TOPICS : Democracy and a free press

A free press and democracy are so interlinked that one cannot exist without the other. After February 1, many restrictions have been put on the civil rights and freedom of the press, even after the lifting of the emergency. Many Nepali journalists have been displaced, threatened, imprisoned, forced to quit their jobs after the imposition of the emergency. The condition of the journalists working outside Kathmandu was even more miserable, as both the Maoists and the government authorities frequently targeted them. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) has been launching various programmes to oppose the government’s ban on FM news, indirect censorship, introduction of restrictive press laws and harassment of journalists. However, there has been criticism from some quarters that FNJ has become a tool of the political parties. But to advocate the freedom of expression is not campaigning for any party.

We should not forget that during the 1990 Movement, the Nepali press played an important role that helped to restore democracy. But many people including party leaders forgot the role of media as soon as they came to power. It is natural for the news media to become anti-establishment. In fact, a free press is the voice of the voiceless and power of the powerless. Had the leaders realised this, they would have privatised government-owned newspapers. But they realised this only after they were overthrown. The Constitution has specifically included freedom of expression and the right to hold opinions and right to information, which are basic characteristics of democracy. But during the past 15 years, the right to information did not really come into force in the absence of supporting legal framework. Many international media organisations, including the International Federation of Journalists and Committee for Protection of Journalists, have been raising a voice for press freedom in Nepal. A high-level international media mission recently visited Nepal and expressed their solidarity to Nepali journalists’ fight for press freedom. Transparency, good governance, participation, corruption control are impossible unless there is complete press freedom.

A new organisation of journalists called National Journalists’ Federation (NJF) has recently come into being as the government felt a need for a group of media persons to create public opinion in its favour. During a gathering in the presence of Information and Communication Minister Tanka Dhakal, NJF accused FNJ of becoming a tool of political parties and claimed that NJF would promote professional interest. But the majority of the journalists have questioned whether the new organisation was formed to promote professionalism or to promote regression by being a tool of the present establishment?

A split in the journalists’ body will only create chaos and weaken professionalism in the media. Journalists can in no way oppose their own rights and freedom. It is only in a democratic society that the media can be free and flourish.