strengthened Gorkhapatra’s role as a public voice but also contributed to societal establishment by facilitating open dialogue and addressing economic and administrative issues.

“Gorkhapatra and other media outlets are embracing digital transformation in order to adapt to the modern era. They’re modernizing internet platforms, expanding their social media presence, and integrating technology into newsrooms. Initiatives such as GIOMS, which fall under the Digital Nepal framework, exhibit a commitment to innovation and automation, with the goal of improving distribution, payment procedures, and storytelling for better relevance and efficiency in the developing media landscape,” says Airi.

Gorkhapatra, which is rooted in tradition, struggles to adapt to change due to governmental roadblocks and outdated rules and regulations. Despite efforts, it’s frequently viewed as representing only government viewpoints, highlighting bigger issues in journalism’s progress.

Another significant aspect that media personnel should understand is the gap in media literacy among individuals, especially regarding digital media. This lack of understanding poses a challenge not only for Gorkhapatra but for the entire field of journalism and societal transformation. For instance, when discussing issues on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, it can be challenging to differentiate between journalism and the common utilization of social media platforms. Overall, the media faces challenges stemming from unhealthy professional practices, making responsible journalism and media houses crucial.

However, the biggest thing is credibility, says Airi. And it’s what drives Gorkhapatra in its pursuit of news.