Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mapping Readers' Feedbacks in a Nepali News portal

-Yam Bahadur Dura

1. Background and context

This article aims at mapping readers' feedback in a Nepali online news portal. The study is based on readers' feedback appearing within a given timeframe on the portal. The news portal, Onlinekhabar is one of the more popular news-based websites run by Nepalese citizens, with popularity both within and outside the country. Onlinekhabar delivers content mainly in Nepal language, as well as provides a limited amount of content in English language. However, with the contents in English drawing negligible feedback during the study period (December 1 to 8, 2015), such feedback were therefore not taken into the purview of the study. Altogether, a total of seven items (news, analysis, interview, and opinion article) in Nepali language, and the feedback these items had garnered during the study period were taken into account.

The study was limited to the mapping of feedback for only one news portal, despite original intention of analyzing the information for at least three news portals. Unfortunately, no other Nepali news portals had enough readers' feedback that could meet the purpose of the study during the said period. While this may have made the scope of this study a little narrower, it does however provide a dipstick into the readers' tendencies such as leaving comments, questions or other forms of feedback.

The study was carried out at a time when the 'Madhesh Movement' was at a high following the promulgation of Nepal's constitution. This also coincided with the unofficial economic blockade by India. As the said movement was sparked by the promulgation of Nepal's Constitution on September 20, 2015, most of the contents therefore highlight Nepal's worsening internal politics as well as the injured relations between Nepal and India. Thus, the contents studied and analyzed here belong to one of the most politically heated periods in Nepal's history.

A total of 71 feedback (figure 1) drawn by 7 items (contents) published on Onlinekhabar in the period of one week were taken into consideration. These contents consist of 1 opinion article, 1 interview, 1 analysis, and 4 news items. Different aspects of feedback have been studied to gauge the readers' feelings and viewpoints. The contents have been analyzed with regard to length of text, as well as the nature/type of readers' point of view, identity, language, tone, and timeline (timeframe).
Table 1: Summary of contents and feedback considered in the study
Date of posting
No. of feedback
Posted (NST)*
Feedback tracking (NST) *
Time span
This is why it is impossible to merge Nepal in India
Article/ opinion
Dec. 1, 2015
3:34 PM
11: 24 AM (next day)
18:24 hours
Kingship comes back if Oli fails to address the problem in two weeks : (Interview with RPP leader Dilnath Giri)
Dec. 3, 2015
11:53 AM
3:32 PM (same day)
3:39 hours
Former king Gyanendra's son-in-law to former prime minister Sher Bahadur's brother-in-law have been involved in transaction of gas and oil
News analysis
Dec. 3, 2015
12:15 PM
3:29 PM (same day)
3:14 hours
Tri-lateral dialogue between the government, Nepali Congress and the Madheshi Front is to take place this evening
Dec. 4, 2015
10:01 AM
2:55 PM
(same day)
4:14 hours
We had raised a snake beneath the staircases, and it was in our knowledge that it will bite us one day: UML leader Rajendra Pandey
Dec. 6, 2015
2:33 PM
4:47 PM
(same day)
2:14 hours
Nepal should be pressurized even if it draws criticisms:  Former Indian Ambassador Mukherjee
Dec. 7, 2015
7:00 PM
9: 23 AM
(Next day)
12:23 hours
National Muslim Alliance alienates itself from the Madhesi Front
Dec. 8, 2015
1:03 PM
2:19 PM
1:16 hours
* Nepal Standard Time

Key words and phrases: Online news portal, Onlinekhabar, mapping readers' feedback, readers' point of view, identity, web 2.0, etc.

2. Dimensions of readers' feedback
The Internet has brought revolutionary changes in communication. It provides an opportunity for individuals to easily become producers, mediators, commentators and distributors of any kind of messages and opinions without additional costs, given that the individual has the access to the Internet and is using a suitable device (Acharya, 2012:5).

This immense possibility of the internet has been revolutionized by 'web 2.0' – one of the popular features of the Internet – which provides immense opportunities for readers (visitors) to express their views freely, and in a smart way. Online news portals have taken advantage of 'web 2.0' to attract followers, through providing them with a wonderful platform to interact.

