Umbrella body of journos launches protest

Kathmandu, May 12

The Federation of Nepali Journalists, the largest umbrella body of journalists in Nepal, has launched a protest programme against a new bill registered in the Parliament, which includes controversial provisions, such as fine up to Rs 1 million, aimed at curtailing media freedom.

The five-day protest programme began today with a discussion programme attended by editors of national dailies and online news portals, media experts, senior advocates and human rights activists. An FNJ delegation will meet Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara tomorrow and hand over a petition, requesting amendment to the controversial bill. FNJ members will also meet Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli soon and urge him to make necessary changes to the bill to ensure media freedom. The FNJ may even hit the streets if its concerns are not addressed.

“The new bill is against the spirit of the constitution, whose preamble clearly states that the country’s press shall get full freedom,” said FNJ General Secretary Ramesh Bista.

The preamble encapsulates the fundamental principles and philosophy of a constitution. “So, the government cannot introduce laws that can undermine the spirit of the constitution’s preamble,” said Mohana Ansari, member of the National Human Rights Commission. “It is a pity that our politicians like to brag about having written one of the best constitutions in the world, but laws are being framed to curtail fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.”

If the bill is passed, journalists will not be able to write anything against corruption, anomalies and malpractices, Bista said, adding, “We will not accept it if it is passed as it is.”

The bill, according to former FNJ chairperson Taranath Dahal, contains around a dozen provisions which will prevent the media from working freely. “This is an attempt made by the government to keep the media in its grip,” Dahal said.

One of the controversial provisions in the bill is the leeway it has provided to create a proxy to file complaints against journalists and media companies for publishing or broadcasting news. This provision, according to media experts, will promote the culture of hiring people to lodge complaints to harass journalists and media companies.

“The government should not intervene in the functioning of media,” said Prakash Rimal, editor of The Himalayan Times. “Media industry should abide by its own code of conduct. We can create a mechanism to monitor works of journalists and see whether they are adhering to the code of conduct.” Similar opinion was expressed by Narayan Wagle, editor-in-chief of Kantipur daily. “The bill shows that those who drafted it do not have proper understanding of the functioning of the media industry. The government should not think of bringing it under the domain of a ministry, violating the constitution.”