Voice of concern

A conglomeration of global media associations has voiced concern over the status of media freedom in Nepal. The members of the mission who visited Biratnagar, Butwal, Nepalgunj and Mahendranagar to assess the ground realities were convinced that since February 1 the state of media freedom had significantly worsened. It held all combatants in the on-going conflict responsible for the slide and found that district-based journalists were affected the most, an observation the mediapersons at home will readily vouch for. The mission has also asked for assurance from the palace and the government that media freedom be fully respected throughout the Kingdom.

Indeed, the post-February state of media freedom in Nepal is markedly different from the one that thrived in post-1990 period. Maoist rebels have killed, captured or intimidated scribes while the latter have also often come under fire from the security agencies in the run-up to the royal takeover. Meanwhile, not all journalists, as a matter of rule, carried out their duties impeccably, as required by journalistic code and creed. But a few instances illustrating erosion

in journalistic standards cannot be the excuse for either the state or the rebels to interfere with the process of reporting news and presenting views. Not all of what a scribe reports could be to everybody’s taste but interference in the process of disseminating what might be unpalatable to a party amounts to stopping the messenger. It is an infringement of the right to freedom of expression.

In asking the parties in conflict to respect the freedom of expression, the global mission has only sought to preserve the conducive environment for the Fourth Estate to prevail in Nepal, a pattern true democracies have always upheld. The mission was far from convinced about the ban on FM radios to broadcast news saying such a practice was routine in other countries. It was only being practical in telling the government not to introduce new ordinance overriding the existing media legislation. Meanwhile, media associations in Nepal have been quite successful in keeping the heat on the need for a free and functional press in the country. A constant vigil by the international community would sustain the pressure on the parties concerned at home to respect media freedom.