As 'WhatIs.com', an online IT encyclopedia, defines, 'Web 2.0 is the current state of online technology as it compares to the early days of the Web, characterized by greater user interactivity and collaboration, more pervasive network connectivity and enhanced communication channels.' 

Keeping this great feature of online news portal in mind, this section examines different aspects and dimensions of selected readers' feedback which appeared on Onlinekhabar during the study period (December 1 to 8, 2015).

2. 1. Length of text
A counting of words in readers' feedback suggests a wide variation in the length of text. In Nepali (Devanagari), the longest and the shortest were respectively 257 and 3 words. In English, the longest and the shortest were 94 and 3 words respectively. In Roman, the longest and the shortest ones were 97 and 3 words respectively.

The longest feedback among the Nepali comments came from a reader who identified her/himself as Shantidoot (in English, messenger of peace). The reader with this impersonal identity wrote a letter as feedback, addressing former Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee (b.1949). Mr. Mukherjee was the Indian Ambassador to Nepal during 2004-2008. This letter is in response to the news entitled 'Nepal should be pressurized even if it draws criticisms: Former Indian Ambassador Mukherjee' (December 7, 2015). The crux of the 257-word letter was that India should not interfere in Nepal's domestic policies and affairs.

A reader who identified himself as Tilak Shrestha wrote the longest feedback among the English ones. This was written in response to an interview with a Rastriya Prajanta Party-Nepal (RPP-N) leader Dilnath Giri (December 3, 2015). The title of the interview was 'Kingship comes back if [Prime Minister KP] Oli fails to address the problem in two weeks'.Tilak Shrestha coincided his stance with the RPP-N leader, expressing that Nepal should remain a Hindu State. He objected to secularism, saying that 'Dharma nirapexata [secularism] is imposed by Europeans to facilitate religious conversions. It is imposed on us using Maoists and other traitors. It must be rejected.'

The longest among the feedback in Roman (Hindi) came from a reader who identified himself as Saaj Aale Magar. Magar's view also came in connection to the statement of former Indian Ambassador Mukherjee discussed above. Magar opined that India has no grounds to teach Nepal a lesson, as there are rampant injustices against Muslims and Nepali-speaking community in India.

The shortest among the feedback in Nepali, English and Roman were of 3, 4 and 3 words respectively. These were respectively, 'Jaya Swatantra Madhesh' (let victory be of Madhesh), 'Good. I like it' and 'Ekdam sahi ho' (it is extremely true).

The feedback 'Jaya Swatantra Madhesh' came from a reader who identified her/himself as Madhesi Awaaj (voice of the Madhesh). The reader expressed the want for an independent Madhesh, and thus gave a voice to the 'Madhesh movement' indirectly. This feedback is connected to the statement made by former Indian Ambassador Mukharjee. He had quoted that Nepal has not given enough rights to the Madheshi people.

'Good. I like it' – the shortest feedback in English – came from a user identified as Kashi Ram Khatri in reply to another user Rajan Ghimire Jigyasu's feedback on the ideas expressed by the RPP-N leader Dilnath Giri regarding the possibilities of re-emergence of kingship in Nepal. Rajan Ghimire 'Jigyasu' remarked that three major parties [Nepali Congress, United Marxist and Leninists (CPN-UML), and Maoists United, now known as the CPN-Maoist Centre] are betraying the nation. He has also expressed quite sarcastically that the increasing number of provinces (proposed in the new, federal set up for Nepal) will create a situation where the number of (elected) leaders will surpass that of people.

'Ekdam sahi ho' (it is extremely true) – the shortest feedback in Roman script – came from a person who identified himself as Kabin. He wrote this expression in response to the views of another reader who identified her/himself as 'Shantidoot' (discussed above, the letter addressing the 'irrational' statement made by former Indian Ambassador Mukherjee). Kabin seemed to endorse Shantidoot's simmering response to Mukherjee's statement.

2.2 Readers' point of view
A wide array of readers' viewpoints can be seen in the feedback studied. Common issues that could be inferred from these feedback includes a nationalistic sentiment, anti-India feelings, sense of hatred against political leaders, views and counter-views on secularism and conflicting views on Hindu state, views for and against federal republic and kingdom, clashing opinions on 'Madhesh movement'.

