The Government of Nepal has issued an Online Media Operation Directive-2017 claiming to make registration, renewal and operation of online media in a more systematic way. The new policy directive had come into effect by repealing the earlier one with its publication in the Government Gazette on 20th March, 2017.
Last year, the Ministry of Information and Communications had floated the proposal under the heading ‘Online Media Operation and Management Directive 2016’, where wide range of stakeholders including media organizations, journalist and other media practitioners expressed serious concern noting that the directive was faulty and discouraging to internet-based media, which are gaining ground with the gradual expansion of the internet in Nepal. After severe criticism from different quarters including defenders of freedom of expression, the Ministry withdrew the 2016 directive, saying it would garner suggestions and amend the policy accordingly.
Ironically, the Ministry has brought the ‘Online Media Operations Directive-2017’ again ignoring its commitment to amend the document with wider consultations. To the chagrin of stakeholders, the new directive is same as it was so the new policy document also received flaks from different quarters.
In keeping with opinion of stakeholders, Freedom Forum came up with a review of the new directive presenting areas for improvements. A team of expert reviewed the media policy being based on the international standard and constitutional provisions of freedom of expression. The main highlights of review are following;
- The directive has been introduced under the Good Governance (Management and Operation) Act-2007 which means the government has considered the online media as a government entity rather than a vibrant medium of freedom of expression that brings citizens’ voice into the mainstream. The internet-based media are therefore not recognized at par with other media and the employees working in the online media are not considered to be journalists.
- Importantly, all the media outlets – even TV, radio and newspapers with an online service – have been asked to get registration and renewal separately for their online stream which seems double/ threefold registration. There is high chance that the government could take steps to suppress freedom of expression at any time because of the opportunity given to Government officials to apply subjective considerations for determining eligibility.
- The directive has also made it mandatory for online journalists to obtain press accreditation card under the laws in force which has narrowed the identity of journalist. It has made the management responsible for publishing or broadcasting not only news but also views and opinions that encouraged exercising self-censorship rather than the media freedom. Besides, the provision of government facility to online media and its requirement in the name of welfare advertisement is against the principle of free and fair media. The directive has stated that, “If the online media violate the rules and code of ethics, they will not be entitled to the facilities to be provided by the government”.
- The directive provides excessive authority to Press Council for regulating any content of online media which contravenes the constitutional provision. The authority given to the Press Council via directive for regulating media content is also not in consistent with the Press Council Act.
- Having various regulatory provisions, the directive does not speak anything about mobile apps and media software which is the great source for the people to access to the news and views of late. Finally, it has tormented the notion of self-regulation of media that is also a main feature of National Mass Communication Policy.