Freedom Forum released its Press Freedom Day Report 2017 organizing a program on ‘Press Freedom in Nepal: Present Status and Challenges’ in the capital city Kathmandu on May 3.

The highlights of the report were presented by Media Monitoring Officer Mr Narayan Ghimire at the program attended by media experts, educators, journalists, lawyers, film directors and producers, media students and researchers.

The report was unveiled both in English and Nepali languages by incorporating the number and types of press freedom violations, impunity relating to it, policy and directive relating to FoE and press freedom in the last monitoring year from 2016 May to 2017 April. The report showed sharp decline in the number of violations while pointed out the lack of friendly policies to create the atmosphere conducive for media freedom.

Even the reports of the international media rights organization on Nepal’s press freedom situation were shared on the occasion.
Taking part in the program, Freedom Forum Executive Chief Taranath Dahal said the May 3 is the international day to remember the contribution of the journalists for improved democracy, pay tribute to those who lost their lives during reporting in various places across the globe, and to ponder for safe environment for journalists in the days to come. Press should play the role of a watchdog to ensure the citizen’s right to information, he said, adding that only informed citizen can help make the democracy more functional.

He stressed that state machinery should work to ensure media freedom while journalist must be responsible towards their profession and be accountable to the society, which, in turn would help the media enjoy more freedom. According to him, the journalists and media persons have been the victim of court’s highhandedness for lack of proper provision on ‘contempt of court’.

Similarly, Janardan Bista from Radio Nepal stated that the press freedom is very important factor to build democratic society. Even the journalists can play role to make the atmosphere safer to them, he added.

Executive Director at Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, R. C Lamichhane, wondered whether the journalists were given the freedom in their own newsroom. If the journalists have the access to wide range of information, he is rich of knowledge and information. Apart from this, he stressed on incorporating journalism in the curriculum from secondary level so that every children would know about the role of journalism.

Senior investigative journalist and media researcher, Hasta Gurung, advised Freedom Forum and media rights organizations to be more active to drop the press freedom violations to zero. “Every citizen has the right to expression- whether he/ she speaks, writes, performs art or anything he/ she prefers,” he underscored. He took the number of death threats seriously, arguing that unless the country witnesses zero threat to media persons, the atmosphere for press freedom can’t be claimed safe and friendly.

Editor at the Naya Bikalpa weekly, Damodar Prasad Dawadi, wondered whether it was because the journalists became less active and less investigative resulting in less number of press freedom violation. According to him, once one is bound to exercise self-censorship, the number of press freedom violations obviously drop.

“I’ve not felt democracy at all,” said film director Ganesh Dev Panday, expressing plight that he was denied approval for a film production merely because of the title of the film ‘Gajabaja”.

Chief Reporter with the Naya Patrika daily, Parshuram Kafle, said journalists themselves had tremendous role to play to improve press freedom with integrity and professionalism.

Ashok Dahal, a reporter with Republica daily, expressed his dissatisfaction upon conduct of the Press Council stating social media users are more responsive and watchful towards media contents than Press Council. He pointed out on the need of Press Council’s reform.

Concerning about the code of conduct, official at the National Human Rights Commission’s official, Ms Durga Pokhrel, said that it immensely matters in a day to day life whether he/she was a public or even a journalist. “Nowadays, the NHRC has appointed focal persons in order to record the violations of freedom of expression, which can definitely lead towards change,” she said, suggesting journalists to abide by code of conduct to reduce attack on them.

Turning pages on ethical journalism, associate professor at Kathmandu University, Sudhamshu Dahal, stated that ethical journalism and transparency of growing media is a burning issue in today’s media sector. “Because media is always at the receiving end of the political protests, initiation of proper dialogue among media and politicians on ethical journalism is an utmost need of hour,” he focused.

“Where is the security of journalists when a reporter is manhandled and her camera seized during reporting in the capital city itself? Why wouldn’t journalists be forced to adopt self-censorship when not any organization including the Federation of Nepali Journalists heed to anything more than a press release after misbehavior to a female reporter?”, a victim Rupani GM, reporter with the lightnepal.com vented her ire against umbrella organization of journalists, FNJ, and the security agency. “I’m tortured and bound to restrain myself to exercise my right to free expression and press freedom,” she added.

Former Member of Parliament, Shobhakar Parajuli expressed wonder why the journalists were not allowed in the meetings of the political parties.  “During my long alliance with the party, I was amazed to find contradictory views of the political leaders in the meeting and out in the progrmmes. In the meeting, they were strictly against allowing journalists, while in the speech outside, they fully advocated for journalists’ right to free reporting,” Mr Parajuli, leader of the Nepal Congress party said, stressing the need of media reporting for transparency within the party and for strengthening democracy.

General Secretary of FF, Dharmendra Jha, urged media persons to maintain their professional ethics above all. If the press is used as a means to serve personal gains, then journalists will face threats and intimidation from several interest groups as well. As long as self-censorship retains, misleading and distortion continues.

FF Chairperson, Hari Binod Adhikari, concluded the interaction applauding that press freedom situation has improved compartively. However, whenever the media persons confront challenges from different interest groups, they should tackle these incidents collectively. He also encouraged media persons to remain committed to their collective well-being.

There were 40 participants in the program from diverse sectors. The report mentioned 29 cases of intimidations (attack, death threat, arrest/ detention, manhandle, seizure) against working journalists and media house during a year. Highest number of violations was recorded in the capital city being followed by Province No. 2. As in the previous years, the offenders who fuelled intimidation were local level political leaders and cadres as well as security officials. (See report for further information.)