EDITORIAL: Impractical clauses

As the Media Council is related to the media outlets, its chair must come from among working journalists, not outside

After much criticism from all walks of life, including the media fraternity, civil society and human rights activists, the National Assembly Legislative Management Committee on Monday made major corrections on the punitive clause and adopted a fairly reconciliatory approach in the Media Council Bill, tabled by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology at the Upper House last year. Earlier, the ministry had proposed a fine of up to Rs 1 million against journalists, editors and publishers breaching the code of conduct issued by the council. The provision was dubbed as a government ploy to curb freedom of expression, guaranteed by the constitution, which has clearly stated that no press shall be seized or penalised for publishing any materials against anyone. The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) had even launched phase-wise protests against the bill. The panel amended the bill by removing the punitive provision. As per the provision, the council shall work to forge reconciliation if any dispute arises between a media outlet and the affected persons or parties. The new clause has allowed an affected party to move the court for judicial remedy for damage to its reputation, prestige and dignity. Such a dispute shall be settled by a regular court.

In the amended provision, the 11-member Media Council shall act as an autonomous body, which shall have representation from the FNJ, seven representatives from the seven provinces representing the print, online and broadcast outlets and university teachers in journalism. The new provision has set qualification criteria, under which the council chair should be a person who is eligible to become a Supreme Court justice, or a senior lawyer or a journalist having at least 15 years of working experience with extraordinary contribution to the sector. The amended bill has also removed a clause for a recommendation committee to be formed by the government. From now onwards, a person pursuing journalism must sit for a council exam to get a journalism licence.

While the amended bill deserves praise for removing the punitive clause against mediapersons and publishers, the bill still has some impractical provisions that need improvement. The condition that the council chair must have the qualification of an apex court justice or a senior lawyer and that a new entrant in journalism must sit for a council exam are impractical. The council should not be there to issue journalism licences. In a free society, the media outlets are competent enough to recruit the human resources they require. The council chair must come only from amongst the working journalists, not from outside. The ‘reconciliatory’ approach added in the amended bill is also inconsistent with the media code of conduct and international practices, as the bill has already allowed the affected person to move the court for legal remedy. The credibility of the media is judged not by the council, but solely by the public. The only job of the council should be to caution or draw the attention of media outlets if they breach the code. The government’s duty should be to bring about a broader media policy so that the media can sustain on their own strength.

Never again

To be honest, today’s youths know little about their country’s history, let alone what took place in countries far from the homeland. Although the Internet is a mine of information on any topic, without one having to buy a book or visit a library, unfortunately, it might not be used for the purpose intended. History is not a popular subject in Nepal’s colleges, and whatever is taught in school about world history will only skim through the different events in brief. How many of today’s youth will have heard about the Holocaust in which seven million Jews were systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany in concentration camps as part of the final solution to the Jewish race?

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, and it is good that the government, the United Nations in Nepal and several embassies have gotten together to educate students in 25 schools of the Kathmandu Valley about the horrors of the Holocaust. It was discrimination and intolerance that led to the Holocaust, and students must be made to understand that without justice, respect and compassion, there is every danger of that dark reality in history repeating somewhere on this planet.