NA committee endorses Media Council Bill

Kathmandu, January 27

The Legislation Committee of the National Assembly today endorsed the Media Council Bill removing all controversial provisions of punishment.

The Bill introduced by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology had provisioned up to Rs 1 million fine against journalists, editors and publishers if they breached the code of conduct issued by the council.

The provision drew severe criticism from both civil society members and journalists, and it was widely seen as the government’s deliberate attempt to curb freedom of press and expression. The Federation of Nepali Journalists even staged phase-wise protests across the country.

The House committee’s member and Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Thagendra Prakash Puri said the Bill was amended by completely removing provisions that the council would accept complaints related to media outlets undermining the prestige and dignity of individuals, investigate such complaints and slap penalty on journalists, editors and publishers.

“As per the new provision, the council will work to forge reconciliation if any dispute arises,” Puri told THT. “However, a person claiming to be victim of media outlets undermining prestige and dignity can directly move =the court and the issue will be settled through regular judicial process.”

The Bill had originally provisioned that the Media Council would recommend to the court action against such media outlets undermining prestige and dignity of individuals. But now, such individuals can go directly to the court.

The committee has also amended the preamble of the Bill by stating that the Media Council will be autonomous and competent body.

Similarly, the new amendment has proposed 11-member Media Council from the previously proposed nine members. As per the new provision, the council will have one chairperson and 10 members.

The members include president of FNJ and seven representatives from all seven provinces. Of the seven members, three will be elected and three will represent print, online and broadcast outlets. One member will be afrom mong professors or assistant professors of journalism.

The amendment has also set new qualification criteria for chairperson and members. As per the new provision, the chairperson of Media Council should be a person who is eligible to become Supreme Court justice, or a journalist having at least 15 years of experience in journalism making extraordinary contributions to the sector.

Similarly, the fresh amendment has completely removed the provision of forming a recommendation committee led by a government secretary.

Another new provision in the Bill is issuance of journalist licence through examination. This provision was not in the original bill but was added through amendment.

The committee’s member and Nepali Congress lawmaker Anita Devkota said the NC registered their reservation against such provision, which was not in any South Asian country. “We are going to raise the issue in the Parliament as well,”

Devkota told THT. “We are of the view that since media has been a platform for citizens to raise their independent voices, the examination and licence provision will not help that cause.”

Puri said the Bill would be tabled in the Parliament tomorrow.