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!).