Nepal earthquake: Torch bearers in trouble

Journalism is a profession that brings news & information of public concerns to light encouraging response from concerned bodies and individuals to address the problem.

A proactive watchdog role of media has the power to represent voice of the people and hold the state to account.

Hence, the substantial presence of free and independent media is often stated to be a panacea of great problems like famine with its power of reporting.

The wreckage exacerbated by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake and recurring powerful aftershocks in Nepal has triggered formidable loss of human and physical capital.

It is so far the most devastating natural disaster in our country since the 1934 AD (1990 BS) Great Earthquake.

It has vividly left an indelible reminisce of deadliest picture of devastation and wretched life.

At this moment of national tragedy, the media is expected to be immoderately proactive than any normal time before but this is the testing time for torch-bearers themselves to perform well.

‘Walking on tightrope’

Journalists are walking a tightrope during the never-ever experienced hazardous quakes.

“We are working with a feeling that the shadow of death is just above us. We want to bring quake-created painful stories from the most hit sites including east, west and central VDCs of Sindhupalchowk but the fragile situation triggered by continuous landslide following tremors has prevented us from entering into the far-flung human settlements”, said Rishi Ram Poudel, a reporter for Kantipur national daily from Sindhupalchowk – the most quake-ravaged district.

“Security threat stemming from the devastating earthquake and subsequent powerful aftershocks is all-pervasive in many hilly areas including the capital, and journalists as part of the community are also not aloof,” he further said.

Movement is  difficult in the most-ravaged area which needs comprehensive reporting to draw attention of concerned stakeholders at the moment.

Scribes left on their own

No matter what scary and scathing the situation is, journalists have to perform on their own and are doing their best in the recent catastrophe.

Despite the huge loss caused to the Nepali media, journalists continue to cover the news and views in a very precarious condition.

So far this is the first-ever incident in modern time of Nepal that the earthquake has brought such damages in the media sector as well.

The media houses are unsafe with cracks; journalists’ residences are destroyed and damaged and their family members rendered homeless; their media equipments and instruments are broken and some of them have lost their near and dear in the disaster.

Field reporting has become the most precarious job with roads reaching to the quake-hit sites obstructed with landslide, foodstuffs remaining scarce and means of communications and transportation interrupted.

Hundreds of relatives of the journalists have been killed in the disaster. Thousands of them from quake-hit districts have been directly affected while a dozen got injuries.

Roughly 750 houses belonging to media persons have been collapsed during the terrible earthquake.

Sports journalist Suman Bhomjan affiliated to the Gorkhapatra daily, published from Kathmandu, lost his life to the earthquake. His dead body was recovered from a local Mahabouddha area on May 2, eighth day of the quake.

Media houses such as FM radios, daily/weekly newspapers and televisions could not be run smoothly for lack of electricity, equipment damage, psychological fear, lack of printing paper, cable snapping and building collapse.

One of the oldest media house, Kamana Publications, received huge damage after the nearby structure collapsed over it. The Nepal Samacharpatra national daily published by the Publications was not brought out for two weeks since the earthquake.

Other newspapers (nearly two dozen of dailies, 150 weeklies) in the capital city remained unpublished, and if published, circulation was very low.

Out of 400 cable operators, most witnessed damages, resulting in inoperative condition.

One of the largest cables, Subisu, remained inoperative for four days. It said the damage amounted to nearly Rs. 10 million.

Out of 262 total community radios, as many as 37 FM stations got damaged while 13 out of 154 commercial radios suffered losses which disrupted the news airing.

Some station building collapsed while some had their equipments damaged.

On the one hand, journalists’ survival safety is more challenging while on other they have come across number of problems in bringing out stories from the sites which are reduced to rubble in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Safe movement and safe sheltering in remotest quake-hit areas is a constant threat to the journalists. Even getting food and water can be a big challenge.

“There was nothing to eat and drink. There were debris of devastated structures and dead bodies everywhere within a couple of weeks after the disaster”, Poudel further said.

All in all, journalists are performing their duty as far as they can amid despair and desolation.

“It is not easier for a single journalist to go to the nooks and crannies of the devastated sites for news coverage. A special mission should be put in place to engage a group of journalists to unearth stories from the areas”, said Hom Prasad Lamsal, a reporter for Image Television, who himself is victim of current quake in Dhading.

Additional incentives needed

Making arrangement of additional incentives and investment from media house during the emergency period is always the ignored aspect in Nepal.

Journalists are not provided with adequate resources to work in coping with complex situation.

“The state and media management should increase their responsibility to enable working environment for journalists in such difficult moment”, said Vice-Chairperson of Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Anita Bindu.

Acknowledging journalists’ role in imparting information in the tragic period, she called for the state to assess quake-triggered losses caused to journalists and media houses and declare support to ensure smooth operation.

“The management of the concerned media should also design special package of incentives to the media persons deputed for covering news from the devastated areas”, she added.

This is the tough time which obviously demands more extensive presence of journalists being cautious of their self-safety.

At this moment, journalists are required to act as a proactive watchdog keeping vigil on whether rescue, relief, rehabilitation and treatment to survivors are being undertaken properly and make the state authorities more functional and effective in relieving the pain and plight of the people.

The saddening part is that the stories on people’s sufferings have not been comprehensively covered and disseminated to enable environment to address the adverse situation in the wake of earthquake.

Reporter: Krishna Sapkota, RSS