07 September 2019

Publicity Of Wifi Hotspots

Harsha Man Maharjan

Popularity of personal gadgets and portable devices like smart phones, camera and laptops have increased casual Internet use in Kathmandu. It is therefore common to find WiFi Internet in business venues such as restaurants, cafes, bookshops and shopping malls. These services are for the paying customers. On the other hand, local governments have invited Internet service providers (ISPs) to install WiFi networks in public places such as hospitals, colleges, temples and government offices. These services are for the public at large. These activities from the private and public sector raises many questions: (i) should cities provide free public WiFi to its citizens, (ii) who pays for free Wifi when the number of regular users are not limited to tens or hundreds but many thousands, (iii) who are its users, and (iv) is WiFi hotspot a distinct category like anytime-anywhere (3G) and fixed-Internet (home broadband) in meeting users’ information needs or just a supplement to other forms of access.

It is a fair estimate that Internet service receivers’ such as cafes and restaurants in Kathmandu and Pokhara popularly started offering free WiFi less than ten years ago. Lonely Planet website made an inquiry on WiFi availability in Nepal on May 29, 2011, to which others replied that this service was available freely in hotels and restaurants in Kathmandu and Pokhara.

The WiFi services are slow for two main reasons. First, there is no evidence that providing fast WiFi boosts business. Second, most people would not use WiFi if it was not free. In the early years, a single WiFi connection was shared among foreigners staying in the hotel who wanted to keep in touch with their friends and families while they were in Nepal. They were charged for the Internet by bundling in other services.

These initiatives might have encouraged Madhav Prasad Paudel, the then minister of Information and Communications to have a wild dream to make the whole Nepal a free WiFi zone. On January 2, 2014, the ministry formed a seven-member task force coordinated by Mahesh Adhikari, member of Nepal Telecommunication Authority, to conduct a feasibility study. During an interview published on January 4, 2014, the minister mentioned that the ministry was planning for free WiFi zone as it wanted to allow citizens to access the internet by using the infrastructure of optical fibre that lay along the highways and road networks.

By February 2014, Internet/telecommunications service providers had shown interest in WiFi hotspots. On the occasion of 10th anniversary of Nepal Telecommunication Company in February 2014, it built wifi hotspots in 31 places, largely hospitals and colleges, in the Kathmandu valley and availed the service free for a month. To use the service, the user had to send a message to 1416 and would receive password for one hour of use at Rs 10. It had to be used within 24 hours of the message. By April 2014, NTC had created wifi hotspots in five regions in 16 districts. From 2016, this telecommunication organisation allowed users to access five hours of wifi service of 512 kbps at Rs. 30 within seven days. NTC marketed WiFi as a paid service and not an experiment under corporate social responsibility.

For private Internet Service Providers like the Worldlink Communications free WiFi hotspots are offered from the funds under corporate social responsibility. It is the most visible company with signed contracts with public and private organisations and individuals to offer WiFi services.
n April 2018, it signed an agreement with Kathmandu Metropolitan City to make WiFi zones at Pashupati, Baudha, Sankhapark, Balaju Baisdhara, Swoyambhu and Basantapur Hanumandhoka. According to the news, Worldlink would invest equipment and provide the internet with bandwidth of 10 Mbps. Users would be able to use WiFi for 30 minutes after which they would have to buy the service. The news further mentioned that the ISP would increase the bandwidth according to need and expand such service in hospitals, bus parks, and airports. The service was inaugurated in Pashupati in September 2018, and International terminal of Tribhuvan International Airport in October.

In March 2019, Worldlink Communications announced that within a year it would provide free WiFi hotspots in 10,000 places under their corporate social responsibility. At that time, they say, it had created 3,000 such hotspots. The hotspots allowed users to access the wifi for 30 to 90 mins within the 24 hours of receiving the password.

By January 2019, the discussion on the draft guidelines on operation of the WiFi hotspot, prepared by Nepal Telecommunication Authority, had already begun. The guideline that was finalised in April 2019 was intended to curb possible cybercrimes through such hotspots. Under this guideline, it is mandatory for service providers to send one-time password to users and collect data of their usage such as their names and mobile numbers, and log-in and log-out session data.

