Monday, November 22, 2010

How Al-Jazeera and CNN Covered Nepal's Transition?

This article reports the key findings of a study of how two major international channels covered Nepali transition, especially in the way Maoists became an indomitable political force in the country. The study was conducted by Indra Dhoj Kshetri, a media researcher based in Kathmandu.
Kshetri analyzed content in CNN International and Al-Jazeera English between Nov. 21, 2006 and Nov 20, 2008. His study clusters around five case studies that defined Nepal's transition-- signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) (Nov. 21, 2006), Maoists joining the coalition government (April 2, 2007), Constituent assembly polls (April 10, 2008), abolition of Monarchy (29 May, 2008) and Maoist's rise to power leading a coalition government (Aug 15, 2008).
Apart from analyzing online content of CNNI and online as well as video content of AJE (the latter also uses YouTube), he also interviewed Nepal-based reporters of both channels.
The study found that AJE looked at the rise of the Maoist to power in Nepal differently and this difference persisted in the width and depth of the coverage as well as in the framing of the Maoist movement and their rise.
His study was primarily interested in the general framing of the Nepali transition as well as the volume and breath of the coverage.
During the study period, AJE broadcast 17 stories but its online version had far more stories (38 in total). CNNI also broadcasted 7 stories while it carried four times more stories (24) online.
Quantitatively, AJE gave 7.5 times more than CNNI broadcast coverage. In other words, CNNI gave only 13.5 percent of the AJE's broadcast coverage.

AJE gave 3.2 times more space than CNNI in online coverage of Nepal. In other words, CNNI gave 31.21 percent of AJE's online coverage. In average AJE gave 4.47 times more time and space than CNNI. Or, CNNI gave only 22.34 percent of AJE's total coverage - online and broadcast.
This shows that during the study period, online outlets of both the channels carried more stories providing breath and depth to the transition process.
Kshetri also examined sourcing patterns in both outlets. The CNNI used more sources close to the government. It hardly quoted other political parties. CNNI quoted an opposition party spokesperson in only a story.
In contrast, AJE emphasized the views of independent analysts and observers. In the major broadcast stories and programs, it interviewed at least one such expert's views. Besides, for many stories it did for its special programs, it highlighted the views of the people in the grassroots level.

Case I: Signing of the peace accord
CNNI covered the event with priority. Immediately after Nepal's Maoists came to the talks, CNNI's Delhi bureau Chief Satinder Bindra visited Nepal and did a couple of stories on the issue. Two months before the signing of the CPA, CNNI carried two stories which tried to dig beneath the reasons of the Maoist uprising in Nepal. It also profiled Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the head of the Maoist Party.
After a week of signing of the CPA, CNNI broadcast a 2.13-inch long story portraying the as disarmament and surrender of the insurgents. This framed the event as a surrender of arms which was not the case, given that the Nepal army and the Maoist army had only agreed to keep the weapons in similar number in storage containers under UN surveillance. Its online story framed the event in a similar fashion.
AJE was about to be launched when the CPA signed, hence no broadcast stories were available for analysis. But it had substantial online coverage (mostly stories from wire services) of the signing of the CPA. After the launch of AJE channel, it began to broadcast reports from Nepal.
Its first report on Nepal was a documentary aired in the program "Witness". This 30-minute documentary 'From Bullets to Ballots' profiled the Maoist's war in Nepal. The producers of the same documentary also did a program on cases of disappearance in Nepal (broadcast on June 16, 2007). This report brought relatively more balanced opinion by cautiously choosing to interview Nepal-based representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Case 2: Maoists joining the coalition government
Another major event in the transition process included the formation on April 2, 2007 of a 8-party coalition government, which included the Maoists.
The study found that the event was not emphasized much by both the channels. CNNI did not carry any story about the formation of the coalition. But its subsequent coverage about Nepal frequently mentioned Maoists as one of the important coalition partners. CNNI online covered the Maoist's decision to join the coalition government on March 31, 2007. After six months in the government, the Maoists pulled out of the government. CNNI online covered the exit of the Maoists.
In the case of AJE, only follow-up stories to the event could be found. It used materials, including texts and pictures, from different news agencies - Reuters, AFP and AP.
Case 3: Constituent assembly polls
The Constituent Assembly elections were held on April 10, 2008. This event was covered at length by both the channels. In fact, both channels gave more coverage to this event than any other events during Nepal's tradition process within the study period.
Both the channels aired multiple stories which continued until a few weeks after the elections. Online version of both the channels also followed up the story extensively. CNNI, which does not have a resident reporter in Nepal, aired four stories, spread over 3 days (two on election day). The stories emphasized that the elections could lead to the end of monarchy. A 2.29-minute story interviewed former US president Jimmy Carter, in which he hoped the elections could help transform Maoists into a mainstream party. Another 2:37-minute story alluded to Maoist election fraud.
In total, CNNI gave 11:41 minute coverage for Nepal elections. But it did not report the results.
The online version of CNNI covered the event more extensively. It carried five reports, which highlighted the pre-election violence, election results, etc.

