At best, at worst

Some time ago, the Cabinet decided to stop putting out government notices and advertisements in the private print and electronic media. Now it has introduced a one-window policy of allocating them. It is reported that only those news media devoted to “showing full respect for the country, nationalism and the institution of monarchy as well as to protecting and promoting human rights and multiparty democracy” will get advertising support from the State. To be eligible, newspapers and broadcasting stations will also have to get a clean chit from the government-nominated Press Council for ‘fully honouring’ its code of conduct. Eligibility is subject to several other provisions too, such as the enforcement of the working journalists’ act and regulations, and having ‘transparent’ sources of investment in the media.

In principle, the one-window policy cannot be faulted. This concept has been applied to other sectors, too, such as business and industry, to facilitate the cumbersome bureaucratic process. The new policy would have deserved support if the motives behind the idea and, consequently, some of the provisions had not been of dubious merit. The government has set highly subjective criteria, such as ‘commitment’ to the nation, nationalism, and the institution of monarchy. Every citizen, and for that matter, all news media, are supposed to be patriotic, whether they receive advertisements or not.

But the main intention of this non-party government, whose constitutionality has been challenged by the major political parties as well as the international community, seems to be to reward those sections of the media which support it, and to make the critical sections toe its line by dangling the carrot and stick of advertising money. But those in power should understand that government money comes from the Nepali taxpayers, and it is both unfair and ugly to be misusing this money for their narrow political purposes. Certain criteria of the

new policy violate the spirit of the 1990 Constitution, under which every citizen has a right to dissent and criticise the policies and actions of the government or anybody holding a public post, howsoever high he may be. So the new policy is at best redundant and at worst anti-democratic.