Should journalists be activists as well?

This is a piece I wrote after meeting with Nepali senior writer, editor and publisher Kandu Dixit in a discussion held by Japan Foundation in July 2012. The interview with Dixit reminded me of an other post by media critic and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen.

Anyhow, the debate on journalistic objectivity is as old as..journalism itself, i guess. Dixit argued that journalists in developing countries could not afford being "completely neutral", just being the passive reporter and publish whatever the officials are saying.

The original piece is below, edited version can be found here.

To the 57-year old Nepalese writer, editor and publisher Kandu Dixit, journalism is never limited to reporting events as it is, for him it has to mean something, act as an agent of change.

"In Western journalism school, they teach that you would loose your credibility if you become an activist. My argument is that, it's better for your credibility if you have a more active role in finding solution to your society's problem," Kunda told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday.

Starting out his career as a microbiologist, Dixit's gradual shift to journalism might have more to do with his DNA. His mother, grandparents were writers and poets, Dixit had written for scientific journals at the same time he started writing for mainstream publications.

Eventually he was awarded with a Fulbright scholar to pursue journalism in Columbia University, before working for the BBC World Service at the UN Headquarters and later as Asia-Pacific director of news agency Inter Press Service, based in Manila.

Dixit returned to Nepal in 1997 after 10 years living abroad, a year later he co-founded Himal weekly magazine, and then in 2000 an english weekly tabloid Nepali Times.

"I want to come back to Nepal and be a journalist, try to change things and make democracy works," he said.

Nepal had always been an absolute monarchy mired with domestic conflicts and violence before finally declaring itself as a federal republic in 2008, making it the second youngest country after East Timor. In 1996, the communist party of Nepal (Maoist) had waged violent resistance against the royal parliamentary system causing a decade-long Civil War with more than 12,000 casualties.

But even after the war and a promise of democracy, the situation in Nepal is not improving, and this is where, according to Dixit, where media should take part.

"After the war, [it turns out the] political leaders who were elected were not accountable. We have revolutions but people who tried to change things became dictators who they replace, the same old story," he said.  "Media has to play a role in the reform and try to keep the revolution on track."

Dixit also viewed that media can prevent future wars by exposing injustice and promote inclusive agendas. "The seeds of conflicts are actually made during peace time: discrimination, exclusion, social injsutice, the rising gap between rich and poor, and intolerance," he continued.

On his book, Dateline Earth: Journalism as if the Planet Mattered

In 1997, Dixit had his first book published, a 185-page publication that not only looked into environmental journalism but also on how to hold on to the core values of journalism while being deeply involved and passionate for a cause.

Something he said that journalists in developing countries, such as Nepal and Indonesia, could not afford to ignore.

"The ["Western" journalism] rule was made by a society that already has a certain economic status, a history of democracy, and their freedom is not threatened, while our society is still struggling. We're still trying to make democracy work so we have to take much active role," Dixit said.

These values are what he tried to instill in both of his publications in Nepal.

"We believe in basic things like non-violence politics and tolerance and we're trying to protect that. We cant just [act like] we're just here to observe, you have to be involved and protecting that freedom otherwise there's no point," he continued.

And this is an extract from Rosen's post:
The once “safe” choice [we have no idea who is right] becomes the riskier option. That point is reached when enough people begin to mistrust viewlessness and demand to know what the writer thinks, even though they also know that they may not agree.

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