There is no data on WiFi Internet use coming out of the private or the public sector’s initiatives. We do not know how many hotspots there are and where they are. Neither do we know the long-term viability of the business models of WiFi hotspots. The starting point would be to identify the regular users of this form of Internet access. There are no compelling business models. NTC had experimented with paid WiFi services but it has not succeeded in generating much interest. Naturally, it is not a priority. Their website mentions that it has 376 hotspots all over Nepal by April 14, 2017; NT has not added a hotspot since then.

It is not unlikely that a large number of current WiFi hotspot users would not use it unless it was offered for free. Mobile telecommunications offer anytime and anywhere access to broadband Internet. Why would the mobile Internet users sacrifice mobility and switch to static WiFi hotspots as the primary form of Internet access? WiFi hotspots are also not attractive to heavy Internet use. There is no reason to believe it can attract cybercafes and home-broadband users. There is also no reason to believe WiFi hotspots will attract large number of regular and casual Internet users unless it is offered as a free service. Offering free wifi gives easy publicity to the ISPs offering the Internet connection. They can of course cash in the publicity to sell their lucrative services. Local governments can proclaim such initiatives as success stories of their “smart city” ambitions. But where is the data and evidence of use and effective use? The fact is, the four questions that were raised in the introduction section are still very open.

Published in The Rising Nepal on September 7, 2019. Also available at https://risingnepaldaily.com/opinion/publicity-of-wifi-hotspots.

03 August 2019

Digital Archive Of News Media

Harsha Man Maharjan

Given the ever-increasing volume of digital Nepali news materials, it is important that they are archived and retained. Two institutions are important for the news archive: Internet Archive and Press Council Nepal. Wayback Machine is a service provided by the Internet Archive to archive worldwide website content since 1996. Press Council Nepal focuses mainly on news media and it collects and archives Nepali news materials. There are major gaps in the collection and the technologies have limitations in what they can access and archive. Internet is an important artefact for scholars but the archival efforts have been piecemeal.

Wayback Machine is an initiative started to automatically visit the webpages and scan them. It was started in November 2000 by Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat. In an interview with journalist Kara Swisher in 2017, Kahle mentioned that a webpage remains for 100 days and then it changes or is deleted so he wanted to archive it. In case of news media, the webpages change much faster.

Two ways are important for the Wayback Machine to get the pages. Alexa search engine (Alexa.com) searches the Internet and accumulates webpages and related information. These pages are collected through automated programs (crawlers) which take screenshots. These collections are sent to the Internet Archive after a six-month period. It was the deal between the Internet Archive and Amazon when the former sold Alexa to the later in 1999. Individuals also can save the pages that are still available on the net. This is the second way the digital content is added to the Wayback Machine collection.

Through the Wayback Machine users can view multiple versions and updates of the websites easily. A user types the web-address in the address box. The program returns the date of original site creation, number and date of site updates, and links to archived websites. For example, to search for www.south-asia.com, one of the early Nepali news websites created by Mercantile Communications in 1996, users have to type the web-address www.south-asia.com in the address box provided in the Wayback Machine’s homepage. They are then presented with a timeline of all available updates to the website. The earliest date is December 8, 1996. If they select this particular date, the snapshot of the website taken on that day appears on the screen. The publications section contains the content of two daily news media (The Kathmandu Post, and The Rising Nepal), one weekly (The Independent), and one monthly (Himal South Asia). Other websites such as nepalnews.com, kantipuronline.com, gorkhapatra.org.np, parewa.com, dainikee.com, and onlinekhabar.com are also available in this archive.

Though Wayback Machine is very useful, it is not a library. There are gaps in the collection. Not every material that appears in the original webpage is archived. As Neil Brugger has discussed, sometimes elements in websites are not archived properly. It might be different from the live-web because websites are frequently changing. The archive captures the snapshot of a certain point in time.

