New bill ‘aims at curtailing press freedom’

Kathmandu, May 9

The government today registered a new bill regarding constitution of Nepal Media Council, proposing 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, then 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 the erring parties to pay a compensation if the content in media outlets 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 of the classification of print media outlets.

Acting Chairperson of Press Council Nepal Kishor Shrestha said the government brought the bill without consulting stakeholders.

He said the bill’s proposal to impose heavy fine on mediapersons for violating laws was wrong, as it could lead to closure of media outlets, particularly those that were not financially sound.

“It is true that there are rampant violations of code of conduct and media ethics but that does not mean that the violators should be imposed heavy fine,” Shrestha argued.

He also said that the bill proposes to relegate Nepal Media Council to a branch of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology as it proposes to form a committee under a government secretary to recommend the chairperson of Nepal Media Council.

“Until today such recommendations were made by a committee led by the speaker,” Shrestha said.

He said the bill proposed to curtail the autonomy of the council also because the council could enforce its rules and directives only with the consent of the line ministry.

Treasurer of the Federation of Nepali Journalists Rajesh Mishra said the bill’s provisions were aimed at punishing the press in the name of regulation which the journalists’ umbrella body would never accept.

“This bill intends to form a government-controlled Nepal Media Council which will be dangerous for press freedom,” he said and added that stakeholders in democratic countries were trying to promote self-regulation in the media sector and the same should be the norm in Nepal. Mishra said the bill’s provisions were in contravention of national and international norms and also the constitution of Nepal.

Professor of journalism P Kharel said the bill’s proposal to impose heavy fine on media professionals could curtail press freedom.