The bottom line

Five days of disruption in the publication and distribution of The Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post by a Maoist trade union — All Nepal Communication, Press and Publication Workers Union — has ended after Wednesday’s stay order of the Patan Appellate Court directing the union to desist from obstructing the publication and distribution. The order will remain in force pending the final decision on the petition filed by the Asia Pacific Communication Associates (APCA) Nepal, the sole marketer for the two newspapers. The stay order is based on the court’s assessment that such obstruction violates the constitutional and legal right of the people to get information. At the same time, the court emphasised the need for amicable settlement of disputes. In another encouraging development on Wednesday, the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions gave an undertaking that it would not disrupt the printing and distribution of newspapers and close media houses while fighting for the rights of workers. MP Salikram Jamakattel, president of the federation, said: “We will opt for other forms of protest”.

The stay order has come as a huge relief for some other media organisations, too, that are facing similar workers’ agitations. As the basis for the stay order is the public’s right to know, it should therefore imply that media owners should also respect that right, except within specific conditions beyond their control. No grounds should be provided for charges of double standards. For instance, cable TV operators have threatened to take all channels off the air if their demands are not met. In future, the kind of the recent closure of Nepal Samacharpatra for four days might also provoke public questions — and probably court petitions — about the violation of the right to know. The Appellate Court’s order has also put on the management of media houses the responsibility of “moving seriously to resolve disputes through mutual discussion, understanding and credible mediation”.

Both legal rights — the citizen’s right to know and the workers’ right to fight for their rights — should be protected. Here, understanding of each other’s difficulties and legitimate positions is the key to resolving all disputes. This means the workers should put forward reasonable demands from various angles — legality, workers’ legitimate needs, the management’s capacity to meet them and other pertinent circumstances. In fairness to the workers, the management of any company should be willing to listen to their demands and try its best to respond positively to all legitimate ones. Attention may also be drawn to the danger of complacency in this regard. The worker agitation at media houses also stresses the need for setting up an effective conflict resolution mechanism and improving worker-management relations. The bottom line is: the company should survive and go on. Otherwise, all sides, including society, would stand to lose — probably the workers even more.