The government brought the annual budget for the fiscal year 2017/18 on May 29 (15 Jesth of Nepali calendar). Freedom Forum welcomes the timely announcement of budget which in the previous years was at the receiving end of political unrest and frequent change of governments. Thanks to the constitutional provision of 15 Jesth every year the government is bound to announce the annual budget.

Taking into account the issues relating to freedom of expression, right to information, press freedom and capacity enhance of journalists, FF welcomes some points of the budget, while points out the lack of some other significant issues as public service broadcasting (PSB) and implementation of the RTI.

The government’s plan to connect municipalities and rural municipalities of all districts through an information route within the next two years with the expansion of optical fibre in the national highway, to establish an information/data bank and to set up the training centre at each province are obviously appreciative activities. The information route with the expansion of optical fibre will create a robust infrastructure for people’s access to internet, the fastest mode of information and communications in the modern age. The centres to provide capacity enhancement of journalists is also a step beneficial to boost media professionalism in the country.

Despite this, not mentioning anything about the PSB is quite worrying. At a time when the previous government had taken keen interests with budgetary provisions on PSB, missing points about it has drawn FF’s concern. The PSB concept focused on transforming the State-owned media -Radio Nepal and Nepal Television -into a public service broadcasting model had indeed taken gradual pace with various rounds of discussions with the stakeholders.

Similarly, in the changed context of federal set up, the relevance of PSB is growing. The involvement of citizens in media, the two-way communication among people through the PSB is not only to transform the traditional State-owned media but also to empower the citizens. PSB’s focus is not on the media’s access to people, but people’s access to media.

Another most unforgettable issue the budget ignored is the focused program on implementation of RTI. Not mentioning anything about RTI, one of the most effective tools to improve governance, holding the public agencies accountable and transparent, would now weaken the RTI campaign across the country. Similarly, ample provisions on data management and record keeping are essential to boost the concept of open society.

FF Executive Chief Taranath Dahal observers, “As the budget has ignored the national needs of PSB and RTI implementation, the reform in media sector and the campaign to establish open society with good governance are highly likely to suffer. Government’s indifference to these pressing issues affects the accountability of State-owned media and transparency of public agencies.”