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Freedom Forum organizes programs on Mass Media Law

Dr Russomano from US Shares Experiences

Associate Professor Dr Joseph Russomanno of the Arizona University, USA, who arrived in Kathmandu on July 23, 2011 shared his experience on media law, provided theoretical and practical aspects of free press in the US and garnered information about Nepal's media landscape. He visited Nepal's media houses, held interaction, meetings and talk programs with media experts, government officials, legal practitioners, journalists and students of journalism and mass communication for four days (25-28 July) in Nepal.

Meeting
On July 25, Mr Russomanno had a lunch meeting with the Freedom Forum at 12:30 where he was apprised of media laws and ongoing developments in media as what the new constitution should mention/include about media freedom, reform on broadcasting sector, and print media regulations in Nepal. Freedom Forum Chairman Taranath Dahal informed him about the issues.

Similarly, a discussion meeting was held with the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) at the Media Village Shinamangal for two hours from 2:00pm same day. During the informal talk, Mr Russomanno garnered information how FNJ was ensuring freedom of expression constitutionally. As many as 25-30 persons including General Secretary of the FNJ, Om Sharma and other central committee officials, presidents of FNJ local branches, editors and Chairman of Press Council Nepal, Narayan Prasad Sharma and Council employees, Director General of the Department of Information Laxmi Bilas Koirala, Director Basanta Chitrakar and the employees had attended the discussion meeting where the issues as print media regulation, constitutional issues, press council and code of ethics, broadcasting regulations were discussed.
Communication Officer at the US Embassy in Nepal, Heather Steil and Freedom Forum Chairman Taranath Dahal had moderated the program.

Mr Russomanno had a breakfast meeting with the broadcasters and chiefs of the broadcasting agencies on July 26. During the two-hour long informal meeting, seven broadcaster chiefs including Chairman of Broadcasters' Association of Nepal Bishnu Hari Dhakal, Chairman of Television Association of Nepal RK Manandhar, and broadcasters Gopal Guragain, Pravat Rimal, Gopal Jha, Min Bahadur talked about their agencies and the movements in Nepal. They shed light on the broadcasting law, community radios and their challenges in Nepal. On the occasion, visiting Associate Professor Russomano shared the information about how the radios and TVs are monitored in the US.

On July 27, Mr Russomanno garnered information with Secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communication, Shreedhar Gautam. He asked Secretary Gautam what sorts of media Nepal had, if they were free and needed to be regulated. Mr Gautam informed him that there were two sorts of media- state-owned and private. He was informed on the occasion that Nepal government was planning to consolidate all media with an umbrella law. Secretary Gautam made it clear that Nepal government was/is always committed to media/press freedom. Personally, he said he was not for the regulation of free media.

Visit and Interaction
Mr Russomano also acquired information about the state-owned Radio Nepal and held discussion on broadcasting sector reforms by meeting Executive Director of the Radio Nepal Tapanath Shukla and the officials on July 26. On the occasion, Mr Shukla said due to the inadequate budget, Radio Nepal was facing problems to provide much more public service contents. Although the political parties give words for the upliftment of the Radio Nepal, their inaction has led to the status quo. As the country was going through the transitional phase, taking the Radio Nepal to the PSB model was uphill task though it was need of the hour, Mr Shukla added. Associate Professor Russomanno suggested Radio Nepal to convince the political sector for its upliftment. Even a question and answer session between the visiting Associate Professor Russomanno and the Radio Nepal officials was held during the interaction. He also visited the Radio Nepal.
In the evening, he visited Kantipur publications and talked to the working journalists about their works and shared experiences.

Similarly, he visited the State-owned Nepal Television (NTV) and interacted about broadcasting sector reform with special focus on transformation of Nepal Television into PSB. Information Officer at the US Embassy Heather Steil introduced the Speaker. Chief Program Officer at NTV, Rajendra Dev Acharya informed there was positive response from the government to take the NTV to the PSB model. The NTV was always accountable to the people, he informed Mr Russomanno, adding that though it was State-controlled media it was keeping connection between the government and people. He was also informed that the NTV was working as a national channel.

