To 57-year-old Nepalese writer, editor and publisher Kunda Dixit, journalism should be more than simply reporting on events. It has to mean something, act as an agent of change.
“In Western journalism schools, they teach that you would lose your credibility if you become an activist. My argument is that it’s better for your credibility if you have a more active role in finding solutions to your society’s problems,” Dixit told the Jakarta Globe.
Dixit was invited by the Japan Foundation Jakarta earlier this month to speak at a discussion on the Asian identity from the perspective of Eastern media as opposed to the West. During his career, Dixit gained a reputation for professionalism and integrity and played an important role in encouraging press freedom and democracy in Nepal.
Starting out as a microbiologist, Dixit’s gradual shift to journalism might have had more to do with his DNA. His mother and grandparents were writers and poets, and Dixit had already written for scientific journals at the time that he started writing for mainstream publications.
Eventually he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study journalism at Columbia University, before working for the BBC World Service at UN headquarters, and later as the Asia-Pacific director of the Inter Press Service news agency, based in Manila.
Dixit returned to Nepal in 1997 after living abroad for 10 years and a year later he co-founded Himal, a weekly magazine. In 2000 he started an English-language weekly tabloid called the Nepali Times. “I wanted to come back to Nepal and be a journalist, try to change things and make democracy work,” he said.
Modern Nepal had always been an absolute monarchy mired in domestic conflicts and violence before declaring itself a federal republic in 2008.
In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) began a violent struggle to overthrow the royal parliamentary system, setting off a decade-long civil war that resulted in at least 12,000 deaths.
But even after the war and a promise of democracy, Nepal has continued to struggle as its leaders fail to deliver on promises. And this is where, according to Dixit, the media should play a role.
“After the war, [it turned out the] political leaders who were elected were not accountable. We had revolutions but the people who tried to change things became the dictators who they replaced, the same old story,” he said. “Media has to play a role in the reform and try to keep the revolution on track.”
Dixit also said the media can prevent future wars by exposing injustice and promoting inclusive agendas. “The seeds of conflict are actually planted during peace time,” he added.
In 1997, Dixit had his first book published, “Dateline Earth: Journalism as if the Planet Mattered.” The 185-page book not only looked at environmental journalism but also at how to hold on to the core values of journalism while being deeply involved and passionate about a cause, something that journalists in developing countries, such as Nepal and Indonesia, cannot afford to ignore, he said.
“The [Western journalism] rules were made by a society that already had a certain economic status, a history of democracy, and their freedom was not threatened, while our society is still struggling,” Dixit said.
These values are what he tries to instill in his publications in Nepal. “We believe in basic things like non-violence politics and tolerance and we’re trying to protect that,” he said. “We can’t just [act like] we’re just here to observe. You have to be involved and protecting that freedom, otherwise there’s no point.”