Nepal: How a rogue newspaper got away with journalistic murder

On June 2, 2016, I did a detailed story on my blog on how one newspaper from Kathmandu was doing journalistic murder in broad daylight. Few days back, a court acquitted the accused on whom a ‘guilty’ verdict was passed by the daily after the CIAA filed a case against them. What does this speak about the status of accountability among media outlets in Nepal?

Nepal’s media has its own strengths and flaws. That is perfectly natural. What is slightly unnerving, though, is the fact that there is little to show in terms of accountability on part of media itself.

On June 2, 2016, I did a detailed story on my blog on how one newspaper from Kathmandu was doing journalistic murder in broad daylight. The paper had done a headline story on a subject which was already sub judice. Moreover, it had quoted unnamed source as saying that the accused, i.e. the defendants in the court case, had taken bribes worth crores of rupees. Then it had gone as far as personally accusing one of the accused doctors of turning to malafide ways of making money after ‘his clinical practice could not flourish’. You can only imagine the shame and disgrace the accused people, most of them with exemplary reputations by then, must have faced.

After eight long months, the accused have been acquitted by the court as the case was laughably weak to start with. I got a call as soon as the verdict was out and they sounded cheerful. But not all the damage could now be undone. Most of them were in government job and had been suspended for this period.

The next day, I checked the rogue, Annapurna Post Daily, edited by once-reputed Yubaraj Ghimire, for any signs of the news. None was to be found. That was not strange. Rather than admitting the mistake, Ghimire had gone as far as indirectly accusing me of ‘sowing hatred’ after I did the undoable in attempting to hold one of the media outlets in Nepal accountable.

Soon after I published the blog also with evidence of how Annapurna Post had egregiously attempted to stoke communal tensions with false and misleading news reports during Nepal’s worst moment in recent history in 2015, those reports were apparently taken offline. But of course, there was no apology to be found anywhere, neither an attempt to defend those inflammatory reports. (Incidentally, all those reports are online now.)

While writing this piece, I tried calling Dipa Dahal, the prodigious Annapurna Post journalist who had done the headline story about the case in court. I intended to ask her: what is your reaction to a verdict that acquitted people whom you decided as guilty ‘according to sources’ in the very beginning? But somehow, her cellphone was switched off.

Why did these people stoop so low then, morally and professionally? There is a reason.

At the time of that lowly story, Lokman Singh Karki–the now dismissed chief of CIAA, the anti-corruption watchdog–was in the middle of his manhunt against his perceived enemies in civil society and murmurs had started to be heard in the society against his highhandedness. He badly needed some media to support and sanitize him. In a desperation to burnish his imagined image as ‘anti-corruption crusader’, he was ready to harass and prosecute anyone regardless of any wrongdoing being committed or not.

The five doctors were the incidental victims of this drive by Karki. But as can be guessed, the case against the doctors was very shaky with literally no evidence of wrongdoing to start with. My informed guess is that, Karki used his influence with Annapurna Post and utilizing the sub-zero ethical and moral values of the editor and the reporter, succeeded on planting that story in the front page of the newspaper. The unnamed source quoted seven times in the article seems to be another CIAA honcho who had colluded with Karki amid his own cupboard full of skeletons.

The intention seems to be to show that CIAA was doing admirable job of prosecuting corrupt people! Indeed such was the impunity at that moment in Nepal that, none seemed to even think of whether media could pass so clear a verdict in a matter sub judice potentially drawing libel suits and contempt of court cases.

For the record-the deleted and now active news report from Annapurna Post, which speaks for itself: 