One reader Tilak Shrestha refuted ex-envoy Mukherjee's point of view on Nepal and how India should treat Nepal. Mr. Mukherjee was quoted as saying, 'Nepal embraced democracy, but has not provided Madheshi people with the fruits of democracy'. Onlinekhabar had repackaged Mukherjee-related news from an article published in an Indian newspaper.

In his response, Tilak Shrestha portrayed Nepal as a sovereign nation, saying that Nepali people can make their constitution on their own. He opines that India doesn't have to worry about Nepal. Another reader (with an impersonal identity) also added to the argument against Mukherjee's viewpoint, enquiring where "the severe discrimination in the current Nepalese constitution" was. Mukherjee's statement seemed to spark a strong sense of nationalism and anti-India feelings among Nepalese readers. Almost all readers nurtured nationalism in their feedback, expressing a strong discontentment to Indian stance on 'Madhesh Movement', and India's unofficial economic blockade to Nepal.

Many of the feedback which appeared on the news portal suggested that political leaders are some of the most disliked figures in Nepal. This may not be a new phenomenon in Nepal, but most readers during the study period seemed not in favor of the political leaders. Some of them went as far as to criticize the leaders taking their names as well. The crux of their resentment with the leaders was that the political leaders are behind the painful sufferings of Nepali people.

Opinions were however divided on the issue of secularism. Nepal is already a secular state. However, the debate on secularism versus Hindu state has been a continuing one. Some of the readers were in favor of a secular state and some were against it. A good number of readers were in favor of a Hindu state. Interestingly, one of the proponents of secular state rejected the idea of Hindu state using a provocative expression, 'if Nepal becomes a Hindu state, Islamic State (IS) will attack Nepal.'

The constitution hails Nepal as a federal democratic republic. Legal and political arrangements are already underway to develop or promote federal structures. In this scenario, the debate on re-emergence of a kingdom versus institutionalization of federal republican governance may have gained futile momentum, although people continue to debate on the issue. One of the supporters of the ex-king wrote 'Raja aau desh bachau' (Oh! King, come and save the nation). The supporter of kingship opines that the king is a patron of the nation, and can rescue Nepal and Nepali people from the painful present situation.

Anti-king feelings were also rampant. A proponent of the republic stated that kingdom cannot replace republic state at any cost. Another supporter challenged that any return of a kingdom would also mean the return of the 'people's war' (in reference to the armed conflict prior to the peace accord a decade ago). Views and counterviews on kingdom were noticed endlessly in the virtual world, although there may be no impact or possibilities of discussions on this issue.

The 'Madhesh movement' was noticed as another important issue that was immensely popular in discussions, and making headlines across most online news portals, but also followed in general by provocative reactions (feedback). Many readers felt that the 'Madhesh movement' is an 'India-backed movement'. Their comments suggested that India was backing the Madheshi political leaders only to fulfill its own selfish motives. This could have been the reason or "understanding" why ex-envoy Mukherjee was so heavily criticized. The key force behind the Madheshi movement, the Madheshi Morcha (Madheshi Front), was also widely criticized in these conversations. It is quite interesting that very few feedback appeared in favor of 'Madhesh moverment'. One of these was noted to be in favor of an independent Madhesh (see above: 2.1. Length of text, para 6; page 4).

2.3 Identity
The identity of the readers in terms of their names can be classified in at least three categories:
a. Full name (27 readers),
b. First name (26 readers), and
c. Impersonal name (18 readers)

This paints a mosaic of the identity used by readers when providing their feedback. It may easily be inferred that those who used impersonal names intend to hide their real identities.  These impersonal identities of the readers give some sense of preparedness and awareness about possible implications (or adverse results) for expressing opinions using their real identity.

Some examples of impersonal identities used by readers were: Nepali Sewak (one who serves Nepal), Madhesi Awaaj (voice of the Madhesh), Shaantidoot (peace ambassador), Prajatantrabadi ek Nepali (a democrat Nepali), Nepali, and so on. These identities can be said to have been adopted to shield their real identities from possible future criticism or harm.

No geographical locations of the readers appeared to be disclosed in their feedback.

2.4 Language
Of the 71 feedback studied, 33 appeared in Nepali (Devanagari script). In the same way, 19 and 16 appeared in English language and Roman script respectively. Furthermore, a fusion of these scripts/languages were noticed: 2 and 1 respectively found as fusion of English language with Roman, and Roman script with Devanagari. One feedback was found in Hindi language, albeit written in Roman script.

