Kunda Dixit, the publisher of the Nepali Times, mentions that it’s an appropriate time for him to be speaking at this conference, “as my country is in flames.” He notes that it’s a bit embarrasing that he was able to leave Nepal – “Anyone who is anyone is being arrested these days in Nepal.” He wonders if Roby is right and his feminine-sounding first name has helped protect him.
Since February 1st, 2005, Nepal has been in a state of emergency. The King sacked the prime minister and started an information blackout, which focused especially on the news media. Community radio, a major source of information for most Nepalese, was shut down for four months. The King’s spokesmen made the absurd assertion, “Nowhhere in the world is FM radio used to broadcast news”.
As a newspaper, Nepali Times faced classic censorship tactics – Kunda shows us his newspaper, heavily censored by government authorities. They chose to run their stories with big, empty whitespaces so people would know the words had been removed – the government demanded they not run whitespace, so they ran later editions with those parts of the story filled with gibberish. It’s sometimes better to ridicule the government, Kunda argues, that confronting them directly.
In the spirit of ridicule, radio stations began singing the news (because music is legal on FM, while news is not…) or holding their “broadcasts” in the street, reading the news to crowds that would gather.
While Kunda is optimistic about the Internet’s role in opening up Nepal’s information environment, he’s cautious as well. The net can mobilize the diaspora, can let the world know what’s happening locally, and can reach a new, younger audience. And it’s virtually impossible for the government to shut down. On the other hand, it doesn’t make any money for the Nepali Times – it’s purely a PR and activist project for the paper – and online publishing has major credibility issues, as many people abuse online spaces to publish false information. Furthermore, while it’s very difficult to shut down net access as a whole, individual ISPs are vulnerable chokepoints within Nepal.
Other posts from FEAC 2006: feac2006