एमबीबीएस सिट थप्न चलखेल

दीपा दाहाल|२०७३ जेष्ठ ९ आईतवार14029 पटक पढिएको

गण्डकी मेडिकल कलेज
काठमाडौं: नेपाल मेडिकल काउन्सिलका पदाधिकारीसँगको मिलोमतो र ठूलो रकमको चलखेलमा गण्डकी मेडिकल कलेजलाई एमबीबीएसका लागि ९० सिट दिलाइएको थाहा भएको छ । गण्डकी मेडिकल कलेजका अध्यक्ष डा. खुमाप्रसाद अर्यालकै मुख्य लगानी रहेको भैरहवास्थित युनिभर्सल मेडिकल कलेजलाई पनि काउन्सिलका पदाधिकारीले मोटो रकम असुली एमबीबीएसका लागि १ सय २५ सिटको कोटा निर्धारण गरिदिएको स्रोतले बतायो ।
गण्डकी मेडिकल कलेजका अध्यक्ष अर्याल, मेडिकल काउन्सिल, शिक्षा समितिका संयोजक डा. कृष्ण अधिकारीलगायत १२ जनाबीच एमबीबीएस सिट निर्धारणमा मिलोमतो भएको पाइएको स्रोतले बतायो । उनीहरू १२ जनाविरुद्ध अख्तियारले शुक्रबार विशेष अदालतमा मुद्दा दायर गरेको थियो । गत वर्ष सिट निर्धारण गर्न काउन्सिलले नियमित निरीक्षणमा खटाएको अधिकारीको टोली तथा कलेजका सञ्चालक अर्याल, हुमानाथ कोइराला र निशानराज भण्डारीबीचको मिलोमतोमा ‘५० सिट पनि दिन नमिल्ने अवस्थामा रहेको उक्त कलेजलाई ९० सिट दिलाइएको’ थियो ।
उक्त कलेजको सिट निर्धारणका लागि अधिकारीसहित कान्तिपुर डेन्टल अस्पतालका डा. प्रेणितकुमार पोखरेल, प्राध्यापक डा. गणेशकुमार राई, उपप्राध्यापक डा. प्रदीप ज्ञवाली, डा. राजीव यादव, डा. नरमाया थापा र कलेजका सञ्चालक अर्याल, हुमानाथ कोइराला र निशानराज भण्डारीको टोली सहभागी थियो । त्यसको केही समयपछि अधिकारी पुनः एक्लै पोखरा पुगी कलेज सञ्चालकसँग मिलोमतो गरी ४० सिट थप्न भूमिका निर्वाह गर्ने प्रतिबद्धतासहित फर्किएको स्रोतले बतायो । ‘यसका लागि ठूलो रकमको चलखेल थियो’, स्रोतले भन्यो ।
अधिकारीसँग त्यतिबेलै अर्यालको मुख्य लगानी रहेको भैरहवाको युनिभर्सल मेडिकल कलेजलाई पनि एक सय २५ सिट दिलाउने सहमति भएको स्रोतको दाबी छ । ‘जब कि उक्त कलेजलाई ९० भन्दा धेरै सिट दिनै नमिल्ने अवस्था छ’, स्रोतले भन्यो । काउन्सिलका अध्यक्षसहितको मिलोमतोमा गण्डकीलाई ४० सिट थपिएकोमा काउन्सिलकै शिक्षा समितिका केही पदाधिकारीले विरोध जनाएपछि युनिभर्सलको सिट थप्न अवरुद्ध भएको थियो ।
गण्डकीलाई मिलोमतोमा थप सिट दिलाएका अधिकारीलाई तत्कालीन स्वास्थ्यमन्त्री खगराज अधिकारीले नियमविपरीत काउन्सिलको प्रवक्ता एवं नेपाल स्वास्थ्य अनुसन्धान परिषद्को अध्यक्ष नियुक्त गरेका थिए । उक्त नियुक्तिको निर्णय मन्त्रिपरिषद्को बैठकले मात्रै गर्न पाउँछ ।
अधिकारी लामो समयदेखि चीनको वेस्ट चाइना मेडिकल सेन्टर अफ सिचुआन युनिभर्सिटीसँग मिलेर अर्कैको नाममा ‘कन्सल्टेन्सी’ खोली नेपाली विद्यार्थीलाई अवैध रूपमा चीन पठाउने धन्दामा संलग्न छन् । उनलाई स्वास्थ्य क्षेत्रको महत्त्वपूर्ण निकाय मानिएको परिषद्को अध्यक्ष बनाउँदा त्यतिबेला पनि चर्को विरोध भएको थियो ।
चीनमा नेपाली विद्यार्थी पठाउने उनको धन्दाबारे पनि अख्तियारले चासो व्यक्त गर्दै छानबिन अघि बढाएको छ । अधिकारी पछिल्लो समय नक्कली चिकित्सक पक्राउ गर्ने अभियानमा लागेका थिए ।
स्रोतका अनुसार आफ्नो क्लिनिकल प्राक्टिस राम्रो हुन नसकेपछि कान्तिपुर डेन्टल अस्पतालका पोखेरलले अधिकारीसँग मिलेर नियमविपरीत थप सिट संख्या निर्धारणमा सहयोग गरेका थिए । आवश्यक पूर्वाधार र जनशक्ति पर्याप्त व्यवस्था नगरी सिट संख्या बढाउन अधिकारीको टोलीसँग मिलोमतो गर्ने युनिभर्सल मेडिकल कलेजका चार्टर्ड एकाउन्टेट अर्याल भैरवाको मुख्य लगानीकर्ता हुनु र नेपालगन्ज मेडिकल कलेजमा समेत उनको ठूलै लगानी हुनुमा पनि अख्तियारले चासो लिएको छ ।
स्वास्थ्यजस्तो संवेदनशील क्षेत्र माफियाको जालो फिँजाउने काममा भूमिका निर्वाह गरेको आरोप पनि उनीमाथि छ । अर्यालले केही साताअघि मात्र सुदूरपश्चिममा अर्को मेडिकल कलेज खोल्ने प्रचारप्रसार गरेका थिए ।
अधिकारीले अख्तियारले मुद्दा चलाएको आधार नखुलाएका कारण यसबारे आफ्नो भनाइ राख्ने अवस्था नरहेको प्रतिक्रिया दिए । उनले अन्नपूर्णसँग भने, ‘गल्ती भयो भनियो । १२ जनालाई नै एउटै मुद्दा हालिएको छ । के गल्ती भन्नेमा चाहिँ हामी नै स्पष्ट हुन सकेका छैनौं ।’
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