Freedom Forum submitted a 24-point attention letter to the Ministry of Information and Communications on 9 February, showing concern over the draft bill of proposed "Mass Communication Act, 2018". The letter was submitted to MoIC's Secretary, Kedar Bahadur Adhikari.
The letter mentioned that FF identified several points, which would make mass communication law impractical, unconstitutional and irrational therefore have suggested keeping the provisions within constitutional standards and uphold democratic practice.
FF has initiated an in-depth study of the bill for the review.
FF showed it concerns as - the proposed bill aims to revoke three existing acts related to communications sector namely, Press and Publication Act, 2048 BS, National Broadcasting Act 2048 BS and Working Journalist Act, 2051 BS.
Although the draft bill is said to be consolidated, aiming to keep mass communications sector fair, independent, transparent and professional in order to uphold the democratic practice, revoking these acts would tamper working journalists' rights.
Full text of the concern ---
January 29, 2018
The Government of Nepal has come up with a draft bill of "Mass Communications Act" that aims to revoke three existing acts related to communications sector namely, Press and Publication Act 2048 BS, National Broadcasting Act 2048 BS and Working Journalist Act 2051 BS.
As an institution working in the field of freedom of expression, communications and information for over a decade, Freedom Forum has serious concern over the draft bill.
The bill is said to be consolidated, aiming to keep mass communications sector fair, independent, transparent and professional in order to uphold democratic practice. Freedom Forum has following concerns regarding the draft bill-
1) This draft bill has been consolidated to regulate the entire communications sector in a single umbrella act. This is a positive and welcome step.
2) FF has reservation towards definition of the words like 'mass communications', 'journalist' and 'press representative'. It needs correction.
3) The bill has envisioned the establishment of National Mass Communications Authority for regulating license and professional ethics and promoting achieve and self-regulation. Although the concept of establishing authority is positive, the committee responsible for recommending the establishment of authority seems biased. Stakeholders must be consulted to determine rights, duties and responsibilities of the authority.
4) The draft bill has proposed that the authority shall have the right to distribute government advertisement. It is irrational and ludicrous in the context of current governance set up. .
5) FF has concern over the provision that mentions employees to the authority shall be provided by the State. This hampers the autonomy and independence of the authority.
6) Although the provision relating to new system of recording the newspaper is positive, old registration method has made it difficult. Also the documentation of publications from provincial and local level is centralized.
7) Proposed segregation made in relation to the management of newspaper has not considered the concept of Audit Bureau of Circulation which might continue government interferences and questions the relevance and existence of Press Council. This issue must be addressed seriously.
8) The bill provides ground for control of newspaper reasoning the legitimate restriction which is against the constitutional ground protection of newspaper.
9) Traditional and irrelevant provisions as compelling registration of printing press, issuance of certificate have been incorporated in the bill. Placing printing business under the regulation of mass communications in today's world is deplorable.
10) Some of the provisions in the draft bill aim at discouraging the creative use of new technology in broadcasting sector.
11) Double taxation system for fees and royalties in broadcasting sector has been continued in this bill as well.
12) Draft bill provides ground for the cancellation of permission letter for broadcasting banned news which draws serious concern.
13) Although broadcasting medium has been segregated as public broadcasting, community broadcasting and private broadcasting, there is no proper definition and ground for segregation. Also, community broadcasting has been made mandatory to advertise about local government.
14) Although the provision entitles consent for the periodic permission of radio, television frequency, the period classified seems improper and irrational.
15) One of the serious concerns over the bill is incorporation of controversial Online Media Operation Directive. The provision that compels for the registration, renewal, certification and commercialization of the online media platform draws a serious concern.
16) Bill revokes Working Journalist Act 2051 BS. With the annulment, rights of the journalists are also revoked. Although the act has been revoked, the committee formed to determine minimum wage for journalists still remains operational. This issue needs to be discussed thoroughly.
17) Section 45 of the bill has the positive provision relating to self regulation by the media house. But if this provision is invoked, there is no need and relevance of Press Council. But, still, the Council Act has not been revoked by this bill. This kind of double standard is irrelevant.
18) Another provision that draws serious concern is the provision for the press representative. The provision is same as before. Keeping the similar provision for certification of press representative by government creates accreditation in the media sector. This is against the fundamental norm of press freedom. This bill supports the provision of declaring the journalist by the State, which is an undemocratic practice.
19) Bill has similar provision for restriction regarding publication and broadcasting as per the constitutional standards, yet regulation of such restrictions is not mentioned clearly. Similarly, broadcasting against the restricted provisions is termed as criminal offence and treated as State party offence.
20) The bill has envisioned new institution such as mass communication training foundation, communication museum, information bank, journalist welfare fund etc which might create unnecessary financial burden to the government.
21) If this bill gets the status of an Act, currently operating media should also get re-registration. This provision invites unnecessary government interference.
22) This bill has incorporated many provisions relating to media, though the provisions are ambiguous and vague, which gives ground for the drafting of many by-laws and regulations that would ultimately suppress press/media freedom.
23) After the commencement of this Act, Press Council Act becomes irrelevant. Thus Press Council Act must also be revoked.
24) As per it, the books written in Nepal must also be registered which is again an irrational and ridiculous provision.
This is our initial response to the proposed Mass Communications Bill 2018. This bill needs to be discussed seriously; hence FF has initiated thorough study on it. We furnish our feedback to the concerned authority as soon as possible. This issue needs serious concern from the media fraternities, FoE advocates, citizen and political parties too.