Press Council Nepal now holds 32 lakh scanned pages of newspapers, 22 lakh pieces of news from news websites, 33 lakh clips of radio programmes and 24 hours recording of Nepali television channels of the last three years. It has archived weeklies from 1974 to 2006 and dailies from 1974 to 2013.
he digitised newspaper was not in the original plan of Press Council Nepal. Its objective was to preserve the hard bound newspapers by storing them in microfilms. On May 19, 1983 it took a decision to undertake a feasibility study and correspond with the National Archive. Binod Dhungel in his book on Press Council Nepal mentions that the council also decided to contact editors and publishers whose newspapers it did not collect. Though the plan did not materialise, we could see this initiative as the continuation of the microfilming of newspapers especially Nepali newspaper, Gorkhapatra from 1901 to 1970 by the National Archives.

In 1995 Press Council Nepal did another consultation to microfilm the newspapers; however, it concluded that a new technology CD-ROM was better and cheaper than microfilm. It bought a larger format scanner and started to microfilm some dailies by December 2000. When the work was halted in 2006, 2,268,374 pages of newspapers had been scanned and 1,873,932 pages of them were available on CD. By that time, 107 dailies, 519 weeklies, 2 fortnightlies were available in microfilm. In 2070 BS new a scanner was bought and the scanning resumed. In that year 2,14,383 pages of newspapers were scanned and 72,281 pages were recorded in CDs.

Mainly researchers, students and journalists are approaching Press Council Nepal to get digitised newspapers materials. Its annual report mentions that fifteen individuals and one institution bought the data of Rs. 1,30,745.49 in the fiscal year 2074/75. Ujjwal Prasai requested for copies of Gorkhapatra from 2023 BS to 2025 BS ; Ruprekha from 2031 BS to 2032 BS, The Kathmandu Post of 1996 May, and Kantipur from 2057 till 2061 BS to work on the biography of writer, Khagendra Sangraula. He could not get the issues of Gorkhapatra and Ruprekha from the council as they were not scanned. A team of people who were making the movie Whole Timer, requested for the data of weekly Janadesh and Jana Astha from 2060 BS to 2061 BS. Similarly a PhD student from University of Sydney requested copies of The Rising Nepal, The Kathmandu Post and Jana Astha from 2052 Fagun 1 to 2064 Baishakh 20.

Researchers will encounter a few problems in the archive. The images (jpg files) are not searchable. The scans are of varying quality. Though the council claims that it has scanned all the issues of the newspapers, many issues are missing. It could have collaborated with other libraries that had the missing issues.
Despites the challenges mentioned above, these two options are complimentary for researchers. To know the structure and the content of the websites of Nepali news media Wayback Machine is helpful. For digitised newspapers, Press Council Nepal is an important source. From 2017, the council is automating news collection from 500 news portals with software. It collects data from each of the websites within 90 minutes. The council has started an initiative, Newspaper Management System recently. On July 16, 2019 Press Council Nepal put a notice on its website for newspapers to log-in to its server and upload newspapers in pdf format. This reduces the burden to scan the newspapers. Such initiatives are for digital materials that is produced from now onwards. However, what about the newspapers before 1974? What about the dailies and weeklies which have not been scanned? Press Council Nepal must archive them as well. Internet Archive has a worldwide interest and will only capture a small fraction of the Nepali digital content. What we can do is to save the pages we want for future.
Published in The Rising Nepal on August 3, 2019. Also available at http://therisingnepal.org.np/news/33515.

06 July 2019

Issues On Smart Cities

Harsha Man Maharjan

Both planners and proponents agree, like other concepts such as computer city, information city and knowledge city, that the idea of smart cities in Nepal does not have a bottom-up outlook at the realisation, conception and planning stages. One day it just appeared in national policy and planning narratives. At present, we have imaginations, aspirations and assumptions. There is very little or no evidence about the prerequisites, estimations of proposed infrastructure such as energy demand and discussions on how an ordinary citizen gets real-world benefits which would not be possible otherwise.
Literature show this idea came from two urban thinking. First is new urbanism, which focuses on people-cantred designing and making cities eco-friendly and inclusive. Second is the “intelligent cities” that promote the use of information technology to deal with urban issues. An intelligent city converts data into knowledge and has an active role for governments to create innovation by exploiting information technology. Intelligence is a collective and collaborative enterprise in a knowledge-intensive environment. Reaching sustainable growth enabled by the use of (new) information technology to solve urban problems is a major aspiration in this idea.

