Sumnima Udas spoke to Nepali Times about the state of media in the age of populist authoritarianism.
Nepali Times: Your tweet. It took an unusually strong line on India’s claim to Nepal’s territory.
Sumnima Udas: I wrote that tweet because I was disturbed by the way in which the Indian media was covering the story, as if it were an indisputable fact that these three areas belonged to India.
Politically, it is a shrewd strategy, allowing them to begin the debate from a position of strength, even though their argument may be based on an alternative fact or half truth. This is a trick often used by President Trump. I used the term ‘gas lighting’ to describe their approach which means to psychologically manipulate so one questions one’s own perception of reality.
Nepal may have had all the facts on its side, historically, and geographically yet I too found myself second guessing our version of history, questioning if this was in fact Nepal’s why didn’t we say anything for all these years? And while those questions still stand, the truth still remains.
I also did not agree with the patronising tone of their coverage. When a General G D Bakshi glowingly repeats that Nepal is “India’s most important neighbour, a small brother, roti beti” etc etc, we may feel loved and cozy, but the usage of such terms immediately relegates us to a lower footing. Germany doesn’t call Switzerland a small brother, nor does US call Mexico a small sister. We shouldn’t be called small, period. I often feel we sell ourselves too short, if we always present or project ourselves as small or poor, that will be our reality. It is time we re-imagine the positioning of our country.
Lines on a map, Editorial
Time for some table talk, Kiran Nepal
It was also clear to me that many Indian journalists were peddling a preconceived narrative from South Block. Both broadcast and print media from Republic TV to the Hindustan Times reported the story as if the area was always India’s and that the Nepali leadership was needlessly irritating its ‘big brother’ for its own political gain, or as the Indian Army General put it ‘at the behest of someone’. Simplifying the story in this manner worked for the Indian audience which currently seems obsessed with China. It comes from insecurity, but it was hugely misleading.
You yourself have hosted studio interviews with world leaders and celebrities. What are some of your guiding principles?
I produced CNN’s flagship weekly talk show called Talk Asia for 4 years, based out of Hong Kong. Every week we would profile newsmakers from Bill Clinton to Shinzo Abe to Ratan Tata to Roger Federer, Jack Ma to Lady Gaga. Unlike many other interview shows, particularly in India, the purpose of our interviews was never to antagonise. In India, or even in Nepal for that matter, I often feel journalists ask questions in an unfairly provocative manner to elicit a certain response which they can then dramatise out of context.
They feel emboldened by the ability to ask tough questions and viewers or readers often commend the journalist for it. I’ve always felt the interview format should never be about the reporter or anchor, an opportunity to show off his or her own intelligence. The purpose is simply to be a medium for information sharing and to facilitate the guest in articulating their views. This does not mean we shouldn’t ask difficult or uncomfortable questions. The trick is in knowing how to do it in an informative, interesting and, most importantly, fair manner.
Jaw-jaw not fued-fued, Akanshya Shah
Untangling the Kalapani knot, Prabhakar Sharma
We see tv hosts these days being jingoistic. Is it normal for them to be so overtly biased against one community, religion, or country?
It is not at all normal. In journalism school entire semesters are dedicated to the importance of objectivity. After 15 years in journalism, I recognise that there is no such thing as a completely objective media or a completely objective journalist because emotions and personal biases are so deeply ingrained it is very difficult to detach oneself from one’s own views. For example, as a Nepali reporting for an international network, the way I covered the 2015 earthquake would undoubtedly be very different from the way a non-Nepali would cover it. It was personal for me, I naturally cared how Nepal was being presented on the world stage. However, as difficult as it may be, it is extremely important not to impose one’s worldview on to others. You can have values, but you can’t have views.