AJE carried four reports, an interview and dedicated a 30 min episode of "101 East" and two episodes of one of its flagship programs "People & Power" on Nepal elections. Rather than running just stories, it also interviewed leaders, including Prachanda, and some experts. Compared to CNNI's 12-minutes, it gave more than one hour for the coverage of elections in Nepal. It consistently followed the election related events in Nepal. AJE's online coverage was also more extensive than that of CNNI.
Case 4: Abolition of monarchy
On May 29, 2009, the first meeting of Nepal's CA abolished the country's centuries old monarchy. Both channels covered the event. CNNI sent the crews to Nepal only in the wake of the decision. The event itself was covered (based on agency reports) as a short mention on CNN Student News on May 30.
Its online outlet carried 3 stories - one on the CA's decision, the other about the former King's vow to stay in Nepal and the third about the government's decision to transform the Palace into a museum.
AJE carried a story in the eve of the constituent assembly elections which mentioned that as polls loomed, the monarchy remained threatened. After a week of the abolition of monarchy, AJE's another flagship program "Frost Over the World" interviewed author, journalist and expert Jonathan Gregson on June 7. This 5.36 minute interview tried to look at the wider implications of the abolition of Monarchy and Nepal's political future.
AJE online covered at length the exit of Nepal's monarch and followed it up to the government's decision to transform the Palace into a museum. In addition, it carried six stories between May 28 and June 12.
The online framing of the event was similar with that of the broadcast--stories highlighted skepticism on whether Nepal would be able to maneuver through the transition in absence of the stable political institution of monarchy.
Case 5: Maoists' rise to power
August 15, 2008, four months after the CA elections, Maoists began to lead the coalition government. The rise of Maoist to power did not seem newsworthy to CNNI; it did not carry any story on the issue, except for a follow-up in its online version.
Kshetri found that the CNNI stories portrayed Maoist movement aimed merely at abolishing monarchy (without mentioning other Maoist agenda), and stereotyped it as similar to other Maoist insurgencies in the world.
AJE, which had its Nepali reporter to do the groundwork, tried to look at wider socio-political implications not only in the regular news bulletins but also in some of its flagship programs. Its online version was also more extensive in its coverage of the Maoists and their issues.
Kshetri found that AJE' coverage was overall positive toward Maoists than CNNI's coverage. CNNI mainly focused in political developments, but AJE also looked at different aspects of developments in Nepal including the class issues, minorities and women.
The striking difference between the two channels is the time and space allotted to the rise of Maoists. While CNNI has provided only 19:41 minutes for the issue, AJE has given 7 times more (146 minutes). This difference also persists in the online coverage. When CNNI online has carried 6,315 words, AJE has more than three times (20,228 words).
In the study period, protests by Tibetan refugees in Nepal dominated the whole range of issues. The Tibetan factor played into many CNNI stories, most of them alluding to Maoist (backed) government's harsher crack down on Tibetan protests. Kshetri concludes that by over-emphasizing these protests and linking it to the rise of the CPN Maoist in Nepal, CNNI tried to frame their rise in a negative way.

AJE also covered the stories about the protests by Tibetan refugees, however, only in the regular news broadcast. It cautiously chose not to show any affinities between the Maoists in Nepal and the Chinese government or its Tibet policies.
Kshetri argues in the paper that CNNI accepted the conventional Indian hegemonic position in assigning Delhi bureau to report about Nepal. It's reluctance to recruit a native crew for the television has forced it to entirely depend upon the Delhi bureau for Nepal coverage. To sum up, Delhi bureau is the only option for CNNI to look at the events in Nepal.
However, he finds the case with AJE. It has a local reporter in Nepal. It also covered diverse aspects of Nepal's conflict by sending different crews from various bureaus to report independently. He argues that AJE did not want the events in Nepal covered from the viewpoint of a particular bureau or a team of reporters. Instead, it promoted diversity in the coverage.
Despite some differences, Kshetri writes, both the channels promoted some myths and stereotypes about communism or communist movements. Both the channels were skeptic about the Maoist democratic aspirations, portraying them as totalitarian. Both make allusions to lack of faith in Maoists, as regards to their accepting election results or their stance on freedom.
Kshetri's study was based on materials culled from the Websites of the two outlets. In the case of AJE, he also analyzes its videos available at YouTube.
Summary of findings based on "Nepal's Transition As Seen By The World", a paper presented on October 8, 2010 at a seminar organized by MediaMates Nepal, Kathmandu.

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