Technology is an enabler if not a critical element in the various definitions of smart cities. CISCO and IBM are helping mayors and planners to transform existing cities into smart ones. In a smart city, technologies connect all the stakeholders and create an eco-system where they can collaborate to foster the collective intelligence. Naturally, data and various sensors to generate data are at the core. CISCO frames smart cities as solutions to urban problems like population explosion, pollution, and the pressure they put on the city infrastructure. IBM likewise frames smart city as the way to solve “social problems and promote economic vitality”. Owning to their resources and technical expertise, IBM is a position to generate insights from big data that CISCO can provide through their hardware.

In Nepal, the push for smart cities links to coping with disasters. Smart cities were thought to be resilient cities. The devastating earthquake that hit on April 25, 2015 provided impetus for the idea of smart cities. The government announced the programs related to smart cities on July while the discourse of smart cities appeared in newspapers only a few days after the catastrophe. On May 3, The Kathmandu Post published an article with a title, “Clever Cities”. This article pleaded to turn Kathmandu valley into smart cities and differentiated smart cities with cities created with a ‘medieval-era mindset’. The author claimed that the ill-designed cities could not handle the growing urban population and are prone to environmental and social problems.

We do not know about the impact of this article on public imagination. Coincidentally on July 8, programs related to smart city were announced in Policies and Programmes of the Government of Nepal for the Fiscal Year 2072-73 (2015-16). Master plans for cities such as Kathmandu Valley, Lumbini, Nijgadh and other cities affected by the earthquake were to be planned. The commitment was echoed in the budget speech presented a few days after. The speech made clear that master plans would be made for three smart cities--Kathamandu valley, Lumbini and Nijgadh. But no significant activities were initiated. Gradually the idea of resilience became less important as memory of the disaster faded.

Smart cities regained momentum in 2016. First, the budget speech presented in May mentioned that, “Keeping Palungtar of Gorkha at a centre, smart city master plan will be developed and implemented in the surrounding areas of Marsyangdi ”. It added, “in order to develop Waling, Lumbini and Dandeldhura including 10 cities as modern and prosperous smart cities, infrastructure construction work will be initiated through master plan”. Second, Nepal Planning Commission made 11-page concept paper on smart city public in July. This paper assumes Nepal needs smart cities to cope with rapid urbanisation and climate change. Smart cities are the cities where information technologies are used to: (i) provide services to citizens; (ii) manage infrastructures such as water, electricity, waste, public transportation, telecommunication; (iii) promote green energies and (iv) make easier for citizen’s participation. It discusses four pillars: smart people, smart governance, smart infrastructure, and smart economy. Third, New Town Project Coordination Office took initiative by inviting letter of interest in September 2016 to prepare master plans for Palungtar, Nirgadh, and Lumbini as smart cities.

In this backdrop, local elections took place in May and June 2017 where political parties presented smart cities as a new agenda. Political parties such as CPN (UML), Naya Shakti, Rastriya Prajantra Party, and Nepali Congress mentioned smart city as modern city in their manifestos. Smart city became a new agenda for many leaders. Dilip Kumar Khand, victorious candidate from Nepali Congress in Walling Municipality, had only one agenda-- smart city. He mentioned that he adopted the agenda without knowing an iota about it and learnt experiences of different countries after the elections.

On May 8, 2017, the cabinet announced to build smart cities in the four corners of the Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu Valley Development Authority soon came up with a plan to build these cities covering 1,30,000 ropanies of land. The underpinning motive of these smart cities are to check haphazard urban planning and to shift population pressure from the core of the Kathmandu valley. New Town Project Coordination Office issued notice for invitation of interest to prepare smart city master plans for Chadrapur, Dallu, Tulasipur, Tikapur, Kavre, Bharatpur, Amagadhi, Mirchaiya, Dhankuta and Waling in Aug 2017.

It is the second time that the government is planning to build Kavre as a smart city. In 2005, a fourteen-member committee was formed under the chair of vice-chair of High Level Commission for Information technology to convert Kavrepalanchwok district into information technology city. The committee had main officers from Banepa Municipality, Dhulikhel Municipality and Panauti Municipality but the idea did not materialise. The dream was to make the city sustainable.

