OneWorld: The implementation of RTI is weak in Nepal despite it being a fundamental right. What are the possible reasons behind this?
Taranath Dahal: The Right To Information Act in Nepal was enacted in 2007 whereby it was given the status of a fundamental right in the Constitution of Nepal. But over the years, the implementation has been poor which prevented it from fully blooming into a tool for accountability and transparency in the hands of ordinary citizens.
Many factors have been in play. The political system of Nepal is in a transitional phase. Democracy is in its nascent stage. In 2008 Nepal legally abolished the monarchy and declared the country a republic, ending 239 years of royal rule. A constitution does exist but society is still getting accustomed to the ways of democracy. RTI thus has not been fully realised in the transitional political system of Nepal.
The second hurdle is that the government seems more concerned about passing the law rather than implementing it. In absence of pressure groups, it does little to ensure the tool’s effective implementation.
The third reason is lack of awareness in the public domain. People are not yet familiar with the realization of their rights. They are ignorant about the fact that there is a tool at their disposal that can bring accountability in governance. The issue of awareness generation has also been sidelined by the RTI movement led by journalists and civil society organisations in Nepal.
OW: freedom1 Forum recently organised a national convention on RTI in Kathmandu that focused on freedom1 of information. Any comments?
TD: The national convention on right to information has been a great success in creating a platform to improve the implementation of the Act. In the presence of government information officers, civil society organisations and regional advisors, issues of policy-making and law were discussed. Members exchanged information, experiences, challenges and vision on RTI in their country. The convention was vital to create a vibrant environment for effective implementation of the Act.
OW: Media freedom1 and working conditions of journalists have improved in Nepal but the situation is far from good. As chairperson of the freedom1 Forum, what do you think are the current status, challenges and implications for news and media in Nepal?
TD: Constitutionally and legally, the media in Nepal is free and there are no restrictions on the freedom1 of information and media rights. They are free to express their views in public. However, there is no legal cover to protect the freedom1 of speech in Nepal.
There are a lot of challenges to media freedom1 in Nepal. Journalists are often attacked and intimidated and the state shrugs off any responsibility to protect them. The constant fear of life has forced Nepal’s media into self-censorship. They are scared to offer facts and analyses of what is happening in society.
Besides these, non-state factors also threaten media freedom1. Last year three media persons were killed. The guilty haven’t been detained yet. Impunity among the perpetrators of crimes adds to the fear-factor among the media. As a result, important information fails to reach the public. A censored media cripples democracy.
OW: What role do media and journalism play in the digital age which has broadened the media landscape?
TD: The role of media has expanded with the coming of new technologies. The digital age enables access to massive data. Media should enhance their role by providing access to information in the public domain. Media should be responsible enough to investigate information and come up with in-depth analysis of the information in public interest.
Media in Nepal should raise awareness on the rights of the citizens. These new technologies do enhance but do not ensure media freedom1 that is necessary to ensure the rights of the citizens.
Prominent journalist and RTI pioneer Taranath Dahal is Chairperson of freedom1 Forum and President of the Citizens’ Campaign for Right to Information (CCRI), a civil society network working for the cause of RTI in Nepal.