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Harassment to journalists in crisis further deepens atmosphere to control media

Freedom Forum is alarmed over the continuous harassment and discouragement to the Nepali media and journalists, who are working in the forefront despite severe adversity caused by the COVID-19.

Press Council Nepal, a media content regulatory body, is learnt to have sought clarification from 39 media, alleging them of spreading misinformation.

Different media run from the capital city, Kathmandu, and those from the fosussil had disseminated a news story that a person suffering COVID-19 died in Province-5 on May 20. The media had quoted a Minister in Province-5 for the news.

Later on May 20 itself, the hospital, where the person was admitted, mentioned the man was still alive and in critical situation.

The man was declared dead on May 21. It was the third death caused by COVID-19 in Nepal. With this, the media corrected the news, seeking apology.

In response to this news, Press Council Nepal, sought the clarification from media and is also learnt to have written to Nepal Telecommunications Authority, and the Nepal Police, seeking to block and suspend news portals and take further action.

Press Council Nepal is the rightful body to check the contents of the news. But in the recent times, it has been repeatedly taking action on media and threatening journalists by suspending and blocking the news portals in the name of spreading false information/misinformation.

To this, FF is of the view that blocking and suspending media merely for disseminating news is against the constitution rights of freedom of expression, and press freedom. Similarly, misinformation must not be spread at all by the media. But, in the crisis, the media are at the receiving end of the mismanagement of information by the public offices and responsible officials. Despite quoting the Minister from Province-5, the information turned wrong which discredited media. At the same time, seeking action on journalists and suspending media by the Press Council Nepal has further harassed the journalists and discouraged media fraternity.

FF therefore urges the public bodies and responsible officials to pay adequate attention on management and sharing of sensitive information in crisis. Sharing information to media and seeking action on media for news is double standard. Media too are requested to cross verify the information.

At a time when the media has suffered much in the crisis, harassing and discouraging journalists would further deepen atmosphere to control media, where democratic rights are curtailed. So, media freedoms can not be compromised in the name of crisis.