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Good Governance, Means of Communication and Conservative Culture

By Lok Raj Baral

When the word 'governance' invariably means 'good governance', why should an additional adjective 'good' be prefixed to it? This very proclivity to add 'good' to 'governance' pinches me time and again. Since the word 'governance' is intricately linked with government or politics, it verily reflects the organic relationship among the various state organs.

Just as we cannot imagine a government without power, we cannot imagine a state without governance. Although it is obvious that 'vox populi' has not been the basis for governance for the past thousands of years, we have now reached a stage to manage power based on the concept of the "people's consent" while searching for a power base. Although the word 'governance' is latent with both positive and negative meanings, the addition of the prefix 'good' therefore does not seem to be reasonable at all.

Despite the fact the word 'governance' automatically implies 'good governance', international financial organizations and some Western democratic countries, during the, 80s, forwarded the agenda of 'good governance' as a pre-condition for the countries seeking financial support from them to fulfill. In other words, this proved that developing nations, instead of formulating appropriate policies and action plans that were in tune with their respective situations, seemed to be eager to adopt development principles and models imposed upon them by others. As a result, the developing countries, rather than utilising their own means, resources and skills, developed the tendency to depend upon the donor countries and international agencies. As such, good governance, though imported as a conditional term, has been accepted in principle. And even if it has yet to be put in practice, it is widely used in speeches and manifestoes.

For good governance, some universally accepted factors like accountability, effectiveness, legitimacy and transparency appropriate to the situation, corruption-free governance, free press, institutionalized administrative body, non-differentiated social and economic structures etc. must be there. Since all these factors are people-oriented, by ensuring the all-round development of all individuals they aim to strengthen the nation. Also, the imperatives for nation building are inherent in it. From this perspective, it is but not unusual for the question 'In which system is good governance possible?" to arise. Is 'good governance' possible within the old feudal system? As a feudal system is based on much-constricted configuration and assumption, and since it does not provide space to air our views and ideas, under it we cannot even imagine 'good governance'. Likewise, in an authoritarian system wherein the State controls all the structures and individuals or societies remain isolated, there is no space even to imagine of' good governance. Despite this fact, there are some arguments that say that an authoritarian system helps to speed up the modernisation process and strengthen governance. And, that some countries, with the help of such a system, have achieved social and economic development. South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and some other countries are being projected as 'model' cases. So much so, while according a military rule with such a "model", Pakistan has been frequently cited. But, in the long run, an authoritarian system, despite its short-term benefits, cannot be a long lasting solution. The experience of almost all countries has proved this. Since an authoritarian system is devoid of its own principles and hence can only give rise to opportunism,
even a small incident or psychological impact can ground it at any time. In other words, since an authoritarian system lacks accountability, transparency and legitimacy of the power, it becomes harmful even for nation building.

As per the historical background, political culture, time-honored tradition of the country and our beliefs, the past 11 year indicate that things not in consonance with our desire for good governance. If, on the one hand, the feudal way of thinking, old tradition, and individualism have made no contribution in building up the political culture, then, on the other hand, the expectation of forging ahead hand in hand into the 21st century is also there. Likewise, if the obtained structure of communication is geared towards worldwide competitive standard, then, on the other, its working style, norms and values are still anchored in very traditional structure. The change that came after 1950 led to the revival of a new era in Nepal and we can find enough revolutionary factors of modernization in it. People achieved freedom. They were led from darkness to light. And they were enabled to hope for a qualitative change in the economic, political and social sectors. Some positive signs were also noticed. Discussions on responsibility and people-oriented governance system were initiated. But, the role of power expected to give permanence to such circumstances gradually receded. As a result, again the same old and traditional system, but with a different name, was imposed. The 30-year-old partyless Panchayat system was neither responsible toward the people nor was its legitimacy people-based. It was because, in the absence of major factors of good governance, all the powers devolved upon the King-and which was based on Nepal's historical system (as it was during the 104-years of Rana regime wherein all powers were vested on the Rana Prime Ministers). In other words, under this system, all kinds of people-oriented activities were overshadowed. Since the power of such a system gradually weakens, the demise of such a system was but obvious

