Mediapersons, activists flay government

Kathmandu July 5

Federation of Nepali Journalists organised a ‘press freedom assembly’ today as part of its third phase of protest against the Media Council Bill.

On the occasion, civil society members flayed the government for bringing Nepal Media Council Bill with restrictive provisions.

Human rights activist Krishna Pahadi said the government was under the influence of mafias and it brought anti-media bill to discourage media professionals from writing critical news stories against the government.  He said freedom of expression and press freedom were the basic human rights which should not be infringed upon.

FNJ Chair Govinda Acharya said the FNJ had been protesting against the Media Council Bill and yet the government was not responding to its demands. He said FNJ’s protest against the bill was aimed at protecting press freedom.

Former President of Nepal Press Council Rajendra Dahal said the bill exposed the government’s ill intention to curtail press freedom.

He said the government needed to discuss all issues related to press with the FNJ. Former President of FNJ Shiva Gaunle said it was ironical that the government elected by the people was trying to curtail press freedom.

FNJ General Secretary Ramesh Bista said journalists’ umbrella body would be compelled to launch fourth phase of protest if the government did not make the bill press-friendly.

Senior Advocate Satish Krishna Kharel said Nepal Media Council Bill and Information Technology Bill were brought by the government with the purpose of discouraging media professionals from criticising the wrongdoings of ministers.

Kharel said there was no need to bring Media Council Bill, Information Technology Bill or any other bills to regulate the press or media professionals as the existing libel act was enough to deal with any defamatory contents. “If the existing libel act is not enough, then the government may increase punitive measures in the law. Strict enforcement of code of conduct can be another measure to regulate media. If still, the government thinks it is not sufficient to regulate the media, then it can amend the existing law. The government should not have brought these restrictive bills,” he said.

He added that the current bills were aimed at protecting the interests of the government ministers. “Under existing legal provision, an individual who has been defamed has to fight a long battle against his/her tormentor and the plaintiff also has to bear the burden of proof. The new bills make defamation against a government minister a government case,” Kharel said.  He also said as per the standard legal practice if any individual commits an offence, then the single concerned law should be enough to deal with the case.

Section 100 of IT Bill stipulated that if an offence under it was also an offence under other acts, then the offender shall be prosecuted under other acts also.

Kharel said such provisions would only victimise media professionals and others who want to exercise freedom of expression.