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: