Kathmandu, May 19
Federation of Nepali Journalists, which concluded its first phase of protests against the controversial Media Council Bill on Friday, announced fresh protest programmes today.
A meeting of the FNJ central committee chaired by its President Govinda Acharya announced the second phase of protests after the government didn’t heed their demand for withdrawal of the bill from Parliament. The bill, which FNJ says curtails press freedom, was registered on May 10.
The FNJ wants removal of provisions that makes the media council a quasi-judicial body that slaps fines, penalties and punishments. The FNJ is also against the provision of a government secretary recommending to the council chairperson as that severely undermines the media council’s autonomy and makes it a division of the Ministry of Communications and Information technology.
“The government is not serious about addressing the FNJ’s legitimate demands even after the first phase of protests,” said Acharya. “Neither the government nor the parliamentary party has bothered to consult us.”
The second phase of protest will kick off tomorrow and last till June 8. The FNJ will hold consultations on the bill’s controversial provisions with former FNJ presidents tomorrow and on Tuesday. On May 22, the FNJ will draw the attention of national parties represented in the Parliament to the bill. It will hold meetings with editors and run a media campaign from May 23 to 26. The FNJ will meet lawmakers on May 27 and 28. Its associate chapters will run a programme on the negative impacts of provisions in the bill on newsrooms from June 1 to 3. On June 4 and 5, the FNJ’s district chapters will interact with political parties, mediapersons, civil society organisations, professionals and rights activists. A similar interaction will be held at the centre on June 6 and 7.
On June 8 at 3:00pm, the FNJ will hold a demonstration forming a human chain from New Baneshwor to Babar Mahal and stage similar protests in all seven provincial capitals. It also plans to hold an emergency protest on the day the government tables the bill in Parliament.
The government had planned to table the bill in the National Assembly today but did not do so amid controversy. The Parliament Secretariat said the bill will be tabled a few days later.
The bill regarding the constitution of the Media Council has proposed to impose a fine of up to Rs 1 million on media outlets, editors, publishers and journalists if they are found guilty of damaging someone’s reputation.
Section 18 (1) of the new bill stipulates that if any media publish content in contravention of the code of conduct and if an investigation launched after the 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 outlets, publishers, editors, journalists and reporters.
Section 18, Sub-section (2) of the bill stipulates that the council can order erring parties to pay compensation if the content damages the reputation of the affected party.
Section 17 proposes punishment for violating the code of conduct which includes suspension of press pass of mediapersons and downgrading the classification of print media outlets.
The bill also proposes a committee under a government secretary to recommend to the chairperson of Nepal Media Council, which stakeholders say will turn the Media Council into a branch of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
A version of this article appears in print on May 20, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.