From left: Former FNJ President Dr. Mahendra Bista, Chairperson of HLC for Implementing NMCP Kashiraj Dahal, FF Executive Chief Taranath Dahal, FF Chairperson Hari Binod Adhikari and Legal and Policy Advisor of FHI 360/CS: MAP Tanka Raj Aryal

Freedom Forum held an interaction program on “Freedom of Expression and Media Policy and Law” on 16 October, gathering different stakeholders, including media fraternity, regarding different policy documents and laws relating to freedom of expression endorsed and passed by the government.

The main document FF brought to discussion comprises National Mass Communication Policy (NMCP) 2016, Online Media Operation Directive (OMOD) 2017, Bill on Civil & Criminal Code, and Section 47 of Electronic Transaction Act 2008.

Covering the background of different media policies, Legal and Policy Advisor of FHI 360/CS: MAP, Tanka Raj Aryal, and Programme Manager of Freedom Forum for CS: MAP, Sanjeeb Ghimire, presented a brief introduction outline about the policies and laws and their positive and negative aspects/ impacts in relation to FoE and what needs to be done further to make it well acquainted with the practice of rights relating to FoE and Information.

A journalist from Radio Barahi Pokhara, Ramesh Poudyal, argued that people and journalist have wrong concept about FoE that FoE is only enjoyed by journalists, but not by the general public. He emphasized that it is one of the important rights of the citizen and even the citizens should have clear understanding about FoE.

Executive Chief of Freedom Forum Taranath Dahal stated that media institutions should practice self-regulation rather than being guided by any other law made by the government. “There should be discussions in regard to the practice of responsible journalism” he stressed.

On the other hand, editor of Krishna Dainik (Saptari), Murli Prasad Yadav, complained that laws and policies are made only for the people in the middle, while the State authority itself does not follow the laws. He was also of the need of self-regulation and media ethics to bolster journalism profession.

Showing strong concerns on the ongoing policies, Executive Director at Nepal Press Institute, Arun Poudyal, spoke of the bitter fact that none of the policies have included the provision regarding the safety of journalists which is an important issue to be included. He believes there is the need for intensive discussion in this issue, as this would help ensure rule of law in the country. He underscored the need of clear law for the safety of journalists.

Civil Society Officer of FHI360/CS: MAP, Irshad Ansari, supported the previous views that enough discussion on such issues among the concerned stakeholders is always a need. However, there is no common position regarding the regressive policies and laws among prime stakeholders, he regretted.

Journalist from Saptari district, Dhirendra Prasad Saha, expressed deep dissatisfaction regarding the lack of provision on safety of media persons in the NMCP. He said that many journalists have suffered in the name of privacy, as they cannot publish the news explicitly. Although State is already set for the federal structure, there has not been enough development for journalism in this regard, according to him.

Media researcher Ujjwal Acharya admited this kind of programme is not a new concept. He believes law itself is not vital yet intention of the lawmaker while making the law counts a lot in this matter as this directly affects the implementation part. He even suggested that we should look beyond the South Asian practice and starts visualizing in wider scope and should come up with the solution for the guidance of media law and FoE practice.

Senior advocate, Ram Krishna Nirala, highlighted that policies and act are affected by the existing political power. He thinks it takes time for the NMCP to be implemented. He questions the law maker about the stakeholder’s engagement in law making process. He doubts the action of government if they consider taking reviews from expert group outside.

He further stressed that excluding the prime stakeholders from the discussion in law making process would not be trustworthy. Thus, he urges lawmakers to make it more inclusive because ultimately stakeholders are the vehicle of implementing laws and policies. He then recommended that any kind of dissatisfaction would disrupt the free media scenario.
Participants at at Program held in Kathmandu

President of Online Journalist Association, Shiva Satyal, complained about the uneven treatment of online and offline content and thus both online and offline must be treated equally.

Senior Advocate, Ram Krishna Timalsina, suggested that there is essential need of review of the laws in the legal sector such as Competition Law, Labour Law, Consumer Protection Law and Income Tax Law which is directly linked with the practice of journalism and freedom of expression. He stressed that practice must be focused more than discussion. Similarly, Criminal and Civil defamation is the issue of Tort law and more focus must be given on the compensation.

Former President of Federation of Nepali Journalist, Mahendra Bista regrets that media persons are more offended than being praised. He accepts the fact that section 47 of ETA has been misused. Concerning the formulation process of NMCP, he defended that NMCP is finalized with the full participation of stakeholders and is drafted with the engagement of Media Society. He focused that this policy is based on the concept of Freedom and change.

Taking inputs and suggestions, Chairperson of High Level Committee for Implementing NMCP, Kashiraj Dahal accepted the fact that media practice of FoE could only be directed and facilitated and could not be controlled by any laws and policies. As per the mandate passed by government his committee has been making various kinds of media related laws such as comprehensive Mass Communication Act, Act related to Advertisement Council, Public Service Broadcasting etc.

He has requested Freedom Forum as an expert organization on FoE and media law and policies for the review of those draft laws and policies before being passed by the parliament. He has assured FF and other stakeholders to give their input on the future laws that in process of enactment.

Concluding the program, Chairperson of Freedom Forum, Hari Binod Adhikari, gave his remarks and thanked the participants and presenters of the program.

The event was organized as a part of “Civil Society Mutual Accountability Project (CS: MAP)”, supported by USAID and implemented by FHI360. It was attended by 54 participants, including12 females.