Keshav P Koirala

The media business has flourished in the country following the restoration of democracy in 1990. Since then the government’s monopoly in the field of information has been dented and the “journalism only for political motives” — that used to be carried on against the government earlier — transformed into “professionalism.” Moreover, the guarantee of media freedom by the Constitution has given birth to a number of media Houses, both in print and electronic sectors. Many loopholes and misdemeanours, however, have been noticed in this business. One key question that has often been raised is whether the Nepali media is really exercising the newfound freedom.

The political changes in 1990 appeared as a talisman for professional journalism. Following the constitutional norms, every citizen has the right to express his or her views. If one gets a licence for the publication of a newspaper, it cannot be seized. Anticipating that these provisions can be fertile soil for a profitable business, investors have been lured to put money in this field and finally the corporate culture has made a beginning in the media business. The business interest in the field of information, however, has given rise to many questions regarding the investors’ honesty in disseminating information. Is there not any bias while they provide information to the public?

However, if self-censorship restricts the freedom within the media, the owners and journalists of the media manufacture any information or news, distort facts or otherwise affect individuals and organisations unfairly, do such practices come within media ethics?

People get information from the media and it backs their right to know. The government too reiterates its commitment to this right. However, the media can easily deceive the audience. By deliberately providing or withholding certain news for ulterior motives, the media people may be misinforming the public, thus violating the fundamentals of their profession. There may be some impediments to easy and healthy flow of information from media to the public, for example, the editors’ prejudice and the publishers’ bias. If the news collected by the reporter is dumped only because of the editor’s personal prejudice, what can the poor reporter do? This will only violate the people’s right to know. Except for quitting the job, there is no alternative left for the reporter. And does it not restrict freedom within the media? And if someone wishes to challenge such dishonesty, there is no provision in the prevailing laws to give the aggrieved party justice. Journalism only for job and publication only for profit may not ensure the people’s right to know.

In this context, speaking at the First National Free Media Conference Nepal on “Freedom of Press and Media Laws” recently held in Lalitpur, journalist Gokul Pokhrel pointed out the need of the Right to Information Act. Though the conference identified 31 laws related to the media freedom for amendment, the modification of the existing laws is not sufficient in dealing with such discrepancies. Though there is a code of conduct for the media people, no one is obliged to follow it. This calls for strong legal measures to take account of these offences.