Media council bill draws flak from MPs

Kathmandu, May 13

Lawmakers representing the main opposition Nepali Congress today criticised the government for registering the Nepal Media Council Bill, saying the bill’s provisions were aimed at curtailing press freedom.

NC lawmakers, speaking during the pre-budget discussion in both the houses — the House of Representatives and the National Assembly — said the government was trying to control media through laws that violated the constitution.

In the National Assembly, Nepali Congress lawmaker Badri Pandey said the government was trying to control media as was the case during absolute monarchy. “The government is trying to control not only media, but also the National Human Right Commission by relegating it to a department of the Office of Attorney General,” he said.

NC lawmaker in the House of Representatives Minendra Rijal, who is also a former minister of communications and information technology,   said the media council bill was meant to curtail press freedom.

Another NC lawmaker Devendra Raj Kandel told the lower House that the government was trying to tame mediapersons and human rights activists.

Meanwhile, a team led by Chairperson of the Federation of Nepali Journalists Govinda Acharya today submitted copies of a memorandum to Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara and National Assembly Chairperson Ganesh Prasad Timilsina highlighting restrictive provisions of the National Media Council Bill that the government registered in the upper House a few days ago.

Journalists’ umbrella body stated in its memorandum that the provisions of Media Council Bill were aimed at curtailing press freedom.

The FNJ, the largest umbrella body of journalists in Nepal, requested the speaker and the NA chairperson to use their clout to withdraw the bill from the Parliament.

The FNJ team met Mahara at his official residence in Baluwatar in the morning and Timilsina at his office in Singha Durbar in the afternoon. The memorandum stated that the bill proposed harsh punishment against media professionals and the press. The FNJ also stated that the bill’s provisions were in contravention of the constitution which guarantees full press freedom. The journalists’ umbrella body stated that the government should withdraw the bill and re-register it after modifying its provisions.

During his meeting with Mahara, Acharya said the government didn’t consult any stakeholders before registering the bill in the upper House.

Mahara told the FNJ that once the bill was tabled in the lower House, he would tell the concerned panel to consult stakeholders regarding the bill’s provisions. He also told the FNJ team to talk to the minister of communications and information technology about the bill’s provisions rather than protesting against the bill.

Timilsina, on the other hand, told the FNJ team that since the bill followed due process, it would be difficult for the NA to return the bill.  “But I assure you that when relevant panel will discuss the bill, it will consult all the stakeholders, including the FNJ,” he said. He added that the FNJ could express its dissatisfaction then and the House would amend the provisions that were against the media and press freedom.