Media barred from covering SAGGC meet

Kathmandu, May 16

Chair of the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of the House of Representatives Shashi Shrestha today barred mediapersons from covering the panel’s meeting, incurring the wrath of lawmakers and civil society members.

This is the fourth time that panel Chair Shashi Shrestha has barred mediapersons, saying the panel was discussing ‘internal matters’ related to the Federal Civil Service Bill.

At the beginning of the panel meeting, Shrestha allowed journalists to enter the meeting hall, but after a few minutes, she asked them to leave as confidential issues were to be discussed.

Shrestha had barred mediapersons from covering the panel’s meeting in December too, saying the panel was discussing confidential matters related to Kathmandu-Tarai Fast-Track road project, which is being built by Nepali Army.

Nepali Congress lawmaker Devendra Raj Kandel, who is also a member of the SAGGC, told THT that civil servants had urged panel members not to allow journalists during panel discussion on the Federal Civil Service Bill and that could be the reason behind Shrestha’s decision to bar journalists from covering the meeting. Shrestha, however, said she barred journalists from covering the meeting as the panel was going to discuss internal issues.

Nepali Congress lawmaker Amresh Kumar Singh, a member of Shrestha-led panel, told THT that Shrestha’s decision was against democratic principles.

“Democracy thrives on transparency. Absence of transparency leads to tyranny,” Singh said, adding that in democracy everything should be open and transparent.

Ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker and SAGGC member Janardan Sharma told THT that panel members were told that mediapersons were not allowed in the meeting as the panel was discussing sensitive subjects. “But there was no sensitive issue on the agenda,” Sharma said.

Prem Suwal of Nepal Peasant and Workers Party also found no issue that could justify the barring of journalists.

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has never restricted journalists from covering its meetings in the last 25 years. Other panels of the Parliament have also not done so in the last 20 years.

As per the Parliamentary Regulation, the chairpersons of the panels are as powerful as the Speaker, said parliamentary expert Mukunda Sharma. “A chair of a committee may justify his/her decision to bar mediapersons from covering the meetings if those meetings discuss national security issues, but for all other issues panel meetings should remain open,” he said.

Former speaker Daman Nath Dhungana said the press should be allowed in committees’ meetings.

Journalist Society for Parliamentary Affairs today issued a statement saying its attention was drawn to the panel’s decision to bar mediapersons from covering the meeting. “Not allowing journalists to cover the panel’s meeting was against the constitution,” reads JSPA statement.

JSPA warned the panel not to repeat such a mistake.  It also requested the panel and the Parliament Secretariat not to restrict mediapersons from covering parliamentary meetings.

Defending her decision, Shrestha told THT that there was no intention to bar reporters from covering committee meetings.

“Today, we had to discuss internal and managerial issues of the committee. So, we didn’t allow mediapersons to cover the meeting,” she said.