Kathmandu, May 16
Federation of Nepali Journalists that has been protesting against the Media Council Bill, is staging a sit-in protest in front of the Federal Parliament in Kathmandu, and is holding a massive demonstration in all 77 district headquarters, tomorrow.
The FNJ says provisions of the bill are aimed at placing government’s control on Nepal Media Council and curtailing press freedom.
The FNJ stated it decided to intensify its agitation after the government turned a deaf ear to its demand of withdrawing the bill from the Parliament, and revising it in consultation with all stakeholders.
“The government has not bothered to consult us regarding the bill even after a week of our agitation, despite the fact that almost all media outlets are consistently raising the issue,” FNJ President Govinda Acharya told THT. “That’s why we are taking to the streets from tomorrow to claim the rights guaranteed by the constitution.”
The government has come under fire from all quarters, including the National Human Rights Commission, civil society and the opposition parties; Nepali Congress and Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal, after it registered – Media Council Bill, National Human Rights Commission Bill, and National Security Bill- in the Parliament.
The main opposition NC has already demanded a withdrawal of the bills stating that they contradicted with the constitution. It threatened the government of mobilising its strength in the Parliament and the street if the it passed the bills without an amendment.
The RJP-N has also put forth a similar demand, stating that the government registered the bills with malicious intention and that it would lead the country towards authoritarianism. “This is against the constitution and democratic norms and principles,” RJP-N Presidium Member Rajendra Mahato told THT. “If the government does not withdraw the bills immediately, we will launch struggles from the Parliament and the street.”
The bill regarding constitution of the Media Council has proposed to impose a fine of up to Rs 1 million on media outlets, editors, publishers and journalists if they are found guilty of damaging someone’s reputation.
It also proposes punishment for violating the code of conduct which includes suspending press pass of mediapersons and downgrading the classification of print media outlets.
The bill also proposes to form a committee under a government secretary to recommend the chairperson of Nepal Media Council, which stakeholders say will relegate the Nepal Media Council to a branch of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
The bill to amend the National Human Rights Commission Act, proposes to grant more discretionary power to the Attorney General on the prosecution of human rights violators.
The bill proposes that the NHRC should make recommendations for filing court cases to the Office of the Attorney General. The bill states if the AG tells the NHRC to conduct further probe in certain cases, the latter should comply with the order. The bill also states the AG will have the authority to take a final call on filing cases against alleged human rights violators after analysing additional evidences submitted by the NHRC. It has removed the words ‘autonomous’ and ‘independent’ from the preamble of the NHRC Act.
As far as the Security Council Bill is concerned, it has put in place a provision allowing the prime minister to mobilise the army at his own discretion.
The bill provisions that the National Security Council chairman (the prime minister) can mobilise army if the council fails to meet due to some unforeseen circumstances.
Stakeholders say the three bills, if enacted as laws without amendment, would curtail freedom of expression and press, undermine human rights and weaken civil rights.
A version of this article appears in print on May 17, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.