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Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

Newfound Breathing Space for Media

The Nepali media have found some breathing space after the restoration of democracy, but there are challenges ahead, says a report by the FEDERATION OF NEPALESE JOURNALISTS, the national body of media professionals.


The Nepali media sector, which has been fighting for its survival following the royal coup of 1 February 2006, has received breathing space following the restoration of democracy in April 2006. During the royal regime, the government had been trying to curb press freedom through various measures. It was well-understood that by imposing various attacks and restrictions on the media sector, which is the foundation of democracy, the government showed its autocratic character to the world community. During the royal regime, constitutional values and norms, and integrity were severely violated. Government attacked the norms of democracy, human rights and press freedom.

The Nepali people's historic movement has finally restored democracy in Nepal and has shown new hopes to the Nepali people. The House Proclamation of 18 May, incorporating the spirit of the people's will expressed in the historic movement, has given a historic dimension to Nepal and the Nepali people.

Nepali media showed great resistance against the autocratic regime. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) played a great role to restore democracy and complete press freedom. Although democracy and the movement for press freedom has succeeded to a large extent, the important responsibility and challenges to make the Nepali press independent, disciplined and organized is still remain unfulfilled. In this moment of victory, we still have various challenges ahead. To face these challenges, the people's movement should not be relaxed until the achievement of the movement is institutionalized.

After the restoration of democracy, there have been efforts to establish and institutionalize the Nepali media and a few significant steps have been taken. However, there are still various challenges ahead that have to be addressed.


Steps taken after Restoration of Democracy
The new government has taken several steps to reverse state of media control. The following are some of them:

Cabinet Scraps Media ordinances
On 9 May, the government annulled the ordinances promulgated to amend some laws concerning media and the ordinance relating to controlling NGOs and local administrations.

Supreme Court Suppresses Article 18 of National Broadcasting Act
On 18 May 2006, the Supreme Court suppressed article 8 of the 1992 National Broadcasting Act and article 15 (1) of the 1991 Publications and Newspapers Act, as incompatible with a constitutional provision guaranteeing press freedom.

The first article gave the government the right to cancel the licenses of radio and television stations that broadcast news. The second allowed the government to restrict or censor coverage of sensitive issues. The Supreme Court issued its ruling in response to a petition filed by advocate Narayan Kandel at the initiation of the FNJ.

Task force formed for implementation of Working Journalists Act 2051
On 26 May, the government formed a task force to implement effectively the Working Journalist Act 2051. The task force was formed in response to the demand made by the Working Journalist Struggle Committee. Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communication Ratna Raj Pandey is the coordinator of the task force, while representatives from FNJ, the Nepal Press Union, Press Union, Press Chautari, Working Journalist Struggle Committee and other media-related bodies are the members.

One-door Advertisement Policy Scraped
A meeting of the Council of Ministers on June 2 scrapped the one-door advertisement policy, which was introduced by the erstwhile royal government to curb press freedom and independent media.

Govt. Scraps the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Ordinance (TADO), forms Media Council
The government has scraped the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Ordinance (TADO), as of 11 June. The TADO allowed security forces to detain persons accused of terrorism for a year without taking them to court. The ordinance had permitted such detentions for 90 days when it was first promulgated in 2002. Since the government was using TADO against various journalists to curb press freedom, the annulment of TADO is a positive step to ensure press freedom and freedom of expression.

FNJ meets minister of state for information and communication
FNJ presented a concept paper to Dilendra Prasad Badu, Minister of State for Information and Communications, urging the government to immediately annul all anti-media measures introduced after 1 February 2005. FNJ demanded that the government make public the advertisements awarded through the one-door policy and money provided for Dashain [Nepal's largest festival of the year]. FNJ has also asked for the annulment of programmes initiated to promote autocracy through the misuse of government media, and has demanded an investigation and that action be taken against the perpetrators.

FNJ also demanded that the illicit distribution of money to campaign against press freedom and freedom of expression be made public. The concept paper also requested that the government rescind the licenses granted to the army to run FM radio stations. The paper demanded immediate implementation of the Working Journalist Act and Regulation and immediate annulment of provisions against the welfare of journalists. The paper also proposed several measures to preserve and promote media, including recognition of on-line journalism as mainstream journalism and reduction of renewal fees for FM radio stations. FNJ has also demanded the formation of a high-level media commission for restructuring Nepali media.

Media Suggestions Commission
On June 13, the government established a seven-member high-level Media Suggestions Commission under the chairmanship of Member of Parliament and senior advocate Radheshyam Adhikari, by a decision of the Government of Nepal (Council of Ministers) on 12 June.

The Commission has been constituted in order to incorporate the electronic media in the Press Council in view of the rapid developments and expansion of electronic media (both AM and FM radio) and television (online service, etc.) as well as the print media at the governmental, non-governmental and private sector levels.

The members of the Commission are: Bishnu Nisthuri, President, FNJ; Murari Kumar Sharma, President, Nepal Press Union; Bal Krishna Chapagain, President, Press Chautari Nepal; Raghu Mainali, Convenor, Save the Independent Radio Movement; and Babita Basnet, President, Sancharika Samuha.

The Director General of the Department of Information is the Member Secretary of the Commission, according to the Ministry of Information and Communications. The terms of reference of the Commission include: identifying the problems faced by the mass media in the context of exercising press freedom and the dignified, professional and institutional development of journalism and making suggestions to resolve these problems; providing necessary suggestions for removing the shortcomings and mistakes seen in the registration, operation and monitoring processes of the print and electronic media; and making suggestions regarding the classification of the media and the advertisement policy.

However FNJ expressed its dissatisfaction and demanded the restructuring of the commission since it lacked the inclusion of media experts. Addressing the demand, the government has agreed to restructure the commission which will include media experts recommended by FNJ.

Government Maoist eight-point Pact addresses press freedom in its agreement
On 16 June, a meeting between the top leaders of seven political parties and the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN, Maoist) signed an eight-point peace agreement. The agreement in its second point states, "expressing commitment to competitive multiparty governing system, civil liberties, fundamental rights, human rights, press freedom and democratic norms and values including the concept of rule of law, [the seven parties and the Maoists] will carry out their peaceful activities accordingly." The FNJ has been demanding that the government and the Maoists express their stand on press freedom and freedom of expression. Therefore the agreement is a positive step to ensure freedom of speech and expression.


Conclusion
Despite the above mentioned positive steps there are still lots of challenges ahead that have to be addressed in the days to come. The FNJ believes that the media should be restructured to address all the challenges of media. For this purpose, FNJ has already taken some initial steps to forming a new media policy. FNJ has also started interactions with the newly-formed interim constitution drafting committee to ensure press freedom.
There is the challenge to identify all of those responsible for the killings of journalists during the conflict and to reinstate the journalists sacked during the royal regime. Enforcement of the Right to Information Act and the Working Journalists Act is a major issue to be addressed. Addressing the issues that have been raised in the 26-point concept paper prepared by the FNJ would be a remarkable step for the protection and promotion of the Nepali media.


Federation of Nepalese Journalists is a national professional organization of Nepali journalists. The above is the original report by FNJ, published here with minor edits. Contact: fnjnepal@mail.com.np, Internet: http://www.fnjnepal.org


Posted by Editor on June 20, 2006 11:18 PM