Danish Aid in Nepal's Media Sector- Harsha Man Maharjan | 2021-09-24
Harsha Man Maharjan
The contribution of The Danish International Development Agency Human Rights and Good Governance Advisory Unit (Danida (HUGOU) in Nepali media is immense, but we don’t see much discussion on it. The chances are that the books you are reading, and the library you are using came into existence due to the assistance of this agency. The case of Danida’s media assistance is the window to not only the possibilities materialised through foreign assistance but also the void made after an international donor exit in a resource-crunch society like Nepal.
Though Danish assistance for Nepal began in 1973, it is only after the 1990s that it started to provide assistance to non-government organisations. It supported the government mainly in the fields of dairy and telecommunications. This changed in the 1990s when Denmark established its embassy in Kathmandu in 1991 and started to provide assistance to non-governmental sector too.
In phasesThe evaluation report on Danish cooperation to Nepal from 1991 to 2016 has divided the assistance into five phases: 1991 to 1996, 1997 to 2005, 2005-2006, 2007 to 2012, 2014-2016. In the first phase, Denmark provided support in absence of a country strategy for Nepal, which was prepared in 1996. In the second phase, its support was guided by the country strategy when the country was mired in the conflict. The third phase covers an interim period when Nepal was ruled by the monarch and Denmark’s assistance was guided by an ‘Interim Strategic Framework’. From 2007 to 2012, the assistance was influenced by ‘sector-wide multi-bilateral programming’, and the last phase was guided by the decision to ‘disengage from the ODA’ community in Nepal. From December 2014, Denmark became a part of Governance Facility, the basket fund of the embassies of Denmark, Switzerland, and UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).
DanidaHUGOU, established in 1998, also looked after media sector in a broader framework of human rights, good governances and decentralisation. It had three phases: 1998 to 2002, 2003 to 2008, 2009-2013. We lack information related to the number of the organisations Danida supported in the first phase. One of these organisations was Nepal Press Institute (NPI), which established Regional Media Resource Centres in Biratnagar and Nepalgunj in 1995 through this assistance. In the second phase, DanidaHUGOU worked with 80 organisations under seven components: justice, media, social inclusion, human rights organisations, elections and democratic processes, anti-corruption, and local governance. According to this organisation’s annual progress report published in April 2008, these Nepali organisations were supported in media component: Nepal Press Institute, Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Freedom Forum, Himal Association, Sancharika Samuha, Association of Community Radio Broadcasting (ACORAB), Research Centre for Humanism, and Martin Chautari (MC). In the third phase, it had 13 strategic partners. Among them ACORAB and MC were main organisations which received assistance to work in media component.
The cases of three organizations help us to understand the contribution of DanidaHUGOU. The first organisation is Nepal Press Institute (NPI), which received financial and technical support before DanidaHUGOU was formed. Danida was main donor of this organisation from 1995 to 2008. It established two Regional Media Resource Centres in 1995 under the area of Good Governance and Decentralisation, and strengthened NPI secretariat in Kathmandu. In first and second phases, using Danida’s grants, NPI also published important books useful to practitioners, edited volumes on different aspects of Nepali media, and organised trainings and seminars for journalists on different subjects.
The second organisation is Martin Chautari (MC), which received DanidaHUGOU’s support in 2002. Danida also supported it in second and third phases. The Danish organisation supported MC to establish a Media Research Documentation Centre, the biggest collection of published and unpublished materials such as books, reports, seminar papers, theses, articles and news clippings related to Nepali media studies and materials useful to those who are interested to conduct media research. The support helped form a media research group to conduct research on different aspects of Nepali media like Radio Nepal, FM radios, televisions, magazines, media training etc, and to publish books, bibliographies, and Media Adhyayan journal, to provide media fellowships, and to organise media conferences.
The third organisation is Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ). This organisation received DanidaHUGOU’s assistance two times. First, in 2003, DanidaHUGOU’s supported FNJ to publish a book on Nepali press during emergency in English and Nepali. These two books are the most comprehensive documentation of that period. Second, about two years after this project, DanidaHUGOU funded a two- year project in December 2005. FNJ used this support to develop capacity of its organisation, to monitor, document, and disseminate issues of media rights violations thought annual reports, books, newsletters and e-bulletins, to organise national and international media missions to assess the situation of media rights in Nepal.
The exit of DanidaHUGOU from these organisations had serious impact on two of the three organisations discussed above. In October 2015 the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed that it was leaving Nepal and several other countries to focus on Africa. After NPI could not make it in the third phase of DanidaHUGOU, its activities in media sector reduced. So is the case with Martin Chautari; after 2013 it gave less emphasis to media than before. But FNJ did receive support from other international organisations such as Article 19, International Federation of Journalists, and The United States Agency for International Development.
Decreasing pieThough the pie of foreign aid to media sector is decreasing, different donors such as UNESCO, Open Society Office, International Media Support are providing assistance for short term. The case of DanidaHUGOU was different as it had long term partnerships with many organisations. As the funds to work on media sector are decreasing, it is high time, we think about the alternative sources. One such source is the financial support from media industry because this community benefits the most from these activities. The two is the public money; state authorities such as the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and Press Council Nepal should support NGOs to conduct good quality research about different aspects of Nepali media sector.
(Maharjan is affiliated to an academic NGO Martin Chautari and writes on issues related to media and technology.)