Figure 1: Languages used by readers in providing their feedback (n=71)

The diversity in language implicitly, as well as explicitly, provides an insight into the level of education, language competence and socio-cultural backgrounds of the readers. Majority of the comments were found to be below-average in terms of grammar and syntax.

2.5 Tone
Majority of the readers appeared to be aggressive towards their targets. Some of the readers made pejorative remarks. One commentator has termed the political leaders as 'dogs'. Some other commentators were found quite sober, one of them suggesting that the political leaders maintain calm and not lose their cool. This particular expression was in reference to UML leader Rajendra Pandey, who had made an aggressive remark against Mr. Lok Maan Singh Karki, then-Chief Commissioner, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), after the CIAA had sent a letter alleging corruption charges to Mr. Pandey.

Commentators (readers) suggested UML leader Pandey, 'Don't worry if you have not committed any misdeeds. The state has the rights to investigate on you. You are not above the law.' Mr. Pandey was reported as saying, 'We had raised a snake beneath the staircases, and it was in our knowledge that it will bite us one day.'
Among the positive and negative commentary was one short, specific feedback which was sober and possibly aimed at suggesting or moderating the discussion, which read, 'Comments should be civilized and logical.'

2.6 Timeframe
Only those items or contents, and corresponding feedback, which appeared within the period of 8 days (December 1 to 8, 2016). These seven items, of 4 types, are indicated in the figure below, and in further detail in table 1 above (see page 1).

Figure 2: Contents or items studied (n=7)

Some interesting observations could be made from the timing of the feedback. For instance, it was quite interesting that no feedback appeared on December 5. Overall however, the first four contents (Serial numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 in table 1, page 1) respectively drew 3, 25, 3 and 3 feedback during the study period. The time span required for these contents to accumulate were 18:24 hours, 3:39 hours, 3:14 hours and 4:14 hours respectively. In similar fashion, the last three contents studied (Serial numbers 5, 6 and 7 in table 1, page 1) respectively received 2, 30, and 5 feedback within a time span of 2.14 hours, 12.23 hours, and 1.6 hours respectively.

Another interesting observation is that one item (serial no. 2) received 25 feedback in a time span of just 3:39 hours, while another item (serial no. 6) received only 30 feedback in a time span of 12:23 hours. These contrasting situations suggest quite clearly that the tendency of readers' responses is also determined by the seriousness of issues, and not by the time span. However, both the issues were serious and burning in Nepal's context at the time, and were both taken quite seriously by the readers. Contents of serial numbers 6 and 2 stood first and second respectively among the feedback studied.

3. Conclusion
Online platforms have given audiences a great opportunity to get their voices heard worldwide, which was almost impossible in print media. These platforms have been promoting democracy and the freedom of opinion and expression in an unprecedented way. These definitely promote the spirits of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR, Article 19) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR, Article 19). These should therefore be regarded as a positive step towards building an equitable society.

Nepali audiences (readers) – as everywhere across the world – have been taking advantage of the advent of the internet and its various applications and platforms like the online news portals to get their voices heard. This miniature study suggests that Nepali audiences are almost habituated to express their feelings, and do not hesitate to expressing any kind of feelings.

One of the suggestive observations is that however serious the issue, online readers have a tendency to read the materials quite sooner rather than later, with responses timed similarly. It may seem that the days when one could post something online and get responses for a long period of time seem numbered – a trend that may not be for online news portals alone, and for the wider application of the internet platform.

Like other contemporary societies, Nepal is going through a huge socio-political and cultural transition, which has by now painted a different picture of the Nepali society as we knew it. They have accepted the inevitable changes, reserving some space within themselves for socio-cultural legacies. With more education and more consciousness about their rights than previous generations, they look more rights-centric now than ever before. These kinds of changes and evolved attitudes were reflected in the feedback they posted on the online news platform.

The world is full of thoughts and counter-thoughts, and thesis and anti-thesis – Nepali society cannot be an exception to these contrasting beliefs, opinions, perceptions and even experiences.  The debate between 'perception versus reality' on different issues must be taken as only natural during a transitional period, and it has definitely generated views and counterviews among the Nepali community. It is only natural then that such views and counterviews have spilled on to the virtual public sphere of online news portal. Almost all issues studied and analyzed here fall under the jurisdiction of aforesaid topics. For these reasons, controversies and arguments between two sets of thoughts are only natural, both in the actual world and in the virtual world. Even so, nothing can replace universally accepted democratic norms and values.

