24 December 2009

Road ahead for Alternative Book Fair


Here is my aricle on alternative book fair published today in Republica

The book exhibition of not-for-profit publishers, Alternative Book Fair, ended on Dec 14. Himal Association organized the fair from Dec 10 at Sabhagriha, Kathmandu. Fourteen NGOs participated in the fair. However, they were dissatisfied with the flow of visitors. What went wrong? The organizer and the organizations that participated in it have been forced to think about it. Martin Chautari, the organization I am associated with, also participated in this fair. The ideas I am presenting in this article is the result of my interaction with friends and my observation of five days at the fair. Martin Chautari has been participating in this fair since the first edition, which was organized in 2005.DEFINITION: INTERPRETATIONA friend of mine entered Sabhagriha when he saw a banner of Alternative Book Fair at the front gates. He had assumed that Sajha Prakashan had once again organized a book fair like it had done a few days earlier. But he could not make out what the word alternative stood for. I also saw a student asking his friends about the meaning of Alternative Book Fair. This is a fair of not-for-profit book publishers. It started in 2005 as a bid to uplift and popularize books published by NGOs/INGOs. I think this is alternative in two ways.
One reason to for using the term ‘alternative’ is the not-for-profit nature of the whole affair. Mainstream publishers are commercial and their sole interest is to seek and earn profit. Some of the not-for-profit publishers have been producing books of good quality which would have been expensive if the same were published by commercial publishers. Some NGOs even distribute books for free.Another reason is related to the fair itself. It is alternative as it is another version of the main fair Global Exposition and Management Services Pvt Ltd, in which many small booksellers and publishers shun from participating as the rate of the stalls are exorbitant. However, the rate of stalls for the Alternative Book Fair is far cheaper.UNINTERESTED ORGANIZERSHimal Association was the sole organizer of Alternative Book Fair 2009, which was unprecedented in the history of the fair. In the first fair, there were nine organizers: Martin Chautari, Himal Association, Room to Read, Rato Bangla Kitab, CWIN, Action Aid Nepal, INSEC, CNAS and Bagar Foundation. Martin Chautari came up with this idea at first. It did consultation with other organizations and other eight organizations agreed to be the organizers. But Martin Chautari took all the responsibility to organize the fair. It planned the inauguration and closing programs. It worked as the secretariat for the fair. All organizers did different activities to attract visitors. Rato Bangla and Room to Read arranged student visits for different schools, and Room to Read earmarked reading space for children in the fair. It was evident that all organizers were full of zeal.In the second edition of the fair in 2006, the number of organizers went down to six. Three organizations – CNAS, Bagar Foundation and Rato Bangla Kitab – not only stopped being organizers; they were unwilling to even participate in the fair. Even so, Room to Read and others continued to play significant roles to increase the flow of visitors. Martin Chautari did programs related to publishing everyday in cooperation with Fine Print. In 2007, the fair was not organized. In 2008, Himal Association and Martin Chautari were the organizers. It was organized as a part of Film Festival organized by Himal Association. Books were launched during the fair. These kinds of activities helped to publicize the fair in the media.However, in 2009, the flow of visitors to the fair was remarkably low. The participating organizations complained that Himal Association did not give sufficient interest to publicize the book fair. It was engrossed with films only. Nobody inaugurated the book fair. It had never happened before. No publicity efforts were made to attract attention of the media and visitors. Though Jagadamba Publication brought out a new book by journalist Kanak Mani Dixit it was launched in Yala Maya, Patan, not Jagadamba’s stall at the fair. If Jagadamba Publication had launched the book at its stall at the fair, that would have attracted more visitors. This shows lack of coordination between the organizers and participating organizations. It also shows lack of homework on the part of the organizer.My primary concern is the disinterest of NGOs to be partner organizers of the book fair. Ideally, the fair should be organized through cooperation of NGOs/INGOs. That demands a lot of homework before the fair. All participants must consider the book fair as their own. However, what has happened is that participation of organizations has decreased.LETHARGIC PARTICIPANTSIn 2005, the number of participants of the book fair was 30. It went down to 25 in 2006. In 2008 it was 28. This year, there were only 14. These figures clearly show that many organizations have stopped participating in this fair. There are many reasons behind this. Some organizations want big sales, which would at least cover the cost of hiring a stall. They are wrong. This fair began with an aim to bring different not-for-profit publishers at one place and share their problems and search for remedies. It also started to take these publications to their target audiences. Its aim was to popularize publications of not-for-profit publishers.Some organizations point out that they lack human resources to oversee their stall. It’s true that this is a problem for many NGOs as they operate with inadequate staff. But some participants are solving this problem. For example, in the latest fair, SAWTEE used a volunteer to manage its stall. What is needed, I think, is coordination among NGOs/INGOs. A lot of NGOs/INGOs have published different materials related to their work and they can make it available to the masses through these kinds of book fairs.WHAT LIES AHEAD?The organizer/s and the participating organizations have to work collectively to popularize the Alternative Book Fair. Himal Association has to evaluate its weaknesses. If this is done, I think we can be happy about the outcome of the next Alternative Book Fair in 2010. The organizer also has to think about the duration. Is organizing the book fair once a year good? Can we organize it once every two years? I think it will be okay if this fair is organized every two years. There are many organizations, which come up with very few publications in a year. They believe that it is worthless to participate in the fair with the same old publications. There is another option too. If an organization has few publications, the organizer has to encourage them to keep a stall jointly with some other organization facing the same situation. Actually, Education Network, a combination of three organizations, has been doing this since the fair’s inception.(Writer is associated with Martin Chautari, a policy research institute in Kathmandu.)


