Low literate readers suffer the consequences of misleading information in Nepal

By Laxman Datt Pant

Low literate readers suffer the consequences of misleading information in Nepal

A study titled “Misleading News in Media: A Study of Newspapers and Online News Portals of Nepal” disclosed that in a country like Nepal, where media literacy is very low, readers are more likely to suffer the consequences of misleading information. The study launched today by Randy Berry, U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, was carried out by Media Action Nepal (MAN) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State.

The study analyzed a total of 49,051 news stories and found that 3.70% of the content in Nepal’s leading media outlets represented misleading information and has thus recommended an investment in capacity building to enable journalists to understand the various aspects and impacts of disinformation in order to maintain the credibility of journalism and strengthen the watchdog role of the media.

  • The research included 23,291 stories (47.48%) published in 10 daily newspapers and 25,760 (52.32%) published in 10 online news portals.
  • A total of 1,817 news items contained misleading information.
  • Similarly, 907 (3.90%) news stories published in 10 daily newspapers were misleading, whereas online news portals published a total of 910 such stories (3.53%).
  • Of the total false and misleading information, 50.09% and 49.91% were published by online news portals and daily newspapers respectively.
  • Of a total of 1,817 items of misleading information 1,739 (95.71%) related to inappropriate sources whereby news items misuse the sources, fail to disclose the sources, and do not cite the sources when publishing news obtained from other agencies.
  • The six media outlets included in the study – four dailies (The Himalayan Times, The Kathmandu Post, Gorkhapatra, and Kantipur) and the two online news portals (Onlinekhabar and Baaharkhari) – have not published one single piece of misinformation related to the source.
  • A total of 36 misleading headlines (1.98%) were found.
  • Of the 20 media outlets included in the study, 12 published and six did not publish these misleading headlines.
  • 20 media outlets published a total of 23 (1.27%) news items related to disinformation.
  • 11 of these have not published a single piece of disinformation while nine media outlets have published at least one and a maximum of six such news items.
  • In addition, no misinformation or news was found in the study that was detrimental to social diversity. News relating to obscenity, abusive and defamatory content, and instances of the violation of privacy were not found.

Launching the report, Ambassador Berry said that over the last few years, the world has seen disinformation directly affecting lives, health, and governments. Stating that learning about misinformation and understanding its presence is a particularly critical first step towards preventing it, he said, “In newsrooms, the competition to break news often can result into broken news subsequently posing undue threat to democracy itself.”

Emphasizing that free speech and journalistic integrity are the lynchpins of our safety and our democracies, Anna Richey-Allen, spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Nepal said, “Misinformation about COVID-19, vaccines and climate change have enormous consequences and, without checking facts before publishing, without verifying sources, journalists risk disseminating falsehood that, in turn, can harm us and harm our democracies.” Adding that the United States of America has deep respect for the role of the free and independent press, she remarked, “I am proud to say that the U. S. Embassy and President Biden’s administration support transparency and recognize the press as vital to strong governments. We hope that the lessons learned through this report will help push us all towards being more informed, more informed journalists and more informed citizens.”

Praising the finding of the report, Dhruba Hari Adhikary, Senior Journalist said, “While Nepal’s media today faces a serious problem of credibility in the absence of skills and knowledge, it is good to see watchdogs are being watched by others.” This study will undoubtedly contribute towards an improvement in the quality of journalism in Nepal, he added.

Admitting that the news media in Nepal lacks the skills to present stories succinctly and truthfully, Rajan Pokharel, Editor of The Himalayan Times, the country’s leading English daily paper, said, “More needs to be invested in improving the quality of journalism; the study made public today should be taken as a constructive effort in preventing misleading news in the media.”

The news stories were compared against eight different indicators of preventing false and misleading information. Some news stories disseminated by the media about the COVID-19 pandemic were highly speculative and had the potential to mislead readers. The study is based on an analysis of news stories published in national daily newspapers and online news portals in the first three months of the COVID-19 related lockdown that started on 24 March 2020.