Across the world and the region, democracy is in retreat. The three pillars of a democratic state — an independent judiciary, the legislature and the executive, are all teetering.
The media is supposed to be the fourth pillar to hold up the superstructure of democracy. But the press is being suppressed, or its dire economic straits make it vulnerable to pressure from the state, corporate interests and owners who do not value its public service role.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, media companies were in trouble: readers were moving to the Internet, advertisers followed, and revenue went into free fall. Google and Facebook ads took whatever was left.
Nepal’s economy was starting to revive when the Russian invasion of Ukraine hiked the price of imported petroleum, eroding Nepal’s foreign exchange reserves and widening the balance of payments gap. The government banned imports of 10 ‘non-essential’ items. All this has had a knock-on effect on advertising, indirectly hitting the bottom line of media companies.
At a time when countries need a free and independent media more than ever before to defend open society, the press is in a financially fragile state. Nepal is still one of the freer countries in the region, but a weak press during an election year could mean that pluralism is trumped by populism.
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Nepal’s media has seen periods of total censorship, and times when it has been protected by a democratic leadership. After 2017 especially, journalists have been taking seriously their adversarial role with investigative reports, exposes and reportage, highlighting the plight of citizens at the margins.
Nepal’s media industry, supported by private sector advertising, has become the amplifier of every sphere of development: health, education, business, science, culture and heritage, the arts and technology.
With the speed of mobile data increasing and prices coming down, the consumption pattern for entertainment and information is being transformed. The publishing industry is no more a one-way street from newsrooms to doorsteps. It is now a two-way interactive super-highway of websites, apps and comment threads.