Talk Program
Similarly, on July 26 afternoon, Mr Russomano made a PowerPoint presentation at a talk program with the lawyers, legal practitioners and office bearers of Nepal Bar Association (NBA). The program was held at NBA, Babarmahal. NBA Chairman Prem Bahadur Khadka presided over the program while General Secretary Bijay Mishra welcomed the guest and participants and member Gopal Krishna Ghimire facilitated the program. On the occasion, he shared his ideas about online/internet regulations. The program was coordinated by the Freedom Forum and organized by NBA. More than 50 lawyers had participated in the program. Even a question and answer session was held on the occasion.
On July 27, Associate Professor Russomanno visited Kantipur City College, Putalishadak in the morning and made a PowerPoint presentation on journalism and mass communication at a talk program with the MA students of Journalism and Mass Communication. On the occasion, the students had raised questions about the role of American media on Iraq War. He admitted that all American media did not do well in this regard.  Meanwhile, Chairman of School of Humanities and Sciences in the College, Professor Ram Krishna Regmee, and Department Head Mr Mohan Nepali highlighted Nepali media situation.

He also held interaction with faculty members, principal and department heads of the college.

Interview
He also gave an interview to Yekraj Pathak, editor at the National News Agency (RSS) on Nepali media situation at Hotel Radisson on July 27. On the occasion, he said failure to implement the existing laws concerning press freedom had made Nepali press feel miserable. Citing the tendency of influencing media by political parties even in America, he said any attack on the press was crime. He suggested that Nepali political parties should work for guaranteeing press freedom in new constitution to make it impossible for the government to snatch press freedom even if it wants.
He also gave an interview to Nepal Television.

Seminar
There was a seminar on Mass Media Law on July 28. The seminar was organized jointly by the Freedom Forum and Public Affairs Section, US Embassy Nepal in the Hotel de'La Annapurna. Presided over by Freedom Forum Chairman Mr Dahal, Freedom Forum member Sanjeev Ghimire welcomed the guests and participants while Information Officer of the Embassy Heather gave background information of Associate Professor Dr Russomanno.
Expressing gratitude to Nepali media and journalists that he got opportunities to learn about the media landscape in Nepal, he made a PowerPoint presentation on sources of US law, US constitution, mass media regulation, content-based regulations, US broadcast regulation history, Radio Act of 1927, Communication Act of 1934, US Broadcast Regulation history, and other electronic media regulation.

On the occasion he said the US constitution was written after American Revolution and influenced by the enlightenment period. Broadcasting media was the most regulated media in US, he said, adding the blogger in US is considered irresponsible. He further said media regulation was for promotion of media responsibility.

After the PowerPoint presentation, the participants in the seminar had put forth various questions which Mr Russomanno tried to answer. A participant Murari Shivakoti had inquired about the FCC (America) in the context of Nepal's mushrooming radio station. In response, Mr Russomanno said FCC had nothing to do with content. There was very little similarity between FCC of America and Nepal Press Council. Similarly, Prahlad Raj Pokhrel had needed suggestion for the upliftment of Nepali media while Gopal Jha inquired his views on humour in press; Kundan Aryal asked for his suggestion for license issue; Shree Bhakta Wagle inquired about license to the radio operator; Tanka Aryal about other (except first amendment of US constitution) legal provision on media restriction in the US; Yamu Kandel asked whether there was any media law on gender. Dr Manju Mishra asked him whether the journalists were paid equally in US.

To their response, Mr Russomanno said first, the constitution in Nepal should guarantee press freedom and speech freedom for the promotion and protection of media freedom. The first amendment of US constitution had guaranteed humour and satire. Licensing should be apolitical; no license was needed for radio engineer/operator; no veteran journalists in the US had any specific training on journalism; there was no separate media law on gender; there was minimum wage fixed to labours of all sorts in America and the no any special court but the Supreme Court was seeing all sorts of cases including the press related ones.

Finally, Freedom Forum Chairman Dahal thanked Mr Russomanno for sharing his country's media law situation to the Nepali journalists, lawyers, media persons and government officials, and other stakeholders. He hoped that Mr Russomanno's presentation had enlightened the participants with US media practices and related laws.
As many as 70 persons working in the media and law sectors had attended the seminar.

Various Nepali media including the National News Agency (RSS), Nepali Television and the Rising Nepal, the Gorkhaptra, the Kathmandu Post, and the Samacharpatra dailies had covered the news about the talk program, interviews and seminar.

All programs, interaction and discussions were organized by the Freedom Forum in collaboration with the Public Affairs Section, US Embassy.

These programs are expected to render effects and impact on Nepali media on how media can build democratic society by understanding America's theoretical, philosophic and practical aspects of free press.