A notable feature of the 22nd general convention of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) has been the raising of strong voices for an inquiry into the irregularities amounting to millions of rupees allegedly committed by FNJ office-bearers, and consequent formation of a committee to investigate the charges on the eve of the election. Outgoing president Bishnu Nisthuri has resigned as adviser as well as ordinary member of the FNJ pending the conclusion of the inquiry into the financial report submitted by the executive committee headed by him. Another feature has been the diminishing influence of the official candidates of political parties. Using the ‘official’ influence of the political parties alone was no guarantee of the support of the voters. Moreover, there was more than one candidate with close links to the same party for some of the top posts. A lot also depended on the personal appeal of the candidate concerned. The third important feature has been the campaign for one journalist one vote as against the flawed system whereby five to 10 ordinary members elect one national convention member with just a single vote to represent them all.
The new team will be judged by whether they are able to break with the existing image of the FNJ as a place where smart journalists use it for personal influence, for privilege, turning the FNJ into something of an NGO, winning projects of any kind that might bring in dollars. Though most of the new office-bearers are considered close to one party or other, they need to rise above such narrow considerations to develop the FNJ into a truly professional umbrella organisation for all the journalists in the country. There are still many journalists outside the FNJ system, because they feel no reason to identify with it. The new leadership will have to set an example of probity and transparency. The probe committee’s report should be carried out. It is a shame that the apex organisation of the journalists is wracked with financial scandal, while the journalists push for transparency and accountability in the dealings of others.
For the first time, the idea of giving every journalist the right to vote has drawn hundreds of signatures, including those of some two dozen FNJ chapter presidents. In making the FNJ truly representative, direct election under this scheme would go a long way. The existing system is an improved version of the Panchayat-era system under which journalists of small weeklies held sway over the FNJ. At a time when the country may well opt for direct election for President or Prime Minister there can hardly be any excuse for not making a switchover. This change would reduce the unhealthy influence of power centres and syndicates, and the people likely to work best for press freedom and the interests of journalists would have a much greater chance of election. The FNJ has sometimes appeared confused about some of the important issues, such as the definition of press freedom and editorial independence. It would have to display clarity and firmness in such matters of principle, besides ensuring the journalists’ various rights. Towards this end, the implementation of the Working Journalists’ Act should form the first major step.