There are issues about choices. Why was Kavre district chosen for information technology city? Was it because there was IT park in this district? Why the government has chosen the seventeen cities not others? We don’t see uniform criteria for the choices. Some of these cities don’t even have basic infrastructure.
Another issue is about the energy needed to store, and analyse big data. Just to get a sense of scale imagine each 5 million Nepali households having 10 smart appliances or Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Now imagine these 50 million devices having the ability to be controlled using your smartphone and the Internet. Finally imagine each device receiving one signal every hour per day, which is a very conservative estimate. We are already talking in terms of billions of data per day. When we factor all the sensors in the city and not just the households, we are talking in terms of trillions and tens of trillions. Global consumption of electricity by ICTs are predicted to be between 6 and 21 per cent in 2020. ICT’s contribution can be as high as 23 per cent of globally released greenhouse gas emission in 2030. Data centres are clearly the most energy hungry. Remember, this is the case when most countries in the world have very little ICT infrastructure. There is not even a rough number on how Nepal is going to power billions of IoT things, handle trillions of data and power hundreds of data centres if all things go according to plan.
We need empirical evidence to support the claims in the smart city narratives. We need justifications for the location and scale of the smart cities. We need even a rough estimate of energy demand of future smart cities. More importantly, we need to know who benefits the most and who is left out with the transformations. Smart city is not only the issue of data, sensors and analytics, it is also the issue of social justice.

Publilshed in The Rising Nepal on July 6, 2019. Also available at http://therisingnepal.org.np/news/32762?fbclid=IwAR1rGZguDCl6I4GjwwbYx0wJrifvICgFw2dXlyjqw-pTl9ObrzNflMCG77I.

04 June 2019

Gorkhapatra’s Technological Transformation

By Harsha Man Maharjan

Gorkhapatra Corporation, which publishes Nepal’s oldest newspaper, Gorkhapatra, could be the best organisation to know how technological transformation took place in news media in the country. This is a transformation from handwriting to computerised writing and to online newspaper. And, this transformation was perilous. This is one way to know the relationship between news media organisation, technology and society.

Domination of Handwriting

If we compare the use of typewriters and computers before newspapers in Nepal started to make available their content on the Internet, we see the domination of handwriting. Even in 2017, a few journalists preferred handwriting and could not use computers inside the Gorkhapatra Corporation. It was natural for journalists to prefer handwriting, as they felt easy to do so. This was so also because they mastered writing alphabets and words after practicing them for long time. Usually journalists wrote on the wastage pieces of newsprint. Often such pieces were easily available in Gorkhapatra Corporation. In his article, Tek Bahadur Khatri reminisced the moment in the 1950s when he hurriedly wrote an editorial on such news print when a compositor requested him to provide the editorial fast.

Handwriting was also dominant in Kantipur Publications till 2000, too. This practice ended after the newsroom decided not to entertain the content written by hand. Then some journalists who could not type learned typing in typing institutes. So, many Nepali journalists directly moved to computers than typewriters, the medium that bridges the move to computer. 

Typewriters: Underused Analog Technology

In Nepali newsrooms, typewriters were underused analog technology. They are analog as they belong to natural world, not the world of computer called digital. The early typewriters invented around 1860s were very crude in nature and the typewriters that could be sold for mass consumption, appeared in the US market in 1880s after Remington Company made them available. According to David Arnold, the mass import of typewriters in India began in 1901. Typewriters were in use in Nepali government offices from 1940s. 

So, it is safe to say that typewriters entered into Nepali newsroom after 1950. Only a few early journalists who worked in The Rising Nepal (TRN) in the 1960s knew typing. There were typists inside the newsroom who typed news content. Even some journalists who did not know how to type learned typing themselves and encouraged new generation journalists to type using two fingers. Thus, many journalists who worked in TRN could type on typewriters. 

However, the vast majority of journalists who wrote in Nepali did not learn typing and depended on typists. There could be at least three reasons for under used of typewriters by journalists. One, the type of typewriters used in the Corporation was manual and they were not digital in which, journalists could not save what they had typed. This demanded typing twice: first by journalists and then composers. Two, these journalists were ease with handwriting than machine writing. Third, many journalists did not want to type as they related it with the work of typists, the class lower than journalists belong. Typewriters were bridges to computers. One who can type on typewriters can easily type on computers as both have same QWERTY keyboard.

