The Federation of Nepali Journalists today said 2078 BS had been one of the most challenging years for working journalists and their families due to the unprecedented public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic despite being less severe compared to the last year.

According to FNJ, it recorded as many as 74 incidents of press freedom violation in 2078 BS, against 45 in 2077 BS.

Several journalists were attacked or intimidated. They also received threats in relation to their work. As many as 18 journalists succumbed to COVID-19 in 2078 BS, taking the death toll to 26.

Journalists worked on the frontline and were vulnerable to coronavirus infection throughout the year. The umbrella organisation of Nepali journalists also said that mediapersons faced the double whammy of COVID-19 and deprivation of regular salary, pay cut, forced unpaid leave, dismissal from job and unnecessary transfer to coerce them into resigning.

It caused financial hardship to the families dependent on journalists. Despite being infected or being at risk of being infected due to the nature of their work, journalists had been compelled to bear the expenses for PCR tests even when they were deprived of regular pay.

Journalists were impacted by injustice at the hands of media houses and inaction of the government to strictly enforce the existing law. FNJ recorded complaints from 221 journalists regarding deprivation of regular and full pay.

Section 20 of the Working Journalists Act guarantees that service and facility of journalists shall not be altered or changed in a manner to affect them.

Despite these, the government failed to announce relief package and subsidy for journalists and media houses were hit hard by the pandemic.

Similarly, the government registered the Public Service Broadcasting Bill and Media Council Bill in the Parliament with anti-press provisions, disrespecting the suggestions of the media fraternity and other stakeholders.

FNJ has also painted a bleak picture of press freedom in the country over the past one year as media and journalists were frequently targeted by the government to silence them.

However, as per the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, Nepal had improved six places on the global Press Freedom Index to rank 106th out of 180 countries for 2021.

The country had ranked 112th on the index released by Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres in 2020.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 16, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.