Taranath Dahal

This past year, 2020 remained challenging for freedomof expression (FoE), freedom of assembly (FoA)and other civil rights in Nepal. The global menaceof Covid-19 heavily affected national life where media and civil society suffered worst. FF prepared a separate report on how the Nepali media fared amid Covid-19. It showed 38 percent journalists lost job owing to financial decline in media houses. For the journalists off the field, numerous problems were left unreported, many underreported and investigative stories declined sharply.

Despite sheer need to properly address public health crisis posed by Covid-19, the government engaged in coordinated suppression of people’s rights, tamed opposition and critical views, continued attacking free press and weakened democracy. It indulged in corruption, thereby entrenching bad governance. Impunity continued unabated. The media reports on financial irregularities in the purchase of medical equipment and safety materials were blots governance.

Moreover, the transitional justice mechanism- Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission for Inquiry on Enforced Disappeared Persons- are yet to be active to address the conflict era crimes and cater justice to the victims. The families of the journalists killed in the past are desperately waiting for justices but in vain.

The media sector did not witness any policy change and reform, but in name of advertisement law, the foreign televisions are out of access. With the provision of clean feed in place but lack of alternative measures, the Nepali audiences are deprived of renowned television of the world as BBC and CNN. It has blocked the free flow of information, which is a borderless issue. There is unprecedented control on State-run media- they are misused as the tools to establish single narrative being created and spread by those in power and their acolytes. Those making critical views are assailed in social media by the ‘cyber army’ mobilized by the cabal. Censorship is deepening. On the other hand, efforts are on to lure independent media and journalists to frustrate atmosphere for free press and media professionalism.

Amidst this, the National Human Rights Commission made public the names of those who violated human rights over the last two decades. It is laudable that it has exposed the sorry state of human rights situation and created pressure on State agencies to be responsible. It also shows how the impunity is entrenched. However, government failed to respond to it. It just remained silent- the silence signals the government’s inaction to take initiative to address impunity.

Now in 2021, Freedom Forum continues its advocacy efforts for the openness of recovery activities launched in the wake of Covid-19 in Nepal. Activism will be continued as in the past to forward the concept and culture of open government- the need further substantiated with the context of multiple governments. Public financial management is another area that warrants wider attention to improve governments in Nepal. FF whets for civic participation in the public financial management.

Internet freedom is another important area which is gaining more relevance in Nepal with the expansion of internet and growing use of smart phones. The internet-based media have tremendously contributed to citizen’s right to FoE and information. Digital economy has also been thriving lately. FF is aware that the debates and developments surrounding internet governance should not breach FoE online. Similarly, the Covid-19 has forced everyone to rethink media system; equal attention is required to promote and protect public service media and encourage public interest journalism.

With the spurt of internet-based media, practice of self regulation is the need of hour. In this connection, FF has recently facilitated and provided expertise for developing self regulation directive to the online television association. Continuation of right to information to prod transparency and accountability in the public office and empower citizens is long looked after area. At such situation, FF is for the active and robust presence of civil society.

Happy New Year 2021!