Computers: Underused Digital Technology

The Gorkhapatra Corporation utilised a crude computer in 1982 for pre-press functions that was not directly used by journalists. According to Kamal Dixit, a board member of Gorkhapatra Corporation, the company was trying to buy a similar kind of machine called a photocomposing machine in 1981. In 1982, the Gorkhapatra Corporation started to use a crude kind of photo typesetting computer for pre-press work under General Manager Bharat Dutta Koirala. In an article, Koirala explains that, unlike an ordinary typewriter, users could type, edit, correct, and save the text on this machine. Koirala also expected that more journalists would continue to work on the photo-setting machine. Later some journalists did. For example, Gopal Sharma, a journalist who worked for The Rising Nepal, wrote a few reports on the machine out of curiosity. In the late 1980s, desktops were made available to the journalists who worked in English. Though the Corporation sent many journalists working in Nepali to learn computer in a computer institute, many did not use the machine.

Online Newspapers: Slow but Distinct Transition

The transition to Gorkhapatra Corporation to online began on 23 February 1997 when Internet Service Provider, Mercantile Communications (MC), approached it. Then, the Corporation took the service from MC to make available some content of The Rising Nepal. In 1999 the Corporation made an agreement to provide all content of its publications to MC. This is the first phase of digital transition of the Corporation.

In the second phase Gorkhapatra Corporation launched its own website www.gorkhapatra.org.np on 7 May 2002. It was possible as the General Manager of the Corporation, and editor of Gorkhapatra, Kishore Nepal took initiative and made the team having journalists from The Rising Nepal and Gorkhapatra and technical team. The team also uploaded fresh content. Then after about a year when the term of Kishore Nepal ended, the new management decided to call back the journalists and relieved technical staff members. The Corporation took services from technological companies till 2012 July to upload contents and focus mainly on the content printed on newspapers. There after the website remained un-updated for few months. In 2012 December, the new management took initiative to start the online again and a team of journalists and administrative staffs were created to work on the online. At that time, the domain name was changed into www.gorkhapatraonline.com. The website for The Rising Nepal, www.therisingnepal.org.np was launched in 2014. 

The websites of Gorkhapatra Corporation are elegant and distinct. One of the features is they don’t contain commercial advertisements. This becomes interesting when almost all Nepali news website had roadblock advertisements, which do not allow users to access news content before they view or skip advertisements. These websites serve to users all over the world who are interested to know about Nepal. Due to the lack of human resources and information technology infrastructure, the two websites are also slow in comparison to other online newspapers, and do not contain any audio and video content. Therefore, the online of Gorkhapatra Corporation stands out in the crowd of online news media that give priority to crass commercialism, sensationalism, popular content and fast news, inundating users with information. 

Technology and News Media Organisation

The nature of its ownership that is government-owned public media, politicisation in this organisation, affordance of technologies has shaped its technological transformation from handwriting to online newspaper. The innovations in this Corporation were possible due to the collaborative activities of some of leaders in the management who took initiatives and risks, and people who supported them.

(Maharjan is associated with Martin Chautari)

Originally published in The Rising Nepal on May 8, 2019, also available at http://therisingnepal.org.np/news/30911.

01 June 2019

What About Multiple Media Councils ?