The results of people's agitation of 1990 and anti-Ranarchy movement of 1950 were, to some extent, more or less the same. The difference was only in time, circumstances and context. After 1950, due to the irresponsibility of political parties heavily influenced by traditional culture while, on the other hand, the power of the king was on the rise, the modernization process of governance was hampered. The 30-year-long period of time after 1960 was dominated by the traditionally-styled system of governance and that it has borne a heavy influence on the democratic practices after 1990 has become clear. Feudal culture, administrative malpractices and the use of language that denoted "top-to-down" decision making practices-and which is still in usage at present as well-grew under the Panchayat system. The democratic practices after 1990 also failed to bring change in feudal culture, opportunism and decision making system developed during the Panchayat system. Instead, we find that practices of nepotism, favouritism and sycophancv have grown during the past 11 years. Such anomalies became more acute due to the inability to abide by political principles and norms. Despite the fact that those who sat in the government had a long history of struggle, they failed to select people with proven abilities. This was due to the result of the political leaders' partisan, family and other interests. Money power began to influence and guide the leaders' activities. Since the political leaders and their party workers were afflicted by the thinking that they need money to win elections and to do this they need government mechanisms and muscle power, this led to the development of a system of governance that is neither responsible nor transparent. How can such a political system afflicted with extreme aberrations ensure good governance? We cannot find any example of a political party being free from such anomalies and governing the nation. That party which has remained longer in the government could have been more corrupt and irresponsible. But, in average, all the political leaders and party workers have developed similar attitudes and misused power. It is heard that the trend of running after commissions within the major political parties' sister organizations has badly affected such revolutionary associations' activities. Though, what is being said is true, due to the lack of self-confidence, none of them dare to correct the mistakes.

At present all the political parties are embroiled in their own problems. People's belief towards the political leaders is in a crisis due to their own unpopular activities. Although the people can exercise their rights during elections, after the polls are over, they become like kites that have broken their threads. Besides the political parties, in the absence of effective roles played by the some other organizations, the desires and the felt-needs of the people remain unfulfilled. In addition, due to the power-centric historical background of the capital city, all the leaders have been Centre-oriented. The tradition of centralization, which has been further strengthened at present, has been the major obstacle of good governance. Like the landlords visiting their tenants to collect their share at harvest seasons, the leaders also make their visits to their electoral constituencies only at the time of election. How can this help maintain responsible governing system and fulfill even the minor needs of the people?

The Role of Media

While talking about the legitimacy of the governance, we think our responsibility is over after the election and the formation of the government. Election, besides being the most important means to form the government, is the soul of democracy because the people, through elections, gain control over the government so that it becomes responsible towards people. Whenever after elections both the governing and the opposition parties become isolated from the people, malpractices and corruption tend to gain ascendance. Although the election has provided legitimacy for the rule of law, in the modern world, its capacity is tied up with its implementation aspects. Despite having an absolute majority in the House of Representatives, if such a government fails to do anything. good governance, leave alone conducting regular governing activities, is not possible. Success and failure of the government hinges upon its implementation aspect. If those in the government and the opposition parties fail to perform their respective responsibilities to fulfil the minimum requirements of people, people become disillusioned with the government. Media and civil society have a major role and responsibility to appraise such activities of the government. The media alerts the political parties when they forget their responsibilities. At present, when the political parties are focused only on their own interests and are willing to go to any extremes to ensure their existence, media can even play an opposition role.

Disseminating news is the role of the media and on this basis the efficiency of governance is reflected. In this regard, although there are various provisions to discuss this within the parliament and exert pressure on the government, the media, through analysis process, has a major role to bring out the facts.

Is the media of Nepal capable of fulfilling such serious responsibilities? Has it played a solid role for the development of democracy in this country? Has it contributed to nation building works and good governance? To answer all these queries, an in-depth and analytical interpretation is a must. In addition, there are various forms of the media:
government sector media, private and personal media, radio and television. The newspapers published in Nepal are divided either in weekly or fortnightly, government or non-government sector. But, the expansion of radio service has been rapid at present. Although its role has yet to be effective, people's interest is rising. But in the field of publications, the role of private sector is not only becoming more effective but is also being able to make governance more responsible, transparent, based on legitimacy and removed from corruption. Nepal is witnessing a mushrooming trend in newspaper publications. Although the private and personal press has blanketed it, the trend of creating a conductive political environment is gradually emerging. During the past 12 years, the number of readers has also increased and they have developed the habit of reading newspapers in the early morning. But, surprisingly enough, many of the journalist friends have taken to this profession while in the process of seeking job rather than for professional interests. This trend is more pronounced in the new generation. It has helped in increasing the number of newspapers but not in quality. As a result, baseless, frivolous, imagined matters are getting space in newspapers. In no time, the works of such journalists and their published matters can defame anyone's character and hence any leader, intellectual or journalist can become their victim. If the journalists champion the interest of any individual or political party and carry the party agenda, some people may find them to be good and others might consider them as brokers, anti-nationals and traitors. While analyzing for and against, it should be subjective as far as possible.

In which circumstance the nation's media is working cannot be known in isolation. The media sector cannot remain aloof from the current politics, culture, behaviour of the leaders and the working styles of the political parties and other organs of the State.

If democratic system is only a formality and cannot give the people a feeling of qualitative changes, how could we expect qualitative changes in the press and other means of communication? The expectation was that the revolution of 1990 would show a clear way out. But, neither was there any change in working style nor in structure. When the government media is used to only sing the government's paeans and disseminate censored news, the effectiveness of such media will certainly decline. Though the then interim government formed after the revolution of 1990 had tried to put aside The Rising Nepal and Gorkhapatra from government interference, it could not institute a solid policy. There is no change in the two papers' style of functioning till now. Inability to even effect minor changes in the papers' old style of function, continuing to give news through the radio and television based on hierarchical order, singing praises of those in power are the signs that indicate that the media is still not free from traditional culture. To what extent the media sector of Nepal is influenced by the tiers of traditional style of governance can be glimpsed from the role that the Nepalese media and government played after the Royal massacre that took place on the First of June, 2001. The elected Prime Minister, who also held the Royal Palace.

