Exactly a year back, with the onset of this government, Freedom Forum had shown concern over the draft of the mass communications bill. Upon the awareness of the draft, FF had maintained that the provisions on the draft could curtail the freedom of expression and press freedom. On numerous points, it showed the weaknesses and underscored the need for correction. It was also submitted to the concerned ministry.
A year after now, the struggle for FoE friendly laws and policies with untiring advocacy for transparency, openness, consultation, and participation of wider stakeholders in the law and policy-making process is continued. It is continued because hostility to FoE practitioners and journalists is growing. During this time, the government made several attempts to curtail FoE, to control media, to influence journalists which drew wider criticism. The latest attempt came through the bill on information technology which intended to block social media in the name of revenue flight. With the growing penetration of internet in Nepal, the number of social media users is increased day by day, thereby propelling their voices and concerns over the issues of public importance. They are putting forth their views on government activities. But with the adverse decisions coming to tame the public, overwhelming criticism is natural. Instead of creating digital/internet literacy to curb misuse of social media, the attempts to foil healthy criticism are deplorable. As the FoE, a fundamental pillar of democracy is attacked one after another, one can say that Nepal’s democracy is changed into the ‘guided democracy.’ Framing harsh law clearly indicates that there won’t be the rule of law but rule by law, which is a severe threat to democratic values.
With the federal set up in place after the promulgation of new constitution, all seven provinces and the central government are making new laws and policies to suit the changed system- federalism, which is indeed mandatory as the laws and policies made for the unitary system were for serving limited people and concentrated to the capital. But, in the name of good governance, the attempts to formulate the laws and policies that are directed against citizens’freedom are quite abhorring. Whether it was replacement of decades-long Civil Code with the new one by the federal government or the right to information policy by the provincial government, these alarmed and agitated citizens. Journalists’right to free reporting, photographing were curtailed by the Code while the definition of public agencies has excluded political parties. Not regarding political parties as public agencies means any activities done by the political parties and leaders cannot be questioned and seeking transparency discouraged.
At a time when the political culture is fast eroding, blocking citizen’s right to question political parties with the use of RTI law is to continue political high-handedness. And it is obvious that the political parties dominating government and national affairs would be unbridled to act arbitrarily. Another noteworthy here is Nepal’s democracy is changing into party-o-cracy. With the communist party in majority, sheer disrespect and discredit to media with practice and policy, word and speech, is further fostering party-o-cracy, thereby weakening democracy. It means other elements of democracy as independent judiciary, free press, citizens’ participation, rule of law are gradually getting shadowed by the political activities. The culture of openness is sharply eroding as the government has avoided consultation and participation of wider stakeholders in law and policy making. Undoubtedly, political parties are also the significant elements of democracy, but the non-cooperation and intolerance meted out against other elements including free press are the maneuver to ruin the achievements of democratic movements.
To remind again, FF has continued regular monitoring of FoE violations, journalists’rights, policy and law making relating to FoE and press freedom in central and provincial governments. The monitoring has recorded more than two dozens of press freedom violation in the recent three months, which signals where the FoE atmosphere is heading and how depressing it would be in future. Keeping this record and above mentioned intolerant practice in mind, further activism and advocacy with close observation, critical analyses and comprehensive understanding on the unfolding developments in FoE sectors are in the to do list. FF is clear in its stand for FoE and free press friendly environment, address to impunity relating to crimes against journalists, transparency and accountability in the public agencies, working in public policies and governance reform, so that climate of democracy would not be polluted.
Source: Message from Executive Chief
Free Expression, Issue 45 (Jan-Mar 2019)