Monday, February 26, 2007

A Moral Conundrum

Reporter's Notebook

I rarely attend formal programs. My assignments demand that I meet people in person, preferably at home, therefore at ease. The ambience, I believe, enhances my stories.

After a long hiatus, I attended a formal discussion program yesterday. On Thursday, I received a call to attend media sensitization workshop on harm reduction of drug abuse organized by Naya Goreto. I thought: why not give it a try? Sometimes the story ideas can pop up anywhere, even in the most unthinkable situation.

So, I headed for Patan De Café at Mangal Bazaar, Lalitpur. I was punctual but other journos were not. The program was supposed to kick start at 10:30 am but there were only a couple of participants till 11:00 am. After some participants feverishly called through their mobiles, it started at 11:30. We call this lack of punctuality a Nepali time syndrome.

However, the issue I'm going to raise here is entirely different. Towards the end of the workshop, a beaming lens lady approached me with a form where I was supposed to sign and take two hundred rupees for my participation. I rejected the offer. Kantipur reporter Suraj Kunwar followed the suit.

A media kit was distributed in program, which consisted of a guideline for media persons. Interestingly, at the end of the guidelines, a point said: "Journalist should not expect, request or accept payment for attending meetings, workshops, or conferences; the expectation of an allowance should not be the factor that motivates a journalist to attend such forums."

I was pretty sure that the organizers (with the beautiful slogan "an effort to voice the voiceless") will not dare to defy the norms set by themselves. But, here was a glaring contradiction.

I demanded explanation. The workshop was funded by UNDP. Nabin Maharjan, volunteer of Naya Goreto, passed the buck on the donor agency. He said: "The aid agency asks us to provide allowances to the participants. If you don't take it, UNDP will retrieve it." I was speechless.

Then, I showed him the guidelines that mentioned that such act was unethical. Now, Nabin was speechless. I told him that this trend would corrupt a reporter. He or she may attend only such programs where money is supplied in neat envelopes. Being lured by such offers, he/she may deviate from responsibility, professional ethics and code of conducts.

This however was not the first time that I was thrust upon such moral dilemma. Two years ago, I attended a two-day seminar jointly organized by UNDP and Nepal Press Institute. I led a discussion group, participated actively and even presented the findings. I also managed to muster few ideas as to how to create awareness on Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). That day I decided I deserved the allowance. But, this was a different case. I spent three hours listening (except few remarks) and drinking coffee in a cozy Patan eatery. How come I deserve the money?

I don't claim to be the honest person on earth. I may have violated a number of norms of morality. But, to say the least, it doesn't feel good to be paid for attending a program (that too not from my employer!).


paribartan said...

Valid Points. Thanks for good write up.

vahsek said...

Honesty--including financial-- is a must for journos.
However, it's been rare...

Yes, thanks for the superb Diary of a Reporter.

navin said...

Dear Deepak Ji
I would like to start with a quotation written by John Wesley
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
Similarly this is what I can do, pouring annotations on your moral conundrum with due respect on your say. I want to begin with my introduction. You know I am Nabin Maharjan working at Naya Goreto not working as a coordinator but as a volunteer. First of all I would like to thank you for your enthusiastic and positive response on the Sunday’s program. I apologize on behalf of Naya Goreto and myself for how we act if it's unethical as you said. We know, we have published media briefing kit where we have clearly mentioned the basic principles for journalist in covering issues related HIV/AIDS. It’s true that journos should not be paid without his/her contribution but the purpose of providing 200 rupees in our program is not for the sake of covering the news or to highlight the our program in media. We too believe that providing inducement without any reason is unethical. By saying this I am trying to justify our act as ethical but want you to have clear picture on our act. The amount which we provided to each participant is only for the transportation fare support. This is what we have and can provide as it was on our budget head to support. I do personally agree with your comments and respect for your response about the program but you know everyone is bind with certain norms and we did our part. We respect the ethic of journalist, so we did not force any journalist to have it. We have just exposed what we can and have on our budget head for their presence after their busy schedule. If we hurt by this transparent act on Sunday’s program then we are once again really sorry for that act. We will try our best to avoid those things in our future programs. Once again I must thank you for presence and responding for the Sunday’s program. I hope this kind of responses will help a lot to remove our Nepali syndromes. On top of that I am sure that you were also sensitized by the program on HIV/AIDS and Harm reduction. We are eagerly waiting for your response on these issues also because together we can.

Deepak Adhikari said...

Thanks for the comment, Nabin. I was least expecting ur views here. But, it's good that u responded right away. BTW, sorry for the msitake where I mentioned u as coordinator. I've correcteed it now.

I had made my points very clear that day as well. But, again I reiterate, it will make a wrong precedence. Two hundred rupees is not a big amount but the act is severe enough to divert a reporter from his or her duty. Better late than never. As you guys realised the mistake, I believe you'll act cautiously in future. All the best!

navin said...

thank you deepak ji,
hope to see you again and i am really proud of you for what you said and nepal need people like you.really really nice to have comments from people like you.this kinda of comments leads to the better and right direction.