Kathmandu, May 14
Chief Whip of the main opposition Nepali Congress Balkrishna Khand and NC lawmaker Pradeep Giri, also a political analyst, today criticised the government’s move to curtail rights to press freedom and human rights though new bills.
Speaking during the pre-budget discussion in the House of Representatives, Khand asked the government to withdraw Media Council Bill and an amendment bill of the National Human Rights Act, which he said, had the provisions of curtailing press freedom and human rights, the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.
Giri, citing the case of the Soviet Union’s failure in 1989 because it did not recognise its citizens’ rights and human rights, suggested the government not to commit the same mistake by curtailing citizens’ rights and human rights. “We should not forget what had happened to the Soviet Union as the state neglected its people in its bid to compete with the USA. Back then the leaders of the communist country didn’t have time to listen to their people,” he said, adding that Nepali government should learn from the incident.
The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology recently registered the media council bill, which proposes a fine of up to Rs 1 million on media houses, editors, publishers and journalists, if they are found guilty of damaging someone’s reputation.
“Questions have been raised regarding implementation of fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. Constitutional rights to freedom under Article 17 should not be curtailed while drafting new bills,” Khand said.
The bill stipulates that if media publish contents in contravention of the code of conduct and if an investigation launched after an affected party’s complaint finds that such news content damaged the reputation of the complainant, the council can impose a fine between Rs 25,000 and Rs 1 million on media houses, publishers, editors, journalists and reporters.
Moreover, the bill stipulates that the council can order erring parties to pay compensation if the content in media outlets is found damaging the reputation of the affected party. The bill also proposed punishment for violating code of conduct which includes suspension of press pass of mediapersons and downgrading of the classification of print media outlets.
Draft bill seeking amendment to the National Human Rights Commission Act also aimed at curtailing its constitutional rights. The draft bill proposed to grant unbridled discretionary power to the Attorney General in prosecution of cases after the NHRC made recommendations to conduct legal proceedings against human rights violators. The intention of the draft bill was to minimise the role of the human rights watchdog and render it into a toothless government entity, according to Khand.
“The constitution stipulates protection of citizens’ human rights. However, the government is bent on restricting the jurisdiction of the NHRC,” Khand said, adding that the government should instead, facilitate the human rights watchdog to function independently as per the constitutional provision.
A version of this article appears in print on May 15, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.