EDITORIAL: Ensure media freedom 

The media council should be an autonomous body, free from state control and headed by someone familiar with the media 

The eight amendment proposals, now registered at the National Assembly by the lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties, are aimed at diluting some of the draconian provisions included in the Media Council Bill. Among others, the amendment proposals have sought to scrap the bill provision that levies a hefty fine, anywhere between Rs 25,000 and 1 million, on media outlets, publishers, editors, journalists and reporters for the publication of news that breaches the media code of conduct. The bill proposed by the government allows the Nepal Media Council to impose the fine should it be established through an investigation that the news content had damaged the reputation of the affected party. Instead of the fine, the lawmakers have called for mediation through a mediator or knocking the doors of the High Court by the aggrieved party. Another important amendment proposal wants the Media Council to be chaired by a person with at least 10 years’ experience in the field and a qualification equal to that of a Supreme Court Justice. However, a proposal to include two lawmakers – one from the main opposition and a woman – in the council as members is unlikely to go down well with the media fraternity.  

The amendment proposals have come following heavy opposition to the Media Council Bill, which the government had registered in the Upper House on May 10. The bill had drawn flak from all quarters, including journalists and other stakeholders for curtailing press freedom guaranteed by the constitution. The Federation of Nepali Journalists, backed by editors of different outlets and other stakeholders, launched protests for weeks to put pressure on the government to withdraw the bill, just like the Guthi Bill, saying it went against democratic norms and values. The bill proposes a government-controlled Nepal Media Council to replace the existing Press Council Nepal to squeeze press freedom, instead of empowering it. The bill has a provision that allows the formation of a committee under a government secretary to recommend the chair of the proposed media council, which makes it no better than a branch of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. It also proposes punishment in the form of suspension of the press pass of journalists and downgrading of a media outlet’s classification for violating the code of conduct.  

Any bill brought by the government should facilitate civil liberties, not constrict them. Both the government and the political parties seem to harbour a common conviction that the media should be controlled in some way, as it is the source of embarrassment, especially to the powers that be, when reports about corruption, anomalies and malpractices are brought to the fore. How the media sector should operate should be the affair of the media itself. Violation of the code of conduct should not be made a serious crime as the media themselves should be made to act as self-regulatory bodies. The media council should be an autonomous body, free from state control and headed by someone familiar with the media and having the respect of the media fraternity, instead of a cadre of the political party in power. Only then can we expect a free and vibrant press to foster. 

Health achievement 

Nepal has become successful in controlling Hepatitis B - one of the first four countries from South-east Asia to do so. For this, Nepal was facilitated by the World Health Organisation in New Delhi on  

Tuesday. Nepal is one of the six countries that has seen public health achievements in recent months in controlling Hepatitis B, and eliminating measles and mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.  

Sri Lanka was recognised for eliminating measles, and Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand for becoming the first four countries from the region to control Hepatitis B.   

WHO Regional Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh, while facilitating the member countries’ representatives for their achievements, said disease elimination had always been high on its agenda. Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver, which can cause scarring of the organ, liver failure and even cancer if it is not treated before it becomes chronic. It is spread when people come in contact with the blood, open sores, or body fluids of someone who has the Hepatitis B virus. Nearly 260,000 individuals were said to have been chronically infected with the disease in the country.