Nepal: Joining China's "One Belt, One Road"

Binod Bhattarai: Renaissance Man of Journalism

Bhattarai speaking at STU in June of 2015, several weeks after the earthquake.

Bhattarai speaking at STU in June of 2015, several weeks after the earthquake.

He drank a chilled Qingdao and again narrated his real-time experience of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake to a group of students gathered at STU’s East Gate — how he had felt the first tremor, closed his book and crouched against the nearest interior wall. His wife got minor cuts — but on her way rushing out of the house. The eyes of his listeners dilated and dwelt on him.

Binod Bhattarai, a Nepalese journalist and long-time friend of  the J-School, visited Shantou University last spring, to meet with students who had been or were on their way to Nepal in the summer of 2016. Bhattarai gave a presentation about the reconstruction of Nepal, which was hit hard by the April 2015 earthquake he was describing.

According to one of his students, no one was more suitable for the presentation, as he was advising Nepal’s government on earthquake reconstruction. It was one of his many diverse working experiences. Jobs he has held include consulting for the United Nations Development Program in Nepal, working in The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, and writing for the Financial Times.

“Binod is a journalism and communications Renaissance man. He has done and can do it all — we’re incredibly lucky to have him on our team, ”said John Noonan, an American teacher who teaches at the J-school and leads the Nepal reporting groups with Bhattarai.

Bhattarai used the word “interesting” eight times during his explanation for why he got involved in so many different projects, and why he is still doing things relevant to journalism. He has his own working philosophy, primarily that “once you are doing things you like, you are not working, but having fun,” he said.

Every four or five years, when he begins to feel a job is repetitive, he doesn’t feel excited anymore, he said. He then looks for another opportunity, seeking another “excitement factory.”

“Whether you get confused or distracted, that’s up to you,” Bhattarai said. “It depends on how you manage yourself.”  He considered working  in The Economist’s Intelligence Unit as fairly challenging, as English was not his first language. Both proficiency in analyzing and processing information and a high standard of writing were required. “You become a better journalist and also a better person because you understand everything better, ”he said.

He has been working  for the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists since January 1986 — his longest professional enterprise.  Part of his motivation for staying involved with the environmental organization was growing up in a rural area of Nepal. “Growing up in the village, I know that it is nice to have a good environment,”he said. Deforestation and pollution caused by brick factories were major environmental issues at that time, and there was a little group trying to start community forestry, he said.


Bhattarai guiding an interview of disabled displaced persons in Kathmandu after the April 2015 earthquake.

Bhattarai guiding an interview of disabled displaced persons in Kathmandu after the April 2015 earthquake.

Bhattarai was also concerned with issues of social justice and lack of accountability in his country. In 2005, he published the book  “Impunity in Nepal.”

“It is another crazy thing I did,” Bhattarai said, smiling.  According to the prologue in that book, major political actors compromised for the sake of peace, granting impunity to people guilty of criminal offenses, especially where they happened to be supporters and members of certain parties. “Impunity was a major issue in Nepal and someone had to stick his head and write about it,” he further explained.

In 2014, he published another book called “Killing Journalism Softly,” about the slow killing of journalism due to self-censorship among journalists. “It is a complex and challenging subject, especially to figure out whether journalists would tell you the truth about their censorship,” he said.

For students that Bhattarai has worked with, he is dedicated to his work and generous with his time and advice — as he visits STU and is preparing to take students to Nepal for a second time.

“What impresses me most is his serious working attitude, ”said Zhang Jinhuang, a senior student who went to Nepal for both reporting and internship in 2015. “He was trustworthy, always patiently helping us to solve problems. ”

Another post-graduate student and 2015 Nepal intern, Sun Danyang, held a similar opinion to Zhang, “he is worthy of great respect, but also really down to earth. ”

For Bhattarai, students need real-world experience to develop journalism skills — even if that experience is difficult; it is not “likes” on social media but comments and feedback that matter, Bhattarai says.

“A journalist  ends up writing stories that are not liked by everyone,” Bhattarai added.

He sees value in the growing tendency of students to open public WeChat accounts and post their work — in helping build up confidence, as students can see that people are reading what they are writing.

Exposing students to a totally different world influences how they think about things, Bhattarai said. “Most of the time you are learning from that exposure, rather than sitting in the classroom and listening to your teachers telling you that it is like this,”he said, with energy in his voice.

“Get that exposure. Get that experience,” he said emphatically to the table full of students and teachers.

written by Qiuxiao Chen

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