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Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

Challenges for Nepali Media in a New Democracy

Enforce media acts as well as professionalize and restructure the sector, says a new study by IFJ on South Asian press.

The challenges of Nepali media include enforcing the Right to Information Act and Working Journalists’ Act as well as professionalizing and restructruing the sector, according to a new report by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Nepal marked some landmark chapters in its modern political history in 2006. The year began under the restrictive rule of the royal regime, imposed in a coup in February 2005, but concluded with the formal end to the decade-long insurgency that had claimed over 13,000 lives.

ifjreport_tfgo.jpgAfter mass protests and revolutions in April, Nepalese King Gyanendra was forced to reinstate the kingdom’s dissolved parliament and end the 14-year rule by the autocratic monarchy. Then on November 21, Nepal witnessed the signing of an historic peace accord between the government and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) which brought an end to 10 years of bloodshed.

The restoration of democracy to Nepal was a welcome reprieve for the Nepalese media, who had faced serious challenges after the royal coup.

Intimidation, harassment, planned and systematic attacks and the detention of media professionals were part of daily life under the royal regime. But efforts have now been made to rebuild and restructure the Nepalese media, following the restoration of democracy. To this effect, the government has nullified all anti-media ordinances and policies implemented by the erstwhile royal rulers.

On May 26, 2006, the government formed a task force to ensure effective implementation of the Working Journalist Act 2051. They scrapped the controversial one-door advertisement policy on June 2, 2006, which had effectively been an economic blockade on independent media, and established a team to draft the Right to Information Bill and Right to Privacy Bill. The Right to Information Bill was later tabled in the House of Representatives.

On December 16, an interim constitution was promulgated which expressed a commitment to media freedoms. The interim constitution also guarantees fundamental rights, including freedom of the press.

Despite the restoration of democracy and these positive developments, a safe and open environment for journalists in Nepal is by no means guaranteed. Violations of media rights continue even today, only the nature of attacks has changed.

Nepalese journalists are still facing threats and attacks from Maoists, various groups and political parties, and recent violence indicates that journalists’ safety and their ability to report freely is under continued threat.

Media situation during the transitional period
This period of political transition has been difficult for Nepal and for journalists in particular, as various incidents have undermined both the peace situation and the country’s fledgling democracy. The attack on Kantipur complex on August 3, 2006, where around 150 protesters brought work to a complete halt for over three hours, is one example. Journalists also face death threats and intimidation, and there have been some cases involving the police and army assaulting journalists.

Even though the Maoists have publicly declared their commitment to press freedom, kidnappings, threats and attacks from Maoist cadres still occur regularly. Attempts to silence media criticism have continued during the transitional period, while there are regular reports of attacks and threats on the media by criminal groups and smugglers.

Media situation after the beginning of Terai unrest
Towards the end of 2006, unrest in the eastern and central Terai region was triggered by a movement launched by the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) and other groups. The Terai movement threatens to derail the country’s fragile peace process that had appeared so promising just a few months earlier. There have been blatant attacks targeting journalists, while radio stations were gagged to curb their growing independence. Likewise many attacks against journalists were aimed at stifling freedom of expression and the press.

The movement in the Terai region has mainly affected 10 districts, Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Janakpur, Parsa, Bara, Sarlahi, Mahottari and Rautahat. In Terai alone, after the unrest, 35 journalists, three media houses and two Federation of Nepal Journalists (FNJ) branches were attacked. Similarly, 40 journalists received serious threats and harassments and 19 were displaced from their workplace. Fourteen vehicles belonging to journalists and media institutions were vandalized and 53 dailies and weeklies were forced to cease publication due to insecurity and shortage of printing papers. Eleven cases of obstacles to free flow of information have also been reported during this period.

Enforcing the Right to Information Act and Working Journalists’ [page 19 ends here] Act is a major issue that needs to be addressed in Nepal, and there are still many challenges ahead for the professional development of the media. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) believes that the media should be restructured to address all the challenges of the Nepalese media.

Positive Trends
Cabinet Scraps Media ordinances: On May 9, 2006 the government annulled the ordinances promulgated to amend some Nepal Acts concerning media, and the ordinance relating to controlling the NGOs and local administrations. The royal government had issued the ordinance amending half a dozen media-related laws, including banning the broadcast of news over FM radio stations and raising the license fees of FM radio stations.

Supreme Court Suppresses Article 18 of National Broadcasting Act: On May 18, 2006 the Supreme Court suppressed Article 18 of the National Broadcasting Act (1992) and Article 15(1) of the Publications and Newspapers Act (1991) 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, and instigated by the FNJ.

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

Government scraps TADO, forms Media Council: The government also scrapped the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Ordinance (TADO), in June last year. TADO allowed security forces to detain persons accused of terrorism for a year without taking them to court.

When the ordinance was promulgated in 2002 it permitted such detention for 90 days. Since the government was using TADO against various journalists, the annulment of TADO is a positive step to ensure the protection of press freedoms and freedom of expression.

Media Suggestions Commission: On June 13, 2006, the government formed a seven-member high-level Media Suggestions Commission under the chairmanship of MP and senior advocate Radheshyam Adhikari. The commission has been constituted for incorporating the electronic media into the Press Council, in view of the rapid developments and expansion of electronic media, television and print media at the governmental, nongovernmental and private sector levels.

Press freedom addressed in Government-Maoist peace agreement: On June 16, a meeting between the leaders of seven political parties and Communist Party of Nepal (CPN - Maoist) signed an 8-point peace agreement. The agreement in its second point states, ‘expressing commitment to competitive multi-party 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’.

SPA - Maoist agreement expressed commitment to complete press freedom: The historic agreement between the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance expressed a full commitment to complete press freedom. The agreement also expressed its commitment towards a competitive multi-party democratic system, civil liberties, fundamental rights, human rights, rule of law and all other norms and values of democratic system.

Press Freedom guaranteed in interim constitution: Heads of eight mainstream political parties, including the CPN (Maoist) signed the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007, on December 16 , 2006. The Interim Constitution, under its preamble, has expressed a full commitment to complete press freedom. The Interim Constitution guarantees freedom of expression for every citizen under the Fundamental Rights in Part 3 Article 12 (3)(A). Similarly, the Interim Constitution under Article 15 has guaranteed publication, broadcasting and printing rights. Right to information and right to privacy are guaranteed in Article 27 and 28 respectively.

Defending democracy: Nepal’s media has always been at the forefront of upholding and defending the banner of liberty, democracy and freedom.

The media has seldom bowed to pressure tactics employed by different political groups and has dared to expose the excesses and atrocities committed time and again.

On one hand, the restoration of democracy has paved the way for the restructuring of the country, resolving problems through the process of electing a constituent assembly. On the other hand, the state is facing a new problem, that of addressing various demands from different communities. At such a critical juncture, the role of media has never been more vital.

In an ever-fragile political climate, the people of Nepal will rely upon the Nepalese media’s continued fight to protect the pillars of democracy.

To read the full report on South Asia, click here (in pdf, from IFJ).

Posted by Editor on May 11, 2007 2:47 PM