EDITORIAL: Press freedom anxiety

To demonstrate that it will work as per the spirit of the Constitution, the govt has no option but to amend some of the draconian provisions

Even decades after multi-party democracy, which promised all the inherent tenets of the system, was ushered in the country, institutionalising press freedom is still proving to be problematic. Although governments, both past and present, have said they would respect freedom of the press, it seems only lip service is being paid to it, with them frequently trying to curb such freedom through legal instruments. The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) in a report has noted that the year 2018 was not an easy year for media houses and journalists as the government frequently targeted them in a bid to curb press freedom. The Communication Monitoring Unit of the FNJ recorded as many as 58 cases of press freedom violations during the year. Actually, this could be seen as a big improvement from the previous year when the country recorded 73 such violations, but this does not provide much solace to the media operating in the country. Figures at times can be misleading, and that perhaps explains why as per the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, Nepal’s ranking slipped to 106th position with 32.05 points. The previous year, Nepal had ranked 100th with 33.02 points among 180 countries.

Last year, hordes of journalists were attacked, threatened or intimidated by the state. In some cases they were barred from reporting news of programmes. Four media houses were seized, and one journalist, working for a Bajura-based radio in the  far-west, has disappeared without a trace since August 26. All these anti-press activities definitely do not augur well for the image of the government, both nationally and internationally. Of particular concern to the fourth estate in Nepal are some provisions of the Criminal Code Act and Civil Code Act that came into effect on August 17 this year after being passed by Parliament a year earlier. The provisions, for instance, prohibit disclosing private information without permission, including private information on public figures; prohibit photographing a person outside of a public space without their consent; and criminalises satire that disrespects an individual. The Electronic Transactions Act is just as worrisome.

To demonstrate that it will work as per the spirit of the new Constitution, the government has no option but to amend or revise some of the draconian provisions in the related acts to guarantee complete press freedom. While the government has the obligation to live by the Constitution, the media must also play its role of a watchdog to see that no attempts are being made to compromise on press freedom. The Criminal Code Act and Civil Code Act were passed by the Parliament a year before they were implemented. It is shocking that the press did not smell a rat in them and made a hullaballoo only after they went into force. This is a grave dereliction on the part of the media and related stakeholders. However, following much hue and cry, both inside and outside the country, the government formed a task force to solicit suggestions on how the Acts could be made more media-friendly. It has submitted its report to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and, hopefully, the recommendations will be looked into to the satisfaction of the press.

Local initiative

The first ever National Climate Change Summit, organised at Gufadanda in Sindhupalchowk district, ended on Tuesday by adopting a 10-point “Common Sindhu” declaration. “Clean Nepal, Healthy Nepali” was the main theme of the two-day summit, organised by the District Coordination Committee Federation, and participated in by all the chiefs and deputy-chiefs of all the 77 districts. The declaration lays emphasis on raising awareness on the impact of climate change on social life, giving priority to community-based climate-resilience measures.

Rising global temperature is the major concern of all. Burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. While the developed countries, including the USA, and China, are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emission, least developed countries like Nepal, which release the least amount of carbon into the atmosphere are at the receiving end as our Himalayas are melting fast due to the global warming. The developed countries have moral obligation to pay compensation to Nepal and help the country mitigate the impact of climate change.