Freedom Forum has been alarmed over a statement Press Council Nepal issued on 25 June 2020 that has intended to create the atmosphere to control free speech on social media in Nepal.
The statement reads, “General public is misguided with many baseless contents on social networking sites as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. … These are against journalistic ethics as these are insensitive, irresponsible and non-professional. Press Council Nepal directs such media not to conduct such activities which do not come under journalistic standard and code of conduct. Also, all concerned stakeholders including the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology are appealed to be serious on it on time.”
In common understanding, the statement seems to have requested all not to spread misleading contents on social networking sites. It has carried deeper meaning posing risk to freedom of expression and information on social media. The statement has invoked the stakeholders including the line ministry to emerge tough against social media users in the name of spreading misleading contents.
Another alarming point is the social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tiktok) are regarded as parts of journalism in the statement. It is faulty concept because the social media are not integral parts of journalism but separate platforms to exercise freedom of expression and information. Artistic and satirical form of expression in social media can not be taken as integral to journalism though journalism takes help of social media to promote its visibility.
The statement has further threatened of responsibility to the social networking sites.
Similarly, the Press Council Nepal has its jurisdiction to monitor the contents of the newspapers, radio, television and online media run by adopting journalistic profession but not all internet-based media.
Interestingly, whether social media operators or users are warned of action is not clear in the statement.
To this, Freedom Forum Executive Chief Taranath Dahal observes, “It is unclear to whom the statement of the Press Council is directed; social media users, or the creator of such platforms. Also, the council has asked the government to filter contents and shut down or close these platforms altogether, which is even more dangerous”.
Harassment and discouragement to Nepali media and journalists by the public agency has escalated of late. This recent statement of Press Council Nepal has prepared the ground to incite the line Ministry to take action against social media users at any time. Going beyond jurisdiction, the Council, in the name of making journalists aware of ethics, has threatened of action to social media users. It’s sheer violation of FoE and information if the contents in social media are blocked and filtered without legitimate ground and as demanded by law.
For more information