The virtual world of online news portal seems to be governed by these topics, which is quite natural. However, the tone of feedback often seemed to deviate towards negativity – up to the point where people did not respect each other's freedoms and beliefs. This latter observation is critical to our circumstance; it can hamper the spirit of our dream to develop an equitable and civilized society. We have yet to realize that there is a need of protecting virtual public space for good learnings and ensuring civic behavior as in the real world.


अनलाइनखबर (सन् २०१५) आलोचना सहेर भए पनि नेपाललाई दबाव जारी राख्नुपर्छ : भारतीय पूर्वराजदूत मुखर्जी  (Nepal should be pressurized even if it draws criticisms:  Former Indian Ambassador Mukherjee)  Retrieved from:    http://www.onlinekhabar.com/2015/12/359733/  on December 7, 2015.

अनलाइनखबर (सन् २०१५) ग्यास र तेलको कारोबारमा पूर्वराजाका ज्वाइँदेखि शेरबहादुरका सालासम्म ! (Former king Gyanendra's son-in-law to former prime minister Sher Bahadur's brother-in-law have been involved in transaction of gas and oil) Retrieved from http://www.onlinekhabar.com/2015/12/358061/ on December 3, 2015.

अनलाइनखबर । (सन् २०१५) तराईलाई भारतमा गाभ्न यसकारण असम्भव  (This is why it is impossible to merge Nepal in India) Retrieved from:

अनलाइनखबर । (सन् २०१५) दुई सातामा ओली असफल भए राजतन्त्र फर्किन्छः राप्रपा नेपाल  (Kingship comes back if Oli fails to address the problem in two weeks : RPP Nepal) Retrieved from http://www.onlinekhabar.com/2015/12/358252/  on December 3, 2015

अनलाइनखबर (सन् २०१५) भर्‍याङमुनि साप पालेका थियौं, टोक्छ भन्ने थाहा थियो: राजेन्द्र पाण्डे (We had raised a snake beneath the staircases, and it was our in knowledge that it bites us one day: UML leader Rajendra Pandey)
Retrieved from:   http://www.onlinekhabar.com/2015/12/359217/   on December 6, 2015.

अनलाइनखबर (सन् २०१५) राष्ट्रिय मुस्लिम गठबन्धन मधेसी मोर्चाबाट अलग (National Muslim Alliance Alienates itself from Madhesi Front) Retrieved from: http://www.onlinekhabar.com/2015/12/360054/ on December 8, 2015.

अनलाइनखबर (सन् २०१५) सरकार, कांग्रेस र मधेसी मोर्चाको त्रिपक्षीय वार्ता साँझ  (Tri-lateral dialogue among government, Congress and Madheshi Front is to take place this evening) Retrieved from:

Acharya, Ujjwal. (2012). Online Media in Nepal: Need for Policy Intervention. Kathmandu: Alliance for Social Dialogue. Retrieved from: http://research.butmedia.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/online_media_in_nepal_UjjwalAcharya.pdf. accessed on January 9, 2015.

Embassy of India (Kathmandu, Nepal). (2016). Previous Ambassadors. Retrieved from http://www.indianembassy.org.np/index1.php?option=e6r5wlVM8od_u8Y0CdwsDiTfg0cohLLpEcNS8hphu-0&id=PNhhtjKCPnWueLYvCJ1-HzWqDzcVM2RRbQZpr2_eB2Q  accessed on January 10, 2016

Mukharjee, Shiv Shankar. (2016). 'News analysis: India should ignore criticism of its Nepal policy, continue what it's doing.' The Times of India. Retrieved from:  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/News-analysis-India-should-ignore-criticism-of-its-Nepal-policy-continue-what-its-doing/articleshow/49098388.cms  on January 13, 2016

SOAS University of London.  (2016). Mr Shiv Shankar Mukherjee. Retrieved from

WhatIs.com. (2016). Web 2.0.  Retrieved from: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/Web-20-or-Web-2     on January 12, 2016