Legally indefensible

The suspension of the publication of Nepal Samacharpatra, a Nepali broadsheet daily, and Mahanagar, an eveninger, is highly worrying for those who value press freedom. In the past, many weekly and daily newspapers came and went, but those events evoked no more than passing public comment. Newspaper publishing is also a business and if it cannot make a profit for a long time it will have to fold up. This is pure common sense. But what has made the disruption in question alarming is the reason behind it — the pressure of newspaper delivery boys who are demanding union rights as employees of the Kamana Prakashan, the 23-year-old publishers of the above-mentioned dailies, although, in fact, the workers are the employees of another private company which has taken on the Group’s distribution on contract. The agitators’ demand is legally indefensible and constitutes a serious threat to freedom of the press. And those delivery boys are associated with the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Communication, Press and Publication Workers Association.

Various parties, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and the Press Council, in separate statements, rightly denounced the obstructionist role of the delivery boys. The FNJ called the disturbance an “infringement of the people’s right to information”. The management of the Consumer Solution, the distributor for the Kamana Publications, has made it clear that the workers who had been associated with the Kamana Group until it decided to hand over its distribution function to that company and that the delivery boys formally agreed to become the latter’s employees. The workers have the right to form a union, though, of course, not as the employees of the Kamana Prakashan but of the Consumer Solution.

Companies employ various practices as to the discharge of its various functions, and newspaper publishers do so, too. Some may deliver the paper to the subscribers’ doorsteps through their own delivery boys, others may contract out the job to an agency; some may employ their own drivers, others may hire drivers’ services from another company, and so on. Formerly the agitators may have belonged to the Kamana Group but at present their association with it is just that they distribute its publications working for a contractor. They can thus demand this right from the Consumer Solution with all justification. The failure to make this distinction lies at the root of the present trouble. However, if they want to do their job as the legal employees of the Kamana Group, they could talk to the Group’s management, which might consider their proposal. They should convince the management that this idea would serve the interests of both the management and the workers. But, first of all, it is necessary to halt the agitation and allow the publication of the papers to resume. Dialogue is the best means of dispute settlement. As the workers affiliated to the CPN-Maoist are involved, it is incumbent on the Maoist leadership to intervene to create conducive atmosphere for reconciliation.