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Functioning of “Free and Independent Press” still in Limbo

 JUNE 30, 2010  nepals-press-freedom-from-2009-may-to-2010-may 

Nepali media and media workers continue to face constant threats to their personal and professional safety and institutional security despite peaceful change in the political atmosphere followed by the establishment of democratic governments.

The lives of journalists who take up responsibility of imparting information to people have been increasingly in risk for covering and publishing news. Journalists are compelled not only to experience inhuman torture and life-threatening assaults, but also to face deaths when they dare to report the wrong doings of political parties, sectarian interest group and even government officials. The acts of impunity are simply rising unabated as the state security apparatus is ineffective in dealing with the breach of law and order situation. As a result, journalists are experiencing a hard time to freely exercise constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression and, thus, are compelled o compromise their rights for personal security. During the period of a year from May 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, journalists and media houses throughout the country came across a total of 169 incidents of press freedom violations mainly due to the effect of their works. Over the period, two media entrepreneurs, including Chairperson of Space Time Network Jamim Shah, 47, and Publisher of Janakpur Today Arun Kumar Singhaniya, 50, were shot dead in a broad daylight in two separate incidents on February 7 and 30, respectively. The two murder incidents occurred in the gap of three weeks serves as the testimony that crime against media has increased posing a serious threat to free and professional journalism. The Monitoring Desk of Freedom Forum has recorded 26 incidents of physical attacks on journalists, 16 death threats, 27 misbehaviors, 2 cases of suspension from media house, 9 cases of vandalism (media house, vehicles and equipments), 20 threats, 31 manhandle, newspapers burn 9, including other press freedom violation incidents largely from youth wings of political parties, security personnel and sectarian interest groups. The trend of burning newspapers and torching press vehicles, and death threats to journalists to show resentment and vengeance have emerged as serious problem before press freedom during the period. More than 10 incidents of obstruction were recorded and 4 journalists had to flee from their workplace due to the effect of their writing. The total number of journalists affected directly from the anti-press incidents during the period is 215, according to the Desk Report. Dozen of journalists were attacked, issued death threats, their offices ransacked, working stations closed, publications halted, their vehicles set ablaze and distribution and transmission were obstructed. The major incidents recorded during the period are brutal physical attack on woman journalist Tika Bishta in Rukum, attacks on the Kantipur Publication in Kathmandu and Sama Printers printing The Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post in Lalitpur, assault and subsequent displacement of journalists Lavdev Dhungana and Kumar Ojha in Panchthar, death threat to Kantipur Publications Chairperson Kailash Sirohiya, Director Rameswor Thapa and its Editors, ban on circulation of  newspapers (Republica, Nagarik and Annapurna Post) in Pokhara, among others. Burning copies and setting ablaze the press vehicles of The Kathmandu Post, Kantipur, Nagarik, Republica, The Himalayan Times, Annapurna, Nepal Weekly, Aaujar Daily, and other newspapers from bandh enforcers, agitators and hooligans in various parts of the country was also deemed the serious obstruction to the functioning of free press thereby people's right to know. Mainly journalists working in central, eastern and far-western region and southern plains of Nepal had faced series of threats, obstructions, attacks, arson and displacements. Journalists were forced either to write favourite reports of these groups’ activities or to not publish the news exposing their wrongdoings. It is the responsibility of the state to devise necessary actions to curb press gagging activities and ensure congenial atmosphere where journalists could freely enjoy their rights and discharge their duty to contribute to an informed citizenry thereby develop a critical mass. But the government seemed indifferent to come up with effective measures to protect press; almost no one who involved in anti-press incidents were not even brought to book and taken actions. The murderer of media entrepreneurs were also scot-free from any actions for their crime. Resultantly, It contributed the culture of impunity to grow triggering self-censorship in journalism-which is another big threat to media to play the true role of watchdog. Despite repeated commitments for press freedom and freedom of expression from the political parties, Nepali media has been tremendously suffered from the indecent manners and obstructions by their youth wings and sister organizations. Specifically, media and media workers faced serious blow from the cadres of UCPN (Maoist) and its sister organizations-which was established as a big party from the Constituent Assembly (CA). The free press did not get respite from the assaults and obstructions by the cadres of present ruling parties, including Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, RPP, Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Democratic (MJF-D). This situation remained a menace to free and professional press to get involved on in-depth and investigative reporting. Besides this, in some incidents, media were also found not practicing decent journalism which also caused organized and deliberate assaults on media in different parts of the country.

All in all, growing culture of impunity, deteriorating law and order situation, partisan intervention and unprofessional journalism were the major factors contributing to such trend of press freedom violations in Nepal. Mass media without full press freedom are like human beings without oxygen and the strength of free media lies on contributing mass to make their opinion and facilitate civic engagement thereby promoting pluralism and democracy. The number reflects the unrelenting situation of press freedom in Nepal which calls daunting actions from all stakeholders to materialize the guarantee of the functioning of free and professional press. It is the right time to put on our collective efforts for the common cause of pres freedom and freedom of expression since World Pres Freedom Day is being celebrated across the world today (May 3) with the theme of “Freedom of Information; the Right to Know”.

For more information,
Freedom Forum
01-4102030/ 4102022