By Harsha Man Maharjan
The Media Council Bill tabled by the government has stirred up opposition from Nepali media fraternity. The voices keep coming to scrap the bill altogether. Provisions related to the structure of the organisation and penalties for violation of code of ethics are a couple of thorny issues for others demanding amendments. Chairperson of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) has strongly challenged the government’s proposals. Media organisations have maintained the possibility of establishing their own councils. Scholars have been debating whether Nepali media sector is ready for such a transition.
The opposing proposals are headed for a collision course. But this does not have to be the case. Official media councils and professional media councils can co-exist. Official media councils will be headed by representatives from legislative or judicial or executive, or the state will cover all the expenses. Unofficial media councils are formed and funded by media industry. In this article, I propose such a provision.
There was no law to govern the Press Advisory Council formed in 1969. The amendment of the Press and Publication Act in 1970 August created the provision for Press Council consisting of eleven members including standing judge as the chair. When the new council was formed in the following month, Surendra Bahadur Basnet was appointed as the chair. He was the member of the Rastriya Panchayat at that time. Since then, all other committees of the Press Councils were chaired by a judge till 1990. This changed after new Act governing the press council was enacted in 1992. It allowed a retired judge of supreme court or a person who has contributed in the field of newspaper to be appointed as the chair. Following the act, the government started to appoint journalists as the chair of the council.
The government selected all the members of the council. The council did not have much autonomy and was not independent. The need of media reform was being felt. High Level Media Commission (formed in 2008) suggested making PC more inclusive by having representatives from communities such as women, dailit, indigenous, and madhesi. It also recommended that the members of the council be not engaged in media organisations. A media-law study by Taranath Dahal and Bhimarjun Acharya suggested going back to appointing a senior judge as the chair. They also advised to take out the classification of newspapers from the purview of the council. Similarly, another study by Binod Dhungel suggested making it more autonomous by restructuring the council. He proposed to shift the ownership of press council from governments to the parliament.
The issues of autonomy and recommendations have been ignored by the bill. The council will consist of nine members including, the chair with Bachelor level education and ten-year experience of journalism. A committee coordinated by the secretary of the ministry suggests the chair.
Several provisions have to be amended to make the council more autonomous. The council should be chaired by a retired judge and not journalists. Different types of media such as print, radio, television, online and the public should have representations. The representatives from the ministry should be token. There should be minimal interference from the government in the committee that selects the chair. Finally, the council should be under the parliament and not the government.
Media sector has concerns with the changing role of media council to take legal decisions and slap fines. A provision in the bill allows the council to fine journalists or media companies NRs. 10,000 to NRs. 10,00,000 if any aggrieved person files a complaint before the council in violation of the code of ethics. Then the journalists and media companies could appeal in higher court within 45 days against the decision of the council.
This is an attempt to convert the ‘toothless tiger’ to ‘the tiger with teeth’. In the Press Council Act, 1992 the maximum step the council could take is to recommend the government to suspend the facilities of a journalist. Such punishment was given after failure to follow council’s request to publish an apology, or statement of the aggrieved party. Annual reports of Press Council show many cases of non-compliance with the recommendations given by the council. As a last resort, the proposed draft of Press Council Nepal Act, 2074 BS contains an extra provision of forwarding such non-compliance cases for legal action. The draft Act is available on press council’s website. The government should not make the press council a ‘toothless tiger’. For this, it should consult with media fraternity and come up with ways to make Nepali media more responsible to the public.
Private media need to establish their own media council with an aim to promote quality journalism and to have better relationship between state, media and public. They need to prepare a blueprint of the modality of their members and the chair that is inclusive of all media and the public they cater to. Foremost, it has to be ensured that big media houses do not influence the council or that big investors don’t have a bigger say. Public will not trust yet another council for the sake of it. And rightfully so. The media fraternity would need to think that this forum is for debating the vital issues of the media sector, not to fulfill their own stress. Having representatives from the public could be one way to make it credible. Learning from the mistakes is another.
Strong case can be made for setting up multiple media councils. Autonomy and independence are the two popular arguments. The official council with less interference from the government could execute its vision towards promoting press freedom. The unofficial councils can be central platforms to discuss about the genuine issues of media sector. We need more systems that make Nepali media accountable.
Originally published in The Rising Nepal on June 1, 2019;  http://therisingnepal.org.np/news/31670

28 February 2019

Tale-Tell: What Does Hyperlink Tell Us About Nepali Online Journalism?

