Rethinking Media Studies Research- Harsha Man Maharjan | 2021-09-24
Harsha Man Maharjan
Do the writings on Nepali media research recognise the contribution of researchers such as Sharadchandra Sharma Bhattarai, Bhagwati Prasad Shrestha, Kamal Mani Dixit, and Shiva Regmi? The answer is many writings don’t. Why so? This has to do with the understandings of people who penned about media research in Nepal, about what falls under media research. This is determined by the categories of media research they have created. The omission of these researchers in the list of researchers shows that we have to rethink the categories of media research to account for different kinds of media studies research in Nepal.
To build my claims, I have analysed four writings: 1. Understanding Media Research (2006), a book authored by Nirmala Mani Adhikary, 2. Media Anusandhan (2007), a book co-authored by Devraj Humagain, Komal Bhatta, and Krishna Adhikari, 3. Sanchar Adhyayan: Paddati Ra Avyas (2066 v.s.), a book authored by Tanka Upreti, and 4. Tilak Pathak’s chapter, ‘Media Anusandhan’, published in Media Reader edited by Deepak Aryal, Bhuwan KC and Tilak Pathak.
The analysis is based on the reading of particular chapters, which discuss the research scenario in Nepal. The first and third books, both textbooks have a section on the history of media research in Nepal inside a chapter. The second book, which focuses more on media research infrastructure such as trends of publishing books related to media, theses submitted to Nepali universities, discussion culture, and the availability of resource materials to do media research, also discusses different types of media research in Nepal in its ‘introduction’ chapter.
Yet, how these four writings present Nepali case is different. Nirmala Mani Adhikary has presented the history in chronological order, providing lists of different studies, whereas Devraj Humagain, Komal Bhatta, and Krishna Adhikari have categorsed the research into five types. Tanka Upreti and Tilak Pathak have borrowed these five types.
Five typesThe first type of media research is the reports prepared by media commissions often formed by governments. These bodies sometimes bring out lists of recommendations, but in few occasions they prepare long reports or books. For example, the report of press commission published in 1958 gives a picture of the state of newspapers, journalism, and printing presses in Nepal in the 1950s with facts and figures. In fact, in his chapter, Nirmala Mani Adhikary has presented this report as one of early media researches in Nepal.
The second type of media research is feasibility studies. Such studies are conducted to know whether it is feasible to establish certain media such as newspapers, radios, televisions, and online media. One example is the mission comprising four consultants Martin Allard, E.S.T. Fernando, Jayantha Mendis, and Derek Schouten that UNESCO sent to do a feasibility study of a community radio in Surkhet in 1985. In their report, they concluded that the local officials in Surkhet were enthusiastic about the proposed radio, and that though there was shortage of electricity in Surkhet valley, lead-acid batteries and solar cells could be used as backup. They also recommended the government to sign the plan of operation of the radio as soon as possible.
The third type of media research is audience surveys. This kind of research is conducted to know the preferences of audience about the programs and media content. Often such studies are funded by media organisations, and provide clear information about how audiences have been selected and how many respondents have participated in surveys. But one of early radio listener surveys, conducted by Daniel Taylor and Hem Hamal in 1970, was funded by the researchers themselves. In his article on Radio Nepal and its audience surveys, while evaluating this survey, Shekhar Parajulee has mentioned that though Daniel Taylor and Hem Hamal had mentioned that they conducted the survey in big 8 cities and Karnali area, they had not mentioned the process of the selection of respondents and the number of the respondents.
The fourth type of media research is the studies about media representation and media effect. Often researchers do content analysis to know how media have represented certain groups such as dalit, janajati, women or certain issues such as development, health, and violence. They also study the effects of such content on audiences.
The fifth type of media research is sociological and anthropological studies by foreigners. In their writing Devraj Humagain, Komal Bhatta, and Krishna Adhikari have mentioned the studies conducted by scholars such as Ingemar Grandin, Mark Liechty, Michael Wilmore, and Laura Kunreuther.
Interestingly, the research conducted by the scholars such as Sharadchandra Sharma Bhattarai, Bhagwati Prasad Shrestha, Kamal Mani Dixit, and Shiva Regmi don’t seem to fit in the five types of media research. It means that people who are interested to think about media studies research traditions need to come up with better ways to classify media research in Nepal. And there could be many ways to do so.The first way is to add historical research to the list of types of research. Many of the writings of Sharadchandra Sharma Bhattarai, Bhagwati Prasad Shrestha, Kamal Mani Dixit, and Shiva Regmi in the field of media research may fall under this research. These people are generally known as historians. If we focus on the writings of Shiva Regmi, we find that he wrote articles related to the history of periodicals and other mass media such as radio, television, and film.
The second way is perhaps we can differentiate Nepali media research in two types, administrative and critical. Paul Felix Lazarsfeld suggested these kinds of media research in 1941 and since then scholars have been debating these two types. Simply by administrative research, he meant the studies that aim to do fact-finding and provide alternative solutions. On the contrary, by critical research he meant the studies that tries to build theory related to social phenomena focusing on unintended consequences of media. Does the media research conducted by these Nepali scholars fit in these two types? We will know this only if we study their writings carefully.
Critical evaluationThe third way is to come up with another way to categorise Nepali research. For this, we have to study the writings of media researchers in Nepal from different periods and generations. We can compare how they gathered information, how they presented their evidences, and what questions they were interested in. Only then, we will be able to understand different types and traditions of media research in Nepal. For this, we might need new vocabularies and a new way of thinking to accommodate these multiple types and traditions. I don’t mean that we have to deify these scholars. Without doubt, we have to critically evaluate their contributions in the field of media studies and also need to give the respect they deserve. This will be possible only if we rethink the way we have categorised Nepali media studies research.
(Maharjan is affiliated to an academic NGO Martin Chautari and writes on issues related to media and technology.)