Affairs portfolio, was informed about the horrendous incident quite late and that too from sources unrelated to the Royal Palace. In such a fluid political situation at that time and because of the traditional working style of Royal Palace, the Prime Minister was hampered from discharging his duty of promptly informing the people.

Due to the political leadership and the mass media being dominated by a traditional way of thinking and working, the next day most of the newspapers were able to carry the news. Nor was the television able to broadcast all the visuals of the incident from the very beginning to the people. The reason that was cited was that since the incident concerned the Royal Palace, such news was banned. Even the non-government sector media was not able to prove its free existence. In such unimaginable governance system and the role of played by the media, the queries that I had been raising time and again have come under sharper focus. My point is this: in a democratic system of governance, despite having a constitutionally legal structure, the norms and working style are becoming more and more traditional. Inspite of the government labeling the foreign news analyses as conspiratorial and trying to create instability in the country, and the government usurping communication means of the country (especially, radio and television) to sing to its tune, it is but natural for confusing news to reach the people. We are accustomed with saddling our problems on others' shoulders, yet we say that our country is at the verge of disintegration because of conspiracy. What we expect is that others, like the Nepal Television, radio and newspapers, carry or analyze such news. Some of them even raise objection to some leaders speaking in their own languages in foreign channels. When Nepali language is not understandable in foreign countries, there is no harm in conveying one's message in a foreign language. While nobody raises any question when one speaks in English, why is it not the same when one speaks in another language, especially in Hindi? This kind of thinking is due to the lack of self-confidence.

How unimaginably conservative and traditional the working style of our state governance is can be glimpsed from the tradition of feeding "katto" to a Brahmin who took part on the 11th day ritual of late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. Both the public and private sector media portrayed the whole event. Instead of gradually discarding such a conservative tradition, when all the organs of the state portrayed it with much pride, the real face of the system of governance was revealed. Since the Cabinet and all the constitutional bodies did not feel any need to reform such an outmoded ritual, the modern visage of the Nepalese could be seen. In this regard, what is praiseworthy is the fact that there have been much debate over it and from the human rights perspective it had been criticized.

Finally, in democratic system of governance, the role of free media is indispensable. Similarly, to enable the State. which is afflicted by the traditional norms and values, the role of the media must he made more effective. At present situation, when the party system is limited within the confines of formality only, the dissemination of impartial and free idea to the public in order to build up public opinion is a remarkable achievement.

In the past 11 years, Nepali media has started playing a positive role. But within this democratic system, weaknesses have also been witnessed. At present, since there is an alternative press, the government-controlled press and papers are gradually becoming less popular. But the news disseminated by the Gorkhapatra, though restricted within a limited framework, is still effective and comparable.

Nowadays, some of the investigative reports and stories have given further impetus to good governance. These reports, apart from putting the ruling elites into difficulties by the revelation of the mystery behind corruption, have also shown the way out from such difficulties for them. Since Nepali media have also started to carry matters having public interest, they are becoming competitive. But in comparison to the press, radio and television still have a long way to go. As a result, Nepali audiences and spectators are being attracted towards foreign channels.

But when the signs of the desired change in system are not seen, then the role of media only cannot be effective to bring about societal changes. Between governance and media, there should be frequent active interaction to build up confidence. Party-centred politics and person-oriented activities could create hindrances in the development of communication. The use of absolute freedom is not possible because it is interrelated to all other bodies, the government and the free press to develop symbiotic relationship. To some extent, the nation's own situation and context should determine this type of relationship. This is not possible by only applying a universally accepted standard. Due to our nation's feudalistic way of thinking, historical and political culture, the standards and working style of other countries are not found to be well-fitted. Although the structure is ultra-modern, if the culture and practice are traditional, how can there be a co-ordination between governance and free press?

The past 10 to 11 years' activities indicate that Nepal still lacks transparency, responsibility and innovative style of governance. Since journalism has not developed as a profession, the role of the majority of journalists is not seen to be effective. Most of the write-ups and analyses of mediapersons, apart from a few exceptions, are failing to attract the readers. More particularly, the papers that are published in English seem to be weaker. While this could be due to the limited number of Nepal readers, papers published in English have yet to gain popularity. But, regardless of whether the papers are published in English or Nepali, both publications must give emphasis on the qualitative development of the press. For this, professional commitment and reading habit could be the pre-requisite.

But, as a whole, to make governance effective and respectable, the Nepalese media has started to play a positive role.

(based on the original text in Nepali)

Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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