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Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

Partly Free Press of Nepal

Nepali press gets a 57 point score (partly free) in Freedom House survey for 2007.






Freedom House's Global Press Freedom survey for 2007 released the followiing draft report on Nepal:

Nepal
Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 15
Political Environment: 28
Economic Environment: 14
Total Score: 57

The media environment reached a plateau in Nepal during 2007, following significant improvements in 2006 as a result of dramatic political change in which massive street protests forced an end to King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev’s direct rule in April.

Although an interim constitution was promulgated in January 2007, the Nepali government has not been fully successful in implementing the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, as tensions with Maoists and Madhesi unrest in Terrai have indefinitely delayed the holding of Constituent Assembly elections. Despite significant improvements in law and order following the 2006 ceasefire, attacks on the press by both Maoist and Madhesi groups were common in 2007.

Beginning in May 2006, the interim government rescinded many laws that severely limited press freedom, including the government’s ability to revoke journalists’ press accreditation and to impose high fines for publishing banned items, bans on private radio news broadcasts, and criminalization of criticism of the royal family. In June, a high-level media commission was formed to further review media laws and practices, and in December, an interim constitution was signed that provides for press freedom and specifically prohibits official censorship. Improvements in the legal environment continued to improve in 2007, with the interim parliament’s passage of a Right to Information Act, which gives Nepali citizens the right to obtain information from government bodies and NGOs supported by the government, foreign states, or international organizations. Furthermore, in August, the interim parliament passed a Working Journalists Act, which provides journalists with improved working conditions and legal rights, and also gives journalists the right to unionize.

Although the interim government and Maoist leadership promised to respect press freedom to reduce the level of violence against journalists that was commonplace under Gyanendra’s rule, violence and intimidation towards journalists increased in 2007. Journalists still face harassment from militant Maoist and Madhesi groups, local-level officials and politicians, police and military forces, and criminal groups, especially when reporting on sensitive topics. Between January and June 2007, Reporters Without Borders reported that at least 72 journalists were threatened or attacked, with at least two journalists killed. While mainstream Maoist intimidation has decreased, the Maoist affiliated Young Communist League (YCL) was responsible for attacks, including in August when YCL members attempted to abduct a journalist for Dristi Weekly's. Maoist affiliated unions also threatened newspapers, forcibly shutting down production of The Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post in August. On October 5, Maoists abducted and killed Birendra Shah, a journalist in Bara affiliated with Nepal FM, Dristi Weekly’s, and Avenues TV. Journalists have also faced violence related to the Madhesi movement. In early January, nine newspapers in western Nepal were forced to stop publishing in early January due to threats from Madhesi groups. In late January, demonstrators set fire to a radio station and attacked journalists in Birgunj. In February, cadres of the Madhesi Janatantrik Forum (MJF), a Madhesi political party, attacked five journalists covering a protest in eastern Nepal.

Additionally, although those responsible have not been identified, Shankar Panthi, a journalist with the pro-Maoist paper Naya Satta Daily, was found dead in September in the western town of Sunawal, upon his return from covering the destruction of a YCL office. During the year, at least two other journalists were abducted, including the Kanchanpur-based journalists Prakash Singh Thakuri in July and Pappu Gurung in October. Although cases involving government forces were less frequent, police and soldiers have mistreated journalists in some instances. On November 16, authorities briefly detained 39 journalists who were protesting the government’s failure to investigate Birendra Shah’s death. With dozens of cases of threats and attacks documented throughout the year by groups such as the Kathmandu-based Federation of Nepalese Journalists and the Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies, journalists’ ability to operate freely, particularly in the rural areas, remains constrained.

The government owns several of the major English-language and vernacular dailies; these news outlets generally provide pro-government coverage. Hundreds of private publications, some with particular political viewpoints, provide a range of diverse views, and many have resumed their critical coverage of sensitive issues such as human rights violations, the insurgency, and corruption. The government owns both the influential Radio Nepal, whose political coverage is supportive of official policies, and Nepal Television Corporation (NTV), Nepal’s main television station. Private FM and community radio stations, which together with the national radio network reach some 90 percent of the population, flourished prior to the 2005 coup and are a primary source of information, particularly in the rural areas. Although censorship and news bans caused the closure of many stations under Gyanendra’s direct rule, since 2006 many radio journalists have returned to their jobs, and by October, the government had awarded licenses for 6 new television channels and 50 FM radio stations across the country. During 2007, there were no reports that access to foreign media were banned or censored.