By Harsha Man Maharjan
The use of hyperlinks in news media in Nepal is rare — used by few media organizations — and this tells us many tales of Nepali Journalism. This negligence is quite contrary to the concern raised by scholars in journalism and media studies that hyperlink is one of important characteristics of online journalism.
While ruminating on the making of digital transitions of Nepali newspapers for few years, I became interested in these questions: Why do Nepali online media ignore hyperlink often? What does this tell us about Nepali journalism? The concern broached on social media that while picking up big or exclusive stories from others news media, media companies need to give credit to the original media, encouraged me to think on it more.
For some hyperlink might appear to be a technical aspect or just a new add- on in print or a line under a word or words. However, hyperlinks are main feature of online media as this can differentiate online from print, if news media use it diligently and cautiously. Hyperlinks are links, which point to internal or external web pages when somebody clicks. In news, journalists could use them in different ways such as by embedding them in texts or putting them elsewhere.
If we have a cursory look at the websites of prominent online news media, we can find that very few media companies are using this feature. Here are two cases.
First, when I checked them on 2 February 2019, I came across few news stories related to the break of hunger strike by Dr. Govinda KC. Online media like Onlinekhabar, SetopatiBaharkhari , Annapurnapost , ThehimalyantimesNagariknews, and Myrepublica did not use this feature in their news stories, whereas the online of Kantipurdaily and The Kathmandu Post used hyperlinks to their old news. The way these media presented these links are different. The Kathmandu Post used four hyperlinks: a link embedded in text and three others suggested as “read”, Kantipurdaily had a link as ‘read’. However, this case does not help us to generalize the use of hypertext in Nepali journalism as sometimes even other media use hyperlinks. This case does show that Nepali online media do not use hyperlink regularly. This becomes interesting if we remember that online journalism started in Nepal in 1995.
Second, on 3 February 2019, Onlinekhabar summarized and then published news at 7:22 am from daily newspapers, KantipurNaya PatrikaNagarik and Annapurna Post as “Aajako Patrapatrika” news. It presented the name of newspapers in bold. If we check the timeline, we can guess why Onlinekhabar did not provided links: It took news from newspapers not online newspapers and put the information online before these newspapers make available on their websites. For example in case of Kantipur’s news, Onlinekhabar was a minute ahead in posting the information from the news. Nevertheless, hyperlinks are better option than bold type. Onlinekhabar could provide hyperlinks to the online newspapers as some newspapers demanded and BBC follows. This also applies to other online media, which take news from newspapers in the morning.
Not using hyperlinks tells us mainly three things about Nepali journalism.
One, Nepali online news media are missing opportunity to help users to know more about the issues. If they use hyperlinks, users get more information by digging into links. This is also important because online is global media and people having no background information of the issues can access news. Online is a medium accessible anytime and anywhere to anybody who has access to the internet.
Two, they are ignoring the feature which helps them to be more accountable.
When readers became informed and have access to documents and news sources, they can make journalists and news media organizations accountable. For example, when journalists provide links to the sources or documents on which they base their news stories, the interested users could check for themselves. Providing links also makes journalists and their journalism more credible.
Being accountability also means to give credit to colleagues and competitors. The case two of news from newspapers shows this. Just mentioning the names of newspapers is not enough. This does not end here. As raised in social media, when news media organizations follow big or exclusive stories already carried by other organizations, hyperlinks could be helpful. This only makes audience informed, but also creates professional environment in news media industry. Similarly, providing hyperlinks also reduce the chances of plagiarism especially news pieces related to tech issues for which journalists often collect information from international sources.
Three, near absence of the use of hyperlink also shows that news media have print-oriented mentality. However, it does not mean that journalists do not know about hyperlink. One reason for this is the small team many online media have, and pressure to churn out more news. Putting hyperlinks requires more time, well-managed archive and clear understanding of when to provide links and when not to. News media organizations had to have will and zeal to invest more for content and human resources. The case of Kantipur Publications shows this. If we check web archive, we find that though Kantipur Publications gave priority to digital gradually from 2014–2015, the use of hyperlinks increased from 2018, when Kantipur Media Group started to push for digital transformation of its publications.
To sum up, though Nepal has the history of about 25 years of online journalism, many of these news media do not use hyperlinks and even those, which do; they do not use it regularly. This tells us that these organizations are giving less priority to digital-oriented journalism, which could empower audiences and make the organizations more accountable, betraying their print-oriented mentality. So Nepali news media should not only use hyperlink regularly but also make the policies about its use so that audiences do not feel distracted by such links.
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30 January 2018

Print Screen of www.parewa.com in 2005

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20051027024713/http://www.parewa.com:80/