23 December 2009

Alternative Media and Alternative Economic Sources

By Harsha Man Maharjan
2009 is ending very soon. And I am getting mails from Alternative media: Open Democracy, The Center for Media and Democracy, FAIR etc for donation. This is no news. It happens every December. Donation is an alternative economic source of mass media. Usually advertisement is main economic source of media.

In his article What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream Noam Chomsky says that mainstream media sells its audiences to advertisers. Michael Albert has written an article titled What Makes Alternative Media Alternative? Here he has focused on alternatives finance apart from others characteristics.

Open Democracy, The Center for Media and Democracy, and FAIR are alternative media so they are using alternative source of economy. FAIR watches media biases and censorship. Center for Media and Democracy counters PR and Propaganda in media. In Nepal we can’t say which media is alternative and which is mainstream. For example what is different between so-called community radio and commercial radio? When Radio Sagarmatha came into existence it declared that it would air no commercial ads. But this declaration remained for few months. We don’t have audience-supported media.

about FAIR

about The Center for Media and Democracy

What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream

What Makes Alternative Media Alternative?

06 December 2009

Journalism education in doldrums

By Harsha Man Maharjan
Friends here is the original version of my article published in The kathmandu Post yesterday (5 December 2009)

“We have not any school or college for journalism. There is a great lack of books on Journalism in our language though we have published many articles on this subject in different newspapers and magazines”. This is what journalist Shyam Prasad Sharma said about Journalism Education in Nepal. He was speaking in a program organized by International Federation of Journalist in 1962 at Budapest.
Journalism Education began in the US in 1890s. One of the countries in Asian region to begin this education is China. JE started in China in 1920s with the help of US scholars. In India it began in late 1930s. After about four decades of this, JE started in Nepal. It was Ratna Rajya Campus which began JE in 1976. It was under Tribhuwan University (TU). This university was established in 1959. So after 17 years of TU’s establishment, RR Campus offered JE course in Nepal.
But some people demanded JE in Nepal many years before than this. And it is repeated demand that Panchayat government gave consent to start JE in Nepal. One of the early document to demand this education in Nepal was the report of First press commission. This commission was formed in 23 February 1958 to suggest government on development of healthy journalism in Nepal. This report had suggested government to start JE in Nepal. Journalism of pre and post 1950 was led by journalists without training and education in Journalism. This happens in the initial phase of Journalism in many countries. But for development of healthy journalism JE is sine qua non. 1958 press commission demanded four things: to start Journalism Education in a college, to establish Journalism school for journalists, to arrange scholarships to study journalism abroad and to manage field visit in foreign media for journalists to learn more about editing. Even Journalist Association demanded JE in Nepal.
Journalists Lal Dhoj Deusa Rai, Gokul Pokhrel, Bharat Dutta Koirala etc were resource persons in early classes of JE in Nepal. Among them only Rai had passed MA from Culcutta University. According to Rai, the beginning of JE helped to reduce skepticism towards JE among few journalists. Before this, journalists used to think JE as a waste of time and what they believed was only practice makes a good journalist. JE education in RR Campus helped even in establishing Journalism as an academic course which can be learnt from class room too.
In 1976 there were 16 students-14 male and 2 female. Problems were many. There was no department of Journalism in RR Campus till 1979. It was under English department. “We see no feasibility of opening Journalism as a new department” says Rai. There was lack of teaching materials and teachers. And JE was only available there at that time. Students needed to reach this campus. That means it was limited to Kathmandu. In 1980s there were two colleges providing this education-RR Campus and People’s Campus.
