Disinformation is well-known tactics of propaganda. The most effective tool of propagandists is to shut down authentic information and repeat the lie till the public is convinced that it is the truth. But with the recent rise in social media and public discourse forums, such old-school tactics are easily taken down. Also, with the rise of Internet and accessibility of authentic documents, these tactics are bound to fall flat on their nose. The purpose of this write-up is to bring light to a contentious topic of human right issues of Nepal, particularly, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “Like We Are Not Nepali”.
This HRW report comes in a time when the public discourse of Nepal is polarized and divided into two opposing camps: one which sympathizes with the Madhes Movement and another that is hell-bent on discrediting it. The HRW report is important for obvious reasons: it documents the human rights violations by the state and the protesters. There were many human rights violations during the 80+ days with 45+ killed, and still ongoing protest against the new constitution in the southern plains of Nepal, where 51% of the population live. This HRW report elaborates on 25 of the 45 deaths, including 9 police officers and 16 members of the public, in five Terai districts between August 24 and September 11, 2015.
It should be noted that the human rights activists and journalists who are raising questions against this report, did not make much effort to report and document the human right violations even during previous Madhes Andolan I and II in 2007-08, let alone this one.
The HRW report claimed that the media consistently portrayed the protesters as violent and also avoided reporting on the details of police violence. Despite the fact that some extra-judicial killings by the police have been filmed by few journalists, the newspaper editors used the pretense of “protecting social harmony” by not reporting news of police atrocities. Journalists and HR activists should be more concerned about responsibly reporting the truth and not use the excuse of maintaining social harmony to ignore atrocities committed by police or by the protesters. The primary responsibility of journalists is to hold their government accountable. If they fail at this job then they should be held accountable like any other prominent voices in society.
Now, let’s discuss the main criticism raised by few journalists and HR activists on social media. We document their tweets in context, unless they delete them, and quote from the report. We trust the decision-making power of readers and expect an apology from those who have spread lies and engaged in propaganda.
To the best of our knowledge, the first jab which started the discourse, was taken ironically by Human Right Activist, Subodh Pyakurel, he tweeted:
In his tweet, Pyakurel is referring to the death of Thaman BK, a Police Officer, which is well documented in the report. Despite providing him with evidence from the document, detailing Thaman’s death, Pyakurel neither clarified nor apologized for engaging in misinformation. Those who claim to be the torch-bearers of HR activism, like Pyakurel, should show honesty, at least in the name of their job titles, and either prove their claims or apologize for being plain wrong. Sadly, we don’t live in a society where lying is a vice anymore and accountability is a virtue. When the counter was put forward, even more blatant allegations came that the report put this particular killing as a footnote and hence it was underplayed from a budding journalist:
— Shiwani Neupane (@ShiwaniNeupane) October 29, 2015
This sort of dishonesty is known as “shifting the goalposts”. Even after the screen-shot of the main report was shared, by @ajjujha,
— A.S jha (azzu) (@ajjujha) October 30, 2015
the “journalist” kept falsely proclaiming that it was a footnote and she would continue calling it a footnote, “that simple”.
— Shiwani Neupane (@ShiwaniNeupane) October 30, 2015
Alas, it’s not “that simple”. As a journalist, she must know that the interpretation of a footnote is not subjective; it has a well-defined meaning in report writing. It was not a case of footnote but rather a case of foot-in-mouth, where one may have failed to understand the concept of footnote and wear this ignorance with pride without digging deeper. Pity. Putting rest to the false allegations to the HRW report, we provide a screenshot from the report.
Further, when this lie was partially exposed on social media, the second line of attack was taken by few journalists i.e. deflecting with irrelevant, unrelated complaints and non-sequitur. Ms. Rubeena tweeted:
.@hrw rightly calls out human-rights violations by the police during Madhesh protests.But will they spare a word to condemn the blockade?
— Rubeena Mahato (@rubeenaa) October 16, 2015
A gentle reminder, firstly, this is only an HR report which categorically delineates itself to “the killings of 25 people, including 9 police officers and 16 members of the public, between 24th August and 11th September, 2015” in the summary itself. Secondly, blockading is a political issue as rightfully pointed out by Ms. Tejshree Thapa:
— Tejshree Thapa (@TejshreeThapa) October 31, 2015
Now, even if this question is unduly considered, the document did mention the blockade and its severe effect caused to the general public in Nepal:
The Editor in Chief of Republica Daily proclaimed that this was one of the most biased report he has ever read,
— Subhash Ghimire (@subhash580) October 16, 2015
and kept his silence when the specifics of the bias was questioned. He is yet to clarify which part, which section of the report offended him so much that he claimed the whole report as biased. My expectation is, either he himself didn’t read the whole report as later admitted a “journalist”:
— Shiwani Neupane (@ShiwaniNeupane) October 30, 2015
or he put his personal bias before the merit of the report. Editors in particular need to be more responsible and be able to defend their position if they blurt anything in public domain, lest it hurt their (any existing) credibility.
Another case of a Kathmandu-based journalist was interesting in particular for it gave a completely new angle to the whole discussion, promptly ending it. He said, “I know how such reports are written. Style and interests. Possibly even who were consultants. No need to debate. Thanks!”
@robpenner I know how such reports are written. Style and interests. Possibly even who were consultants. No need to debate. Thanks!
— Post Bahadur Basnet (@LevBasnet) October 29, 2015
By changing the debate to attack the HRW reporters, but not the content, and engaging in subjective propaganda, certain activists and journalists hurt their own intellect and morality. They should read the report first, critique with reference and engage with facts when countered. This way, we can keep the public informed and the public discourse functioning and healthy.
The final line of attack came from the trolls and the discussion was restored to ‘ad hominem’ attack on those who supported the report. Anyone disagreeing became “Indian agent”, “Hate brigade”, “outsider alien” or “abusive troll”. Journalists and HR activists who falsely denigrated the report resorted to blocking those who demanded explanation for spreading lies. This act by ‘esteemed’ journalists and ‘HR activists’ failed the integrity, tolerance and spirit of freedom-of-speech. I am not saying that the report is fool-proof, but a criticism based on deceit and falsification has shorter life and ends up harming the credibility of the accuser. Let us engage in knowledge-based discussions, and not be the blind followers of propagandists.