“I take press freedom as an absolute!”

Kunda Dixit is considered to be one of the better known journalists in Nepal. Dixit got his journalism education at the Columbia University in New York City where he studied for one year. After working three years for the BBC at the United Nations and covering wars in Asia he went back to Nepal. Today Kunda Dixit is the publisher and editor of the weekly newspaper Nepali Times, which he founded in 2000. Dixit is considered to be a big advocate of press freedom which was also the reason why he had to leave Nepal for three months in 2016.

When Kunda Dixit is talking he speaks with a calm and deep voice. The tall man with the short white hair talks about how war became a part of his life. After reporting about the United Nations for the BBC, Dixit left the USA for Asia to cover several wars for his news agency. After seeing massacres and war crimes Dixit became sick and tired of war reporting and decided to go back to Nepal. He came back to a country where a civil war had just begun. He didn’t know at that time that this war would last for ten years and cost 17,000 lives. Dixit used his journalistic skills to report about war crimes, which have been committed by both sides. The well-experienced journalist saw himself confronted with an entirely new situation: He had to report about a war in his home country. Amongst other things, that is one reason for his steady fight for press freedom. “You have to use your freedom or someone is taking it away from you,” says Dixit with a serious expression on his face.

To protect this freedom in Nepal, Dixit founded his weekly newspaper the “Nepali Times”. The newspaper is well known for its critical and controversial topics. That is also a result of Kunda Dixit’s way of thinking about press freedom: “Press freedom comes with press responsibility.” In his eyes journalists are not just protecting the freedom for themselves but also for the people in the world. His critical way of doing journalism was the reason why he had to leave the country. After Neapli Times reporters Himal Khabarpatrika and Kunda Dixit reported critically about Lokman Singh Karki, the former head of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), Dixit and his family were harrassed by government agencies. Because of these threats, his lawyers gave Dixit the advice to leave the country immediately or otherwise he would end up in jail  where he could possibly get tortured. So Dixit left the country and stayed mostly with relatives in India and the USA. In October 2016 the Supreme Court ruled that Dixit had been wrongly persecuted and he could return to Nepal. The court also found that Karki’s appointment was illegal. The parliament started an impeachingment process against him, and Karki’s is now himself living outside the country. When it was revealed that Dixit was falsely accused, Karki resigned from his position and Dixit was able to come back to Nepal.

The newsroom of the “Nepali Times” is located in Patan, Nepal.  In an inconspicuous building on the third floor, the four reporters are working in a pretty small and dusty room. The air is warm and sticky and through the small windows one can see the chaotic traffic on the streets of Patan.

The Nepali Times provides reporting and commentaries on Nepali politics, business, culture, travel and society within 16 pages, which arrive every Friday morning. “In the selection of our topics we focus on breaking views instead of breaking news”, Dixit explains. The articles deal with topics which are hardly covered by other media because they are very sensitive. Within the latest version of the newspaper for example, Sahina Shreejana Shrestha, one of the reporters of Nepali Times published a straight honest article about domestic violence and rape in temporary shelters. In Consequence of the earthquake many people had to live in those shelters because their homes were destroyed.  For the following issue, the same journalist went undercover to investigate the “transportation mafia” that controls the traffic in Kathmandu and correlates with political corruption in an investigative manner.

“I spent 15 days for the research, pretending that am an investor which is willing to invest in public vehicles,” Shrestha explains. “I was about to give up after two weeks, because my research seemed to fail. However, in the last two days I finally got the information I needed,” she added.

Investigative journalism is an atypical instrument for journalists in a country which is still fighting for press freedom. That is what Kunda Dixit experienced only one year before when he got himself into danger by writing critical journalistic reports.

However, Kunda Dixit came back to Nepal to “do journalism”, as he replied on the question why he finally returned to his country. That is one of the reasons why he helped to establish the Center for Investigative Journalism about 20 years ago. “We need to support stories that are researched, investigative and not only focus on daily stories,” Dixit explains.

Besides focusing on investigative journalism, the Nepali Times gives importance to the transition from traditional media to digital media. To do so Dixit consulted Alan Soon, an experienced professional concerning digital business models and the integration of printed content onto online platforms. Before assisting the Nepali Times, Soon led one of the largest digital news teams in the industry as Yahoo’s Managing Editor for India and Southeast Asia. He is sure that even in Nepal, within the next few years, the online market will be transformed rapidly and the media need to prepare for that. Concerning that transformation, Soon supports the team of the “Nepali Times” to transfer the content onto a digital platform.

Dixit and Soon agree with each other that the content of a newspaper is more important than the platform on which it is published. “Content is king, delivery is queen”, admitted Dixit. The whole team of the Nepali Times nodded when Soon finally said that there is no better time to be a journalist because what they all have in common is, that they want to change something, be relevant and investigative as well as take their chances to talk to people who have the power to improve their country.

Denise Daßler, Andreas Mehring

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