In 1991 there was a seminar on the revision and reform of journalism curricula. It was the result of this seminar that Journalism department of RR Campus was renamed as department of Journalism and Mass Communication. Even curricula were changed accordingly. Earlier, curricula were focused to print media. Now content on electronic media was also added. And JE become Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC). Journalism education also began in higher secondary level from 1997. Journalism education started in grade X and IX from 2001. So there is a sea change in terms of availability of journalism education. Colleges and schools outside Kathmandu are offering courses in Journalism in secondary and higher secondary level. There are colleges outside Kathmandu offering Bachelor course of JE. But a lot of these colleges are centered in Kathmandu. From 2001 MA courses of Journalism began in Nepal. There colleges-RR Campus, Kantipur City College and College of Mass Communication and Journalism. All of these colleges are situated in Kathmandu. That means Bachelor and Masters courses are still Kathmandu centric.
This problem evolved with evolvement of national universities. Nepal has opted for the concept of multi universities. There are six universities in Nepal and only three universities: Tribhuwan University, Purbanchal University and Kathmandu University are offering courses in mass communication. These universities were supposed to be regional. All of six universities are working as national universities. If there had been regional universities. Chances are there that few more colleges would have offered BA or MA outside Kathmandu. It would have been easy to monitor affiliated colleges then.
There is lack of teachers with MA degree in Journalism outside Kathmandu. There is a gap of 22 years in starting BA and MA course. So many students with BA degree in journalism could not pursue journalism in MA level. And there is about 190-200 of MA degree holders in JE. Kathmadu allures people from outside of Kathmandu with MA degree with journalism. So there is scarcity of teachers with JE outside Kathmandu. Most of them are MA degree holders in other subjects. HESB demands post graduate degree holder as the prerequisite to be a teacher in Higher Secondary level. But it does not say only people with post graduate degrees in Journalism and Mass Communication are eligible for the teaching. And there is propensity to ask journalists to teach journalism classes. That means these teachers have a little knowledge of theoretical aspect of Journalism.
In 23 June 2006, Chiranjibi Khanal, then head of the Department of Journalism Communication, R. R. Campus under the supervision of Gokul Pokhrel prepared two teaching manuals for XI and XII courses in Journalism. He has suggested three options for teacher’s qualification: a. Minimum second division in masters' degree in journalism and mass communication, or b. Graduate in journalism and minimum second division in any discipline and c. Master in any discipline with hands on journalism training and 15 years experience in journalism field. Khanal’s recommendation makes B.A. degree holders in journalism and experienced journalists or trainers with master’s degree in any subject eligible to be a teacher of Journalism and mass communication. But HSEB has not incorporated his recommendation yet. The data provided by HSEB shows, 210 colleges are offering journalism courses in Higher Secondary level.
There is a problem with teachers’ remuneration too. Shreeram Khanal, a journalism teacher writes in an article that remuneration most of these colleges are providing is low. He even finds no chances of suing these colleges if they don’t provide remuneration as teachers did not have appointment letters and contracts. There is another problem which Khanal doesn’t mention. There is dearth of trained teachers. They have less knowledge of how to teach. Having a MA degree does not provide ideas and techniques. Teachers might have sound knowledge of journalism. But they might be unable to express their feeling. And training reduces this problem
