EDITORIAL: Misguided move

The internet has emerged as an important space for individuals to gain access to information on on a wide range of issues, including sexuality and reproductive health

When a government misjudges policy and the public mood and is scared of public dissent, it resorts to control measures — a move which is very uncharacteristic of liberal democracy. And the Oli administration which has met with severe criticism for its below par performance on various fronts has found a ballyhooer in its spokesperson to make grandiose claims to cover up the bungles.  Banning web based contents is one such move. Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota on Sunday said “2.5 million porn sites have already been closed down and 300,000 more would be banned”. “I am working to make citizens civilised and cultured,” Baskota said. While imposing a blanket ban on porn sites on September 21, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said the internet had made it easy to access sexually explicit materials,   harming social values and harmony and encouraging sexual violence in Nepali society.

Minister Baskota’s claim that he wants to “make citizens civilised and cultured” sounds somewhat ludicrous. The perception that porn sites have ruined society and social values is unwarranted and preposterous. The entire premise is flawed, in that there is no credible and conclusive evidence to support the government claim that pornography results in a breakdown of social fabric, disrupts social values and encourages sexual crimes. The idea of banning porn sites and web-based contents appears to have come only as a reaction on the part of the government which was deluged with criticism for failing to protect girls and women from sexual crimes and making a bungle of immense proportions while investigating into the rape and murder of 13-year-old girl Nirmala Panta from Kanchanpur. Is it possible to ban the porn sites? Not at all. Experts say there always is a way to access the sites, even if they are banned. Hence any attempt on part of the government to put a blanket ban is but a futile exercise.

The current ban the government has imposed on certain websites is possible only with the help of internet service providers and telecom companies. But they can be easily bypassed with free web-based proxy servers. Then there are virtual proxy networks, or VPNs, which are virtual and secure tunnels that people can use to access almost any content on the web. This means the internet is fairly open, and the government seems to have completely misunderstood this fact. The most problematic of all is by imposing a ban on certain websites — those with pornographic contents in this context — the government has made a move towards curtailing individual liberty and freedom of choice and individual liberty. Why should it matter to the government if citizens access any web based contents of their choice for the reasons they do? The internet today has emerged as an important space for individuals to gain access to information on a wide range of issues, including sexuality and reproductive health. The government has absolutely misjudged the ground reality and its priorities seem to be misplaced. Instead of indulging in futile exercise, such as, banning sites, the government should rather focus on creating a safe and secure society for the citizens, for women, for girls.

Stick to decision

The government decided to end syndicate system in the public transportation sector in April forcing them to register with the Office of the Company Registrar (OCR) as tax-paying companies. Before the system was scrapped, the public transports were operating under a non-governmental committees registered with the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) and, they did not require paying taxes even if they earn from operating the public transport.

However, the government has not been able to fully implement its decision as most of public transporters are still operating under the committees and associations. They have now been given a final deadline to switch to the company model by end of mid-March next year as the DoTM is trying to address some genuine concerns raised by the transport operators making amendments to the Company Act. The government should have amended the law before it took a decision to this effect. If the government does not stick to its decision chances of its revival cannot be ruled out. Once they come under tax net the state raise billions of rupees as revenue and law also will protect workers’ rights. Nobody should be allowed to do business without paying taxes.