In the past few years, online media has emerged as one of the fastest growing forms of media. With the growing popularity of online news portals, the trend of using online media as a news source is rapidly growing. At present there are a sizeable amount of unreliable news portals, which are focussed on disseminating baseless and false news absolutely lacking journalism or ethics. The reason behind all these malpractices is — no laws as such defining online media due to which it lacks proper monitoring mechanism too.
“Press Council Nepal (PCN) examines a complaint on yellow journalism on two grounds — one if the victim files the complaint against the online media stating that the published or broadcasted news material about them holds no facts and the other by monitoring the online media themselves,” said Deepak Khanal, Deputy Administrative
Officer at PCN. According to him, the culprit cannot be jailed or punished based on news content only. The first step of action that PCN takes if any online portal is found guilty is — ask the online portal to rectify and publish the news. If it does not obey the decision of PCN, the highest penalty it can charge is — seize the Press Pass of the online portal including all the facilities it gets and blacklist the site issuing a press release.
“As online has no proper mechanism of registration, it is being operated in random ways. To avoid this we have initiated the system of listing of online sites,” stated Ram Saran Bohora, IT Officer at Press Council Nepal, adding, “This will not only make the online operator more responsible, but will also be easier for us to take action if required.” According to him, a press pass is not granted to the online media until it fulfils the process of listing. As of now, there are around 260 online sites listed with PCN, whereas more than 1,000 are being operated without being registered.
Admitting that the Press Council is not strong enough to take any action against foul play, Bohora said, “We have many instances where the online sites seem to have ignored the Press Council’s decision.” He added, “Be it any type of media, it is equally sensitive and we believe it has to be guided by the code of ethics.” He informed that victims can file a case against the site with the police or take the matter to court especially if the victim wants compensation for the damage caused to them as PCN handles the issue on the basis of moral guideline only. “However, police cannot take any
action against the site without the directive of PCN,” he informed. “The case is considered a cyber crime but sadly this too is not clearly defined by the law,” he said, adding, “It is limited and has failed to define the huge aspect of the nature of the crime.”
Bohora highlighted that suspicious news not only flows through news portal but also through social network and blogs but is hard to check as people take it as a tool of expressing their personal thoughts. Even Press Council Nepal cannot take any action against such activities. According to him, the content that is expressed in the form of comment or opinion is a right to speech but it may harm the sentiments of people, or undermine national integrity and adversely affect the social justice or good will.
A version of this article appears in print on January 11, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.