This problem has to do with government policy and donor’s interest too. Nepal has poured big amount of money on training teachers of school. In the book, New Horizon in Education in Nepal, educationist Tirtha Raj Khaniya has wrote that short and long term training for faculty teachers are needed in Higher Education. Recently University Grant Commission has just started to provide training to teacher in higher education. But it has not seen the need of training to journalism teachers. By training it only means that these teachers must have idea of how to teach students. Teachers can get this idea from formal training or seminars etc. Professor Lal Deusa Rai said that he tried to arrange training for journalism teachers but he failed. However he got opportunity to go to International Institute of Journalism, Berlin. This lack of training also ends in poor quality of teaching. Some colleges have arranged training and refreshing training themselves. For example KCC did so.
Even the curricula have problems. They are less practical. In IA level students have to prepare some specimens of news, feature and editorial. And this is not enough. The curricula of Higher Secondary level is no exception. In BA course there is a provision of going internship for two months in media. In lack of coordination between colleges and media institutions, internees are unwelcome in media houses. And if there is coordination nobody has time to teach trainees in these media houses. Result is there is lack of the basic knowledge of journalism: writing, reporting and editing. Yes colleges can’t teach every thing to students. What they should provide is the practical knowledge of the basics of journalism. And this is what our journalism education is missing. Student might have sound knowledge of theoretical aspects of journalism. They lag far behind in practical.
Actually there is a debate going between Academic vs Practical aspect of journalism from the beginning of JE. Even Ram Krishna Regmi told in a discussion program organized by Martin Chautari that colleges can’t create a student totally fit to newsroom. She/he will be fit in the newsroom only after working for few months and media institutions have to cooperate for this. Regmi thinks that media have a responsibility to give platforms to internees. Shreeram Khanal said that Nepalese media institutions are not willing to provide internships. Nepalese media institutions must make internship policies. This kind of internship is the rule in the US. For example The Washington Post has Newsroom Summer Internship Program and every summer it provide internship to journalists as reporters, visual journalists, web producers, news designers, feature designers, information designers and video editors. In Nepalese context, Nepalese media institutions must think about these kinds of internship. If they don’t do this, they should not hope for better and qualified human resources in Journalism and Mass Communication.
In 1980s government had formed the second press commission and what its report said about Journalism education at that time is still valid. According to this report JE lacked practical knowledge and there were scarcity of trained teachers. There is no entity to oversee Journalism and Mass Communication education. As Laxmi Dutta Pant, teacher of JMC writes in his regular column in The Rising Nepal colleges management are minimizing the cost and they are operating classes with poor or no infrastructure. Now what is the solution? Gokul Pokharel one of colleagues of Lal Deusa, who helped in 1970s has demanded Media education council. According to Pokhrel JE is in mess in Nepal and the proposed council will help in improving this mess. His proposed council is similar to Nepal Medical Council. He thinks Media Education Council is needed in Nepal to standardize JE, to evaluate JE, to recommend reference and learning materials, to organize workshops and seminars etc. This kind of entity is not new in the world. In the US there is Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications which oversees education in journalism and mass communication. Countries like Japan, UK and Australia has also formed this kind of institution.
Yes in Nepal JE has become a giant now and Media Education Council is needed to oversee it. Only future can tell how much this institution can help to overcome JE mess. First Nepal must establish the institution to oversee Journalism and Mass Communication Education.