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Published on February 25th, 2013 | by EJC

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Media Provides Limited Space To Aid Transparency Issues

This article was written by Krishna Sapkota from Freedom Forum, and originally published on 7 January, 2013 at aidinfo. Republished with permission. 

During the past year aidinfo has been working closely with its partners in Nepal to undertake research into better understanding the demand for information in developing countries. We also focused on the support required to help people access, analyse and use information on aid and other resources. Over the last few weeks we have been sharing the findings from this work through a series of guest blogs from our partners. Our latest blog comes from Freedom Forum

Foreign aid accounts for around 26 percent of Nepal’s national budget and 60 percent of the development budget, making it a crucial issue for accountability in Nepal and, as such, for media attention. However Freedom Forum’s recent report, Media Content Research on Aid Transparency in Nepal revealed that the mainstream media in Nepal have provided very limited space to content related to foreign aid. The media coverage concerning the issues of aid transparency, effectiveness and accountability is quite nominal despite the fact that free media is deemed a crucial means to inform people on the critical issues affecting their life and shaping public opinion.

The report states that ‘Journalists have failed to follow-up and consistently reveal the fact of sensitive issues in regard to development assistance’. Over a period of six months, Freedom Forum critically assessed media content on aid related issues covered by 13 mainstream newspapers of Nepal and found that journalists lack technical knowledge about the issue resulting in meager investigative and in-depth reporting. ‘Most of the contents except opinion articles and letters to editor published in the newspapers are based on the information provided by donor agencies and government bodies lacking analytical content’.

The report identified a lack of critical analysis in Nepali media raising question on its role in building healthy public opinion on the pressing public concerns, said study team leader Taranath Dahal. He further said, ‘There is urgency to devise policy interventions followed by capacity strengthening of journalists to get the media to prioritise strategic issues, which need to be taken to public sphere for discourse’.

The six-month long study demonstrated that the newspapers surveyed had a total of 262 aid-related articles, which represents 0.184 per cent of the total coverage, including 231 news items, five editorials, two letters to the editor, and no interviews.

Of the thirteen newspapers analysed, Karobar, an economic daily, topped the list of highest coverage of aid transparency with 42 articles followed by an English daily, The Himalayan Times (34). The least amount of coverage was found in Nepal Samachar Patra with eight items on aid related issue.

It was found that journalists had failed to provide comprehensive detail of news story and almost no media has shown consistency to cover and follow-up the pressing issues. For instance, Karobar had covered the news that the cabinet had decided to withdraw all the agreements of foreign aid signed without consent from the Finance Ministry (Karobar, April 25, 2012). However, the new story lacked the details explaining names and numbers of project agreements signed without consent from Ministry.

Nagarik Daily, an influential Nepali language newspaper, had, in its editorial column on June 29, said that the donors have failed to maintain ‘neutrality’ while releasing donation. However, it had not provided supporting evidence. This was the case for all the newspapers surveyed. Apparently, all the newspapers have made attempts to dig out aid transparency and accountability issues such as embezzlement, inefficient performance of government and delays in project completion, but failed to present comprehensive evidence to support their reports.

The report concludes with a set of recommendations for Government, media houses, journalists and civil society organisations (CSOs), including a call for more support to build the capacity of journalists to access and use information on aid. Building on this recommendation, Freedom Forum is planning work with aidinfo and other partners to support journalists to use data on aid and other resources.

About the Author:

Krishna Sapkota is Executive Director of Freedom Forum, an independent, non-governmental and not-for-profit civil society organisation working for the cause of social accountability, democracy and human rights focused on press freedom, freedom of expression and right to information in Nepal.

Photo: U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen

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