Nepal | November 15, 2019

EDITORIAL: Don’t stifle dissent

The Himalayan Times

If the government thinks it can regulate the social media through fear of punishment, it is making a big mistake

There is growing concern among human rights groups, both regional and global, that the new legislation regarding social media use, which has been tabled in the Federal Parliament, is meant to stifle dissent, and the government, which likes to believe it is a democratic one, has the moral obligation to assuage those fears. Since the Oli government came to power a year ago, riding on the back of a near two-thirds majority, it has given the impression that instead of promoting the people’s right to information and freedom of expression in the country, as enshrined in the constitution, it is actually working against it through a series of new legislation. The only reason why the government should be introducing legislation to curb freedom of expression could be its intolerance of the criticisms of its poor performance on nearly all fronts, in particular the economy and the law and order situation. The government has been unable to stem the tide of criticism on the social media sites, which has done extreme harm to both its image and reputation.

In a bid to control social media content, the government on February 20 tabled the Information Technology Bill in the Federal Parliament, with harsh provisions that include long prison terms and heavy fines for failure to abide by the government rules. The bill empowers the government to block social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for failing to register their platforms in Nepal and also instruct their operators to remove certain posts. Posts deemed defamatory or against national sovereignty carry prison terms of up to five years. A bill tabled earlier in February prohibits civil servants from writing comments on social networking sites that are contrary to the policies of the government or undermine the mutual relationship between the government and the people or relations with any foreign country. This applies even after retirement from government service. It also bars them from giving classified information on national sovereignty, national security and criminal investigation. While such provisions do exist in other countries also, words like national sovereignty sound rather vague, and could be interpreted in anyway.

It must be apparent to the government by now that it is not easy to control or regulate the social media platforms. Its attempts at banning even the porn sites have failed miserably and has concluded that this cannot be done. Just recently, another bid to remove a satirical song highly critical of the government from YouTube has only earned the government much ridicule. So instead of engaging in the futile exercise to curb the people’s inherent right to voice their opinions publicly, it would do the government a lot more good to respect criticism and dissent, essential attributes for an open and democratic society, and take them constructively. If the government thinks it can regulate the social media through fear of punishment, it is making a big mistake. Fear will give rise to resentment and hatred, which ultimately will hurt the stability of the government. If the government genuinely wants to regulate online content, then let this be transparent and through wide consultations.


Waiting sheds

Passenger waiting sheds are in a dilapidated condition in Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC). Commuters get drenched by the rain or scorched by the summer sun for want of a suitable shed, which is also not available at all the bus stands. Considering the plight of the passengers, the KMC is all set to build smart waiting sheds along the major roads to ease their hardships. KMC has said around 60 waiting sheds will be built at convenient places. Four private companies have applied for their construction, for which they will be allowed to use digital display for the publicity of their goods and services. The firms will also pay royalty to the metropolis.

The KMC should also repair and renovate the old ones with provision of lighting, toilets and drinking water facilities. No vendor should be allowed to use these spaces. All the waiting sheds to be built must be of equal size and shape. They should also display on the screen which bus is going to which destination. Equally important is for the public buses to stop and pick the commuters only from the designated stands. The KMC’s move to work in the interest of the passengers is laudable. The work must, however, be carried out only after conducting a thorough study.

 


A version of this article appears in print on March 11, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.


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