Right to know

On Tuesday, Nepal observed the World Press Freedom Day, with hundreds of journalists taking part in a rally in the capital that defied the government’s prohibitory orders. As the silent rally dissolved into a mass meeting, the journalists shouted slogans against the government. The police used the discretion not to break up the rally or to use force, probably for fear of the adverse international repercussions. The observance holds significance for Nepal where the press now faces certain curbs, as many, including the International Federation of Journalists, have termed the lifting of the emergency merely as ‘an attempt to hoodwink the international community.’

Press freedom is necessary to make the body politic transparent and responsible. Those in power are likely to misuse their authority. The role of the media is to bring out the truth in order to correct the shortcomings in the government and in society. But in playing this role, the media should exercise some self-restraint to make themselves more responsible. The occasional spectacle of media houses indulging in the game of defaming and pulling each other down does not contribute to objectivity, either. But in these difficult times, the newspapers in the outlying districts face even more stringent, including informal, restrictions than those in the capital.

As for the political leaders, they tend to praise the media when they are in trouble. At present, for example, they look upon it as the vanguard of the struggle for democracy. This they did on Tuesday at the inaugural function of the 21st general convention of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists. The speakers included Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala and CPN-UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal. But most of them, when they were in power, saw the press as a nuisance at best and resorted to discrimination and other unhealthy practices against the critical segments of the press. No less important, they misused the state-owned media, financed with the taxpayers’ money, to serve their personal and partisan purposes, instead of shedding state control of those media. They should therefore do a bit of soul-searching. But finally, nothing can lessen the importance of the press freedom, which is nothing other than the people’s right to know.