Monday, April 04, 2011

The Veep’s Mischievous Power of Disbelief

Vice President Parmananda Jha believes that ninety percent of the news published in our newspapers these days is simply not true.
Now, why he chose to make that claim, of all places, while inaugurating the second general convention of Nepal Health Workers’ Union is anyone’s guess. Something he read that morning may have ticked him off. Or probably it was a restive thought that could wait no longer to ooze out.
Maila Baje, to be sure, wouldn’t have expected Jha to make such a bold assertion in front of a union of pen pushers. But there could have been a more appropriate forum, perhaps even one known to share his sentiments. Still, the venue should not diminish our quest to probe deeper into the Veep’s observation.
In fairness to Jha, few people in the world today believe everything they read in the papers. In many developing societies – including those we still consider paragons of a free press – the media enjoy some of the lowest public approval ratings of major national institutions.
Objectivity was always a false quest, given that human beings are by definition subjective. Read different news accounts of the same incident and event and you’re more likely to come to wildly different conclusions. What should belong to the opinion pages seeps in to flood that innocuous-sounding preserve called news analysis.
Despite all that hobbles news hunters and gathers these days, surely more than 10 percent of what appears in the papers must be true. Jha may be forgiven for his own prejudice here. The media have not been fair to him.
For instance, he took much heat for his insistence on taking the oath in Hindi. But some of the same critics, according to Jha’s subsequent revelation, had insisted that he hold firm. Few bothered to cover, much less contemplate, that angle.
If Jha seems to feel more aggrieved than the rest of his peers in the political sphere, well, he represents that segment of the Nepalese population that has long felt discriminated against. Part of the problem must be the nature of his office. At a time when President Ram Baran Yadav doesn’t seem to know what he is supposed to do, can you really blame the deputy for being so flummoxed?
Still, one cannot escape the imperative of stacking the Veep up against his standard. During his tenure, he has voiced pessimism at the possibility of the emergence of a new constitution on time, only to become more sanguine in subsequent pronouncements. (In his recent speech, he urged health care workers to put pressure on everyone to bring out the statute on schedule). There is little predictability in the man, although he is not the only one carrying that trait.
At times, it becomes impossible not to view Jha’s comments within the wider context of his prevailing relationship with President Yadav. In other instances, he does appear too beholden to the parochial politics of the force that nominated him to the office.
Jha may be no better or worse than the rest of the political class that has sought to benefit from plausible deniability afforded by an imaginative press. By seeking to confer strict mathematical precision on the veracity of the coverage, he may have exacerbated his own credibility issues.