EDITORIAL: Malevolent move

The govt must understand any move against free media, the cornerstone of democracy, would boomerang on it

An oft-used quote of Thomas Jefferson, an American Founding Father and the principal author of Declaration of Independence is: “… were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Jefferson, the third US president, wrote it  in 1787 in a letter to Edward Carrington, a soldier and politician, laying emphasis on the idea of the need of media, which can have independent scrutiny of power. While powerful governments can set things in motion in a proper order, they at times also tend to create a controlled society. Any attempt to control independent media is tantamount to creating a controlled society. The KP Oli dispensation seems to be heading towards that direction.

When this government was formed in February, Nepali people had high hopes, as the country had finally achieved political stability. The Oli government, which is the most powerful one with a two-thirds majority in Parliament, is set to govern for a full five-year term, something which has not happened in the last more than two and a half decades. But in the last eight months, this government has largely failed in delivering on most of its promises. Some of its actions and decisions have made it to media headlines. Amid this, the Ministry of Communications and Information has come up with a circular calling on government entities to prioritise state-owned media outlets while selling advertisements. This clearly discriminates against the private sector media outlets. The ministry’s argument that the move is aimed at “facilitating state-owned media outlets” does not hold water. Then there is a swift decision to set the minimum salary for journalists. It is not that journalists should not be paid more, but the way the government has cobbled the two decisions together does smack of malevolence.

The move intends to deal a financial blow to the private sector media. But this is not only about financial revenues divided between the state-owned media entities and the private sector media houses. The decision is an utter disregard to the constitutional commitment of full freedom of press. This is even more dangerous. The government move looks like part of its step-by-step plan to control the media. Or else, how in a democracy can the government discriminate media outlets labelling them state-owned, private or public sector and community-run entities? What kind of message the government wants to send to the private sector when it shows such intolerant attitude towards private sector media? Never ever in Nepal’s democratic history has any government been this intolerant towards media. Independent newspapers and media are the cornerstone of every democracy. Democracy is a system that is guided by the principle of rule of the people by the people. Informed and educated people are the pillars of a functioning democracy. Independent newspapers and media help people make informed opinions and democracy thrives on people’s opinions. Controlling the media means undermining the people’s right to be informed and killing democracy softly. The government had better understand this.

Clear dues on time

Sugarcane farmers are elated that they will get paid the dues owed to them by sugar mills. After holding a meeting among the stakeholders including the sugar mill owners, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies on Monday directed the mill owners to releases the dues to the farmers within five days. The ministry’s directive was issued after the government agreed to raise customs tariff on sugar to 30 per cent from previous 15 per cent and also agreed to impose a quantitative restriction on sugar limiting it to 100,000 tonnes for this fiscal. These were the two key demands of the domestic sugar mills.

However, the mills owners have now said they would be able to pay the dues to the farmers only after Dashain. The government took the unpopular decisions despite the public outrage to support the mill owners so that they can payback their outstanding dues to the farmers on time. The mill owners cannot delay the payment to the farmers as they already have recouped their losses by selling their stock. Paying back the dues to the farmers will mean getting more support from the government in the future as well.