Freedom Forum condemns government’s decision to shutdown seventeen additional online news portals on March 31 after imposing ban on five online news portals earlier on March 22.
According to Online Journalists Association, Press Council Nepal, a media regulatory body, had written to the National Telecommunication Authority to restrict access to those online portals from the country for 'spreading hoax' on Covid-19.
The Council wrote to the authority alleging media for spreading misinformation about Covid-19 pandemic and creating panic among the public.
Meanwhile, the Council had asked clarification from 37 media including News 24 Television and Rajdhani daily for 'broadcasting and publishing wrong information about the Covid-19'. FF is closely monitoring the case.
Council must not act arbitrarily; it has not made its monitoring methodology transparent to dub any news misinformation. Yes, it is rightful body to monitor the content but in the name of monitoring content, blocking media is deplorable. Also, in the name of misinformation, journalists must not be panicked and media controlled.
Press Council is eligible to ask for clarification to the concerned media and help those improve their contents but such action of banning online news portals is unconstitutional as Nepal’s constitution itself guarantees rights to free press and freedom of expression, argues FF’s Executive Chief Taranath Dahal.
To this, FF observes, “Government’s action to stop media from publishing fake news is acceptable but such blanket approach adopted to block the sites will suppress the freedom of expression”.
Hence, FF urges concerned authority to respect the rights to press freedom and freedom of expression. At this time of crisis, instead of taking one-sided decision, formation of a certain mechanism with participation of wider stakeholders can be mulled to ascertain fake news.
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