There were also no reports that authorities monitored email or blocked websites, although this medium was accessed by less than 1 percent of the population in 2007.

Country draft reports are available here (in PDF format)

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Freedom House Press Release on the Survey

Washington - April 29, 2008 - Global press freedom underwent a clear decline in 2007, with journalists struggling to work in increasingly hostile environments in almost every region in the world, according to a new survey released today by Freedom House. The decline in press freedom -which occurred in authoritarian countries and established democracies alike - continues a six-year negative trend.

Freedom House will formally present findings from Freedom of the Press 2008: A Global Survey of Media Independence today at the Newseum in Washington. Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor will also unveil the Map of Press Freedom 2008, a central exhibit featured in the Newseum's Time Warner World News Gallery.

While the survey indicated that setbacks in press freedom outnumbered advances two to one globally, there was some improvement in the region with the least amount of press freedom: the Middle East and North Africa. The survey attributes the gains in the Middle East and North Africa to a growing number of journalists who were willing to challenge government restraints, a pushback trend seen in other regions as well.

"For every step forward in press freedom last year, there were two steps back," said Windsor. "When press freedom is in retreat, it is an ominous sign that restrictions on other freedoms may soon follow. However, journalists in many countries of the world are pushing the boundaries, crossing the red-lines, demonstrating commitment and courage against great odds and we are seeing a greater global flow of information than ever before."

Out of 195 countries and territories, 72 (37 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 64 (33 percent) were Not Free, a decline from 2006. However, the study found that declines in individual countries and territories were often larger than in years past.

Key regional findings include:
- Central and Eastern Europe/ Former Soviet Union: This region showed the largest region-wide setback, with Russia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, and several Central European countries, among others, showing declines. Only 18 percent of the region's citizens live in environments with Free media.

- Middle East and North Africa: More unrestricted access to new media such as satellite television and the internet boosted press freedom regionally. Egyptian journalists showed an increased willingness to cross press freedom 'red lines,' moving the country into the Partly Free category.

- Asia-Pacific: Restrictions on media coverage were imposed in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and Vietnam's government cracked down on dissident writers.

- Americas: Guyana's status shifted from Free to Partly Free, while Mexico's score deteriorated by a further three points because of increased violence against journalists and impunity surrounding attacks on media.

- Sub-Saharan Africa: The region accounted for three of the year's five status changes: Benin declined from Free to Partly Free, while the Central African Republic and Niger moved into the Not Free category. Political conflict and misuse of libel laws were key factors behind a number of country declines.

- Western Europe: The region continued to have the highest level of press freedom worldwide, despite declines in Portugal, Malta and Turkey, the only country in the region ranked Partly Free.

The survey, released annually in advance of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom in every country in the world. The 2008 ratings are based on an assessment of the legal, political and economic environments in which journalists worked in 2007.

"Improvements in a small number of countries were far overshadowed by a continued, relentless assault on independent news media," said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Freedom House senior researcher and managing editor of the survey.

"We are particularly concerned that while abuses of press freedom continue unabated in restrictive environments such as China, threats are also apparent in countries with an established record of media freedom and in newer democracies in Central Europe and Africa."

The key trends that led to numerical movements in the study include:
- Unrest and Upheaval: Media played a key role in covering coups, states of emergency and contested elections in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Georgia, and as a result, journalists became prime targets during government crackdowns.

- Violence and Impunity: Violence against journalists and, in many cases, corresponding impunity regarding past cases of abuse was a key factor in determining press freedom in countries as diverse as Mexico, Russia and the Philippines.

- Punitive laws: Media freedom remains seriously constrained by the presence and use of numerous laws that are used to punish critical journalists and outlets. The abuse of libel laws increased in a number of countries, most notably in Africa.

- New media: Satellite television and internet-based news and networking sources are an emerging force for openness in restricted media environments as well as a key target for government control.

The world's worst-rated countries continue to include Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. In 2007, Eritrea joined the ranks of these exceedingly bad performers, while a crackdown in Burma worsened that country's already repressive media environment, leaving its score second only to that of North Korea worldwide.

For details on countries, methodology and graphics from the survey vsit http://freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=362
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Posted by Editor on April 28, 2008 3:19 PM