Nepal social media revolution on the rise

Though increasingly used by mainstream and citizen journalists alike, social media faces government restrictions and access challenges.

By Surath Giri for Khabar South Asia in Kathmandu

January 23, 2013
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For more than two weeks now, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's residence in Baluwatar has become home to hundreds of protesters demanding justice for a Nepali migrant worker who was allegedly raped by immigration officials upon her return to the country.

  • Protesters have demonstrated outside Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's residence for weeks, demanding justice for a Nepalis migrant worker who was allegedly raped by immigration officials. Social media sites are playing an increasingly central role in co-ordinating demonstrations and civic action, with frequent online discussions on violence against women in Nepal. [Photos by Surath Giri/Khabar]

    Protesters have demonstrated outside Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's residence for weeks, demanding justice for a Nepalis migrant worker who was allegedly raped by immigration officials. Social media sites are playing an increasingly central role in co-ordinating demonstrations and civic action, with frequent online discussions on violence against women in Nepal. [Photos by Surath Giri/Khabar]

  • Kaushal Raj Sapkota, 21, is one of the young Nepalis harnessing the potential of social media. He participates in protests for women's rights and posts updates and opinions on his blog.

    Kaushal Raj Sapkota, 21, is one of the young Nepalis harnessing the potential of social media. He participates in protests for women's rights and posts updates and opinions on his blog.

One busy protestor, Kaushal Raj Sapkota, 21, has enlisted social media in the cause. He takes pictures, posts them to Facebook and blogs about violence against women in Nepal.

"Had it been in the past, this issue would have died down after a few days," he told Khabar South Asia. "But thanks to social media people are discussing and co-ordinating with each other to act on issues they care about."

Revolution online

With the spread of the internet and increasing citizen access to the web, Nepal is experiencing its own social media revolution. According to Nepal Telecommunications Authority, 18.28% of the population had Internet access in 2012, compared to 3.69% in 2010. The rise has led to a rapid flowering of blogs and citizen journalism.

The blog-aggregating website www.bloggers.com.np lists over 1,500 Nepali blogs, while the social media/citizen journalism community Meroreport.net lists over 1,200 members – the majority of whom are outside Kathmandu Valley.

"Over 64% of our members are from outside the valley and many of our members are from the remotest parts of the country," said Indradhoj Kshetri, Meroreport.net community co-ordinator and head of the Madan Bhandari Memorial College journalism department.

"Social media and citizen journalism are becoming effective tools to bring out many issues, even from remote areas, to public attention, which were hitherto ignored," he told Khabar.

The community has also been providing free provision for people without Internet access to phone in their news and views in the community's voicemail. It is then transcribed and published in the blog.

Despite the growing influence of social media, Kshetri believes the mainstream media has been slow to embrace it. "Sometimes the tendency is to think of it as a rival rather than a complementary force," he told Khabar.

Sapkota, the blogger, shares similar sentiments. "Although many times, social media are believed to be a curse for traditional media, I think they are complementary to each other rather than a substitute for each other," he told Khabar. "I think social media help to create more journalists, which is good for the media sector."

Some journalists have used the power of social media to harness their reporting. Television reporter Rajneesh Bhandari recently published the e-book Living with Autism as his personal project.

"Autism is a growing global health concern, but many people in Nepal are not yet aware about this issue," Bhandari told Khabar. "Mainstream media in Nepal has ignored this issue and the government has not done anything. I found social media the most effective tool in this scenario."

He also created a social media community to discuss the issue and has received positive responses.

"Through social media, journalists are being able to connect to their audience," Ujjwal Acharya, executive member of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, told Khabar. "Although mainstream journalism is still the trendsetter, it is being influenced by social media."

At the same time, analysts say, barriers remain – including legal ones. In particular, Article 47 of the Electronic Transaction Act 2006 poses risks for those using the internet to express their views, according to Acharya.

The law includes general wording that bars individuals from posting material "which may be contrary to the public morality or decent behavior or any types of materials which may spread hate or jealousy against anyone or which may jeopardise the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities."

Critics say the language is vague, opening up the possibility of prosecuting bloggers or online journalists who run afoul of the government or other political factions.

"It criminalises expressions and opinions published online and the punishment may not always be reasonable given the nature of social media," he said.

Nepali blogger Anih Ghimire agrees that the digital divide remains wide, hampering the potential impact.

"Despite the increasing internet penetration, many people still are not aware of the power of social media," he said.

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