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August 16, 2017

Election Coverage Seminar for Journalists in Nepal for Its First Local Elections in 20 Years

photoMany voters in line at a polling place on May 14

With the end of civil war in 2006 and establishment of a new national constitution in 2015, things are now in motion in Nepal toward democratization. The first and the second local-level elections were held on May 14 and June 28, and the third are scheduled for September 18.*

It is the first time in twenty years for local elections to be held, and an opportunity for the more than half of eligible voters to select local representatives themselves for the first time in their lives. JICA hosted two sessions of the Election Coverage Seminar for journalists in Nepal. The aim is to support implementation of democratic elections by enabling voters to access accurate information through fair election coverage.

The Vital Role of the Media in Democratic Elections

photoKeiichi Hashimoto, Senior Advisor, JICA, speaks about the role of the media and election coverage

During elections, it is vital that voters are able to access accurate information that allows them to know the platforms of the political parties and candidates so that voters can get an idea of the impact on their lives before making a decision. The media has the important role of providing voters with that information at the time of elections.

According to Nepal's Central Bureau of Statistics, there are about 5,000 newspapers and about 400 broadcast stations in Nepal. However, according to Keiichi Hashimoto, Senior Advisor, JICA, who was involved in the seminars, except for a few major media, most of the media has ties to a political party, or is counting on advertising revenue brokered by the government. There are also many newspapers that simply cut and paste information without conducting an investigation.

Hashimoto pointed out two important points in the media’s role in election coverage.

First, the provided news must be neutral, fair and accurate. Second, they must not try to directly influence voting behavior but instead communicate the platforms of each political party and candidate concerning points of issue in the election from a journalistic perspective.

The two seminars were held to spread this understanding of the role of the media.

Making Specific Plans for Articles and Programs

photoParticipants diligently discuss plans of articles and programs

The first seminars were held in February in Nepal's capital city, Kathmandu, and in two provincial cities. In the seminars, the typical methods used by Japanese public broadcaster NHK to cover elections were introduced to 120 participants.

The focus of the second seminar, held on April 21, was narrowed to May's upcoming local-level elections. The teams from each newspaper and television station in the capital discussed the specific plans for articles and programs.

In addition, a meeting to exchange opinions was held with two former heads of the NHK World, NHK's international broadcasting service, and the editors-in-chief of major media.

Looking back over the seminar, Hashimoto said "It is still difficult to report points of issue in the election being relevant to voters . However it was a first step in creating awareness of the importance of the provision of material to voters so they can make decisions."

Following local-level elections, provincial-level elections will be held in Nepal, with the first parliamentary election under the new constitution scheduled to be held by next January. JICA will continue to provide support for the elections and support Nepal in its road to democratization.

* The original plan was not to separate into individual local-level elections, but it was decided that elections would be held three times by region. As of July 25, no significant disruption in voting or counting votes had been reported, although one of the results was brought into court.

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