Investing in investigative journalism | Nepali time

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Jhe freedom of the press is like a rubber band, you have to stretch it for it to work. Similarly, independent media can only be protected by its maximum application.

That’s why we have to make a distinction between daily journalism and investigative journalism. Thorough coverage takes patience, hard and dangerous work, time and resources.

Attending a press conference or transcribing a press release will not be enough to protect the freedom of the press. It also cannot be defended if the media is partisan or also succumbs to clickbaits.

The job of an investigative journalist is to expose wrongdoing, after which the other institutions of a democracy are supposed to take over: law enforcement, the judiciary, elected leaders.

In Nepal and around the world, even in countries with a long tradition of pluralism, tolerance and the rule of law, democracy is on the decline. When the three pillars of democracy (legislative, judicial and executive) falter, it falls to the fourth estate to support the superstructure of the state.

He does this by being impartial and fair, and by shining a torch into the darkness where those in power are hiding secrets that are in the public interest. Freedom of the press is not just a journalist’s freedom, we the media are simply the guardians of the freedom of citizens’ right to information.

The best test of the impact of investigative journalism is when it speaks truth to power and shakes it. Presidents have been forced to resign after whistleblowing by investigative journalists in the United States and the Philippines.

It is true that in the past 25 years, the Center for Investigative Journalism-Nepal (CIJ-N) has not forced a Prime Minister to resign due to an ill-gotten investigative fortune. But he rocked the boat, exposed wrongdoing and injustice, and afflicted the most comfortable.

It is not easy to do investigative journalism in Nepal. The country may not be small, but it has a small elite in which power centers, corporations and media owners overlap. Everyone knows everyone else, and they often scratch their backs. This is why the art of media questioning is not so developed in Nepal.

Already suffering from dwindling readership due to the proliferation of social media platforms, legacy media have been hit by the Covid pandemic and lately by rising fuel and food prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This had a direct impact on media advertising and commercial revenues.

The collapse of the media business model has coincided with the crisis of democracy in our neighboring countries and around the world, at a time when investigative journalism is needed more than ever to broaden the reach of the media in independent reporting.

When reporting budgets are affected, so is the public service mission of the media, and its ability to serve as the fourth pillar in a democracy.

Broadsheets in Nepal do not compete with each other, but with Facebook. TV channels should no longer think in terms of TRPs because their real rival in terms of revenue is TikTok.

We have seen in the world’s largest and oldest democracies that treat the rule of law as sacrosanct, that by manipulating the internet with armies of trolls and robot factories, demagogues have managed to get elected . Stirring up populism, ultra-nationalism, racism and hate speech is an explosive potion to mobilize the masses disenchanted with traditional politics.

Trump may have been defeated, but Trumpism is alive and well. In the Philippines, history has come full circle with Bong Bong Marcos getting elected by militarizing the social web.

About India, the less said the better. This is a lesson for us in Nepal not to take our freedoms for granted. Last week, one of the last remaining independent TV stations, NDTV was bought out by a pal of Modi and the world’s third richest man, Gautam Adani.

The mainstream press needs to become much more savvy in using internet platforms, and if necessary, even borrow some of the tricks of the trade. The mainstream media must take care of correcting lies, rumors and “alternative facts” immediately.

Newsrooms must have the technical skills for multimedia, video, interactive graphics so that investigative stories are not told so much as shown. Journalism has a new role and responsibility in this new era – to analyze, interpret and explain the raw, live information on the net, and to offer solutions in a time of great cynicism and desperation around the world.

Old media isn’t dead yet, and we need it more than ever to tame a wild new media that’s coming to adolescence.

Adapted from a keynote address at the 25e anniversary of the Center for Investigative Journalism Nepal (CIJ-N) on September 2.

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