“Parliamentarians demand capital punishment for rape cases,” ran a local daily trying to highlight how the parliament was responding to an issue of public concern. As a journalist reporting from the parliament, how would you shape your stories? In a recent Kanchanpur rape case, the media reported that a few lawmakers see capital punishment as a remedy to the increasing incidents of rape across the country and the best way to provide justice to the rape victims. As a journalist, do you know capital punishment was abolished in 1990 and does Nepal’s constitution allow it now? It if it not allowed, you could have made the story more substantial by adding that information. Does a journalist have his/her opinion in a news story? How could a journalist maintain a balanced approach while also taking sides on some social issues? These were some the questions that were raised and discussed during an orientation on parliamentary reporting organized over the last few weeks for journalists across all seven provinces of Nepal.
As Nepal’s newly formed provinces have initiated their parliamentary exercise for the first time, the general public is keenly observing how their leaders perform and deliver on their promises. In this process, building the capacity of the media working at the province level is critical. Effective media vigilance and reporting could help hold the parliamentarians accountable to the public. To this end, Parliamentary Journalists Society of Nepal, with the support form UNDP’s Parliamentary Support Project, organized a series of orientations to journalists across seven provinces.
“Parliament is a space where, most of the times, you will see strong arguments on issue of national interests, and public concern. As a journalist your role is to bring that argument at its best to the public,” said Manoj Satyal, as part of a province-level training provided to parliamentary journalists in Pokhara, Gandaki Province, on 7 August.
“In the past, it was usually journalists from Kathmandu that had the opportunity to report on the parliament, but in the changed structure, journalists like us from the provinces also have the responsibility to interact with and write about lawmakers,” Jamuna Barsa Sharma of Deshsanchar Online shared after the session. “It’s been a very fruitful training in terms of widening our horizons on parliamentary issues.”
In the one-day training, former Secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, Jagat Nepal offered insights gathered during his parliamentary reporting days and enlightened participants with examples of other international practices. He emphasized that it is vital for reporters to maintain a professional distance with the parliamentarians to ensure their news remains accurate, balance and credible.
Likewise in Hetauda, in a similar orientation, the Hon'ble Speaker of State Assembly of province 3 Sanu Kumar Shrestha emphasized to strengthen relationship among the assembly, assembly secretariat and parliament affairs journalists to better represent the voice of people and make government more accountable.
In Karnali Province, Hon’ble Speaker, Raj Bahadur Shahi addressing to the participants said, “To make the federal parliament stronger, you should positively as well as constructively criticize to make the lawmakers more aware about their responsibilities and duties.”
The orientation is an outcome of a need assessment that was conducted in June 2018. The unicameral legislatures at the provinces have created a new avenue for people to approach and engage in their own developmental activities. But there is still a dearth of information about the practices and processes of its business, and journalists at the local level also suffer from uncertainty.
The province-level journalist training is being organized in several other provinces currently. 150 journalists will be trained in all the provinces.