EDITORIAL: Don’t gag the press

A govt-appointed body can never qualify to monitor the Nepali media, unless the government’s intention is to gag it and have it tow its line

The government’s bid to control the media through a new bill that has just been registered in the Parliament has kicked up a storm already, and it would be in its interest to withdraw it at the earliest. The bill on constituting the Nepal Media Council is aimed at silencing the media by slapping heavy fines, of upto Rs 1 million, on media outlets, editors and journalists if they are found ‘damaging someone’s reputation’. The free media in Nepal has never been establishment-friendly, often annoying it to the extent possible. Hence, the new bill’s provisions are aimed at punishing the press under the veil of regulating it. The bill intends to have total government control of the council, which will be dangerous for press freedom. Should the government succeed in pushing the bill through the Parliament, it will be no more than a toothless wing of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, working at its beck and call. Doing away with the practice that is in vogue, a committee headed by a government secretary is to recommend its chairperson, making him or her just another member of the bureaucracy. Secondly, the council will no longer be in a position to enforce its rules and directives without the approval of the line ministry.

True, there have been violations of the media code of conduct at times, and media ethics has also been compromised. But then, the history of the free press in Nepal dates only from 1990, with the ushering in of multi-party democracy in the country after overthrowing the partyless Panchayat system. And in the last thirty years, if there is one sector that has seen phenomenal progress, it is the media. The media has not lagged behind in informing the public of day to day events and taking up issues that are often a source of uneasiness to the government, business community and others. If the government thinks that by controlling the media all things will fall in place, then it is making a big mistake. The provisions of the bill go against the national and international norms and also the constitution of Nepal.

A government-appointed body can never qualify to monitor the Nepali media, unless the government’s intention is to gag it and have it tow its line. The constitution of the Nepal Media Council cannot be like the constitutional commissions, which are often headed by a retired judge or a bureaucrat. The council’s chairperson should be someone with media experience, and the government should have no business in his or her appointment. The government must understand that the media is responsible to its readers, or rather the public, not to the authorities. The weaknesses that are inherent in the media must be addressed, no doubt, and for this the media industry should come together to appoint a strong regulating, monitoring mechanism to enforce the code of conduct. One way to hold the media to account could be to strengthen the Libel and Slander Act, for instance. The media houses could also bolster their in-house mechanisms. The essence of democracy lies in building consensus among the stakeholders. In this, the government seems to have erred by registering the bill in the Parliament.

Set up blood banks

Most of the remote districts in Far-West and Karnali provinces do not have blood banks. This has caused great difficulty to the patients, who need fresh blood to save their lives. Due to the absence of blood banks, mostly the new mothers and others who have to undergo surgery suffer the most. When the patients need fresh blood, it is the security personnel of the Nepali Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force who provide fresh blood to the patients.

A report from Bajura said a new mother of Pudasain village was rushed to a nearest health post following excessive bleeding while giving birth to a baby. But she was referred to the district hospital as her treatment there was not possible. However, doctors at the Martadi-based district hospital could save her life after receiving fresh blood from an AFP man. Every time a civilian needs fresh blood in the remote districts, it is only the security personnel who donate blood to save the lives of the locals. Considering the plight of the local people, it has become imperative that the provincial governments take the initiative to set up blood banks at convenient locations so that needy patients could get fresh blood easily.