Tara Nath Dahal
Government has gradually beefed up its highhandedness towards freedom of expression and press freedom. It ignored the amendment on the criminal code and its procedure. The code has included some provisions on printing and press/ publication under the criminal offense. In the provisions relating to crimes on the national security, social security, law and order, hate speech, blasphemy, obscenity and pornography, and social harmony, the issues of press freedom and FoE are highly likely to be misused and tampered. Such provisions have criminalized even the practices of FoE exercised for public internet and welfare.
In addition to this, the provision on the chapter on defamation- libel and slander, the Sword of Damocles is posed on press freedom. It is sheer criminalization of the libel and slander occurred while exercising press freedom- printing, publishing, broadcasting and imparting of news. Adding further worry, the punishment to this is 50 percent more than the other punishment.
Similarly, in the additional chapter in individual privacy, investigative journalism has been rendered nearly as a crime. Rather than protecting an individual’s privacy, the provision on individual privacy has boosted the State’s secrecy and the public officials over-empowered. Concerns raised from the media fraternity and the right defenders were egregiously left unheard. Instead, the government, taking some media persons of its favor and under influence formed a mechanism and adopted the strategy to linger and shadow this pressing issue. With this, the government’s intention is clear- it wants to panic media, increase surveillance and deepen self-censorship with the continuation of hostile legal provisions.
At a time when the government bodies seem to implement the criminal code, the bill on individual privacy has been passed by the parliament. The bill passed by avoiding the adequate discussion and debate has clearly mentioned the provision that intend to tamper press freedom and FoE. However, the timely and apt intervention FF made helped lawmakers to be aware of the possible risk and finally proposed for correction on some provisions. Despite some amendments, there are several points to the corrected so that the practice of FoE would not be risked in the future. It is the worldwide practice that the breach of individual privacy actually falls under a civil offense, which is not in Nepal.
On the other hand, the government has not shown interest to bring reform in the media laws and institutions, which has been demanded for a decade in the country. Also, it is indeed the State’s indifference to the recommendation made by the media policy. Another noteworthy here is that this government has blocked the licenses for radio and televisions.
The drafts of the umbrella act on mass media, public service broadcasting act, advertisement act, media council act, integrated ICT act have not been tabled in the parliament, and the government officials are reluctant to hold public and open debate and discussion on these. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has kept secret many draft bills like Media Council, ICT and advertisement regulation. The government has spread panic leaving everyone in suspicion with the strategy to shrink the press freedom atmosphere.
Although the government officials have been repeating that press freedom would not be breached, the misuse of Electronic Transaction Act is unabated, as numerous journalists have been the latest victims to it.
Recently, the government has sent circular to all government agencies to provide advertisement and sponsored program only in the government-owned media as Radio Nepal, Nepal Television and Gorkhapatra Corporation. It is a totally unfair and gross misuse of public funds to strengthen government propaganda mechanism. It is obviously against media pluralism and professionalism.
Moreover, the press freedom violations have been growing- three dozens of violation in the recent three months alone. The policies and acts at the local and provincial governments are also hostile to press freedom. The attacks on press freedom are not paid attention. The impunity has been a persisting problem, as families of the journalists victimized during the conflict in the country are still waiting for justice. It vividly paints a grim picture of press freedom in Nepal, which is likely to face more risks in the days to come. FF is however psychologically ready to brave the impending challenge and to fight for vibrant media freedom and FoE of Nepali citizens as per the constitutional guarantee and international commitments.
Source: Message from Executive Chief
Issue 43 (July to September 2018)