Law and policy update

Nepal government’s has principally agreed to formulate three media-related bills. The meeting of the Council of Ministers took a decision to this regard on November 30. These are: a) Nepal Media Council Bill; b) National Mass Communication Bill; and c) Social Media regulation and management Bill.

Among these, Media Council Bill is drafted for promotion and regulation of media contents. It also aims to replace the existing media content regulatory body, Press Council Nepal. Similarly, the Media Council Bill tabled at the parliament on May 8, 2019 was retracted by the government after failing to finalize it. However, the Council of Ministers has again approved to present the bill in the parliament.

Second, the National Mass Communication Bill also aims to replace old acts related to media and journalism. This bill was envisioned few years ago to regulate online media, print media, radio and television under an umbrella act, to manage other promotional activities in journalism sector and to support regulation of media rights at province and local levels under current federal structure.

Although the Cabinet had given formal approval to table the bill twice before seven years, the government failed to do so. Lately, the government again decided to present the bill in the parliament.

Moreover, the government also started preparations to draft new act to regulate social media platforms few months ago after releasing the Social Media Directive. The Directive, which was not based on any Act/ law received huge criticism from free speech advocates. Hence, the formulation of this act in this context and the provisions it may cover remains questionable.

Meanwhile, the education, health and information technology committee of the Lower House is preparing to finalize the Public Service Broadcasting Bill soon. The bill is under consideration at the parliament for five years. It was brought with an aim to unify state-owned media Radio Nepal and Nepal Television into a public service broadcaster. But the bill faced serious criticisms for having more government-controlled provisions rather than establishment of free, independent and capable public service broadcasting entity.

If the committee of Lower House concludes discussions over this bill in time, the upcoming winter session of the House will possibly finalize it as an Act.

Freedom Forum is watchful on unfolding developments on these different laws and policies related to media and journalism which are being drafted and under consideration at the parliament. FF is also actively lobbying with the concerned government bodies for drafting laws in favour of free, fair and independent media. In order for a democracy to thrive, press freedom and independent media must not be compromised, FF underscores.