Can new media replace mainstream media?Experts say no but suggest it’s time Nepali mainstream media worked harder to produce content that is accurate, balanced and credible.
With the proliferation of the internet and the rise of new media, opinion-making of the general masses is largely shaped by the day-to-day content that is fed on social media in the forms of video, text and graphics.
As things stand, the number of people plugged into social media platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, Twitter or Instagram has been sharply increasing, possibly surpassing the number of those who rely on mainstream media for updates. In many ways, the messages that are being disseminated through social media form an ecosystem of information-sharing, thereby shaping the opinion of the masses, which, experts say, is at a fluid stage in Nepal.
The new media has eased the access of the general public to news content and made possible an interaction between media outlets and their audiences. However, in the absence of fact-checking, vetting news sources, self-monitoring and gatekeeping, some academicians and scholars in the field are worried about misleading details on some issues. There are a few others who believe that social media can’t replace traditional media for the latter’s authenticity and credible news dissemination.
Many individuals the Post talked to also seemed anxious, saying more people were becoming increasingly dependent on social media for news and that may pose a challenge for the democratic process and democratic society, because there is no regulatory body for fact-checking.
“Well-informed citizens make decisions with their conscience, but if they are misinformed, that may pose a threat to democracy,” said Taranath Dahal, chief executive of Freedom Forum Nepal, an organisation that works for the promotion of Right to Information.
“In the context of Nepal, peoples’ dependency is growing on information and messages being fed through social media, and although they might be a primary source of information, they may not be verified. This may lead the social discourse in a wrong direction,” said Dahal, who is also a former president of the Federation of Nepali Journalists.
He, however, said, to garner the trust of the larger audiences the mainstream journalists should be more credible. Experts say fact-based journalism should serve the interests of the common citizens who do not have a voice of their own and should also be investigative.
“That is to ensure that people get the right information and can make the right opinion,” said Dahal. He said, in a democracy, correct information helps people make the right choices.
Media educators and public opinion makers say that at a time when the all pervasiveness of internet and social media use is at its peak, the government and those who are in the journalism fraternity should work responsibly in disseminating accurate messages to the public, being more sensitive about the content they produce.
They also stressed the fact that the state should play a proactive role for media literacy with which citizens can easily distinguish misinformation and disinformation, and can act in a responsible manner. Dahal urged the government to put social media studies in primary education, so that children learn the do’s and don'ts of the internet from an early stage in life.
Hari Sharma, a public intellectual and political adviser to former president Ram Baran Yadav, in a recent interview with the Post said that the new media have overtaken the place of traditional media to some extent. He gave an example of how a person with a smartphone can now become a content producer. “But who is going to work as a gatekeeper of the news thus disseminated? There are thousands of new media. How are we going to regulate and monitor them?” questioned Sharma.
He said that credibility comes with the long years of institutionalisation but that is not quite possible on social media with an individual’s effort. Sharma further said that it's high time to have a discourse on the changing media landscape, when the easy access to the internet has made social media users content creators.
There are 38.38 million internet subscribers in Nepal as of mid-October 2022, according to the Nepal Telecommunications Authority.
Media experts say, in the context of Nepal, the contribution of Nepali media in the country's evolution is vital. On several occasions, the media has challenged the authorities—be it in throwing out the autocratic Panchayat system and to re-establish democracy in 1990 to the abolition of the monarchy from the country in 2008. The Nepali mainstream media has even played a significant role in questionoing authorities such as the President and prime minister of the country.
Historian and a researcher at Martin Chautari Pratyoush Onta, however, emphasised the role and need of mainstream media in Nepal even though there has been a rise of social media, and messages are being disseminated through them. “If the mainstream media takes its job seriously then their prospects are still good. The media operators should also invest in producing quality content,” said Onta.
Meanwhile, Rajendra Dahal, editor of Shikshak monthly, said that it's high time the mainstream media reviewed the impact it has left on the public and also looked at any lapses that it may have made in the past.
He has a suggestion to ensure the longevity of the mainstream media.
“Now, the mainstream media should be able to make maximum use of social media and digital platforms to push up its content to the larger audiences, so that it can dominate over the content produced in social media itself,” said editor Dahal.
But, all experts who the Post spoke to, appreciated the role of the mainstream media in strengthening democracy in the country, their relentless fight against injustice, voices against lawlessness, and in highlighting the social ills over the past three decades.
However, looking at the misuse of social media in the West to spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, and how former US President Donald Trump during the US presidential election in 2016 had accused the mainstream media for producing fake news, observers say, in a developing country like Nepal, it’s easier for regressive forces to attack the mainstream media to advance their own propaganda.
Experts say, it's high time the Nepali media started working harder to produce content which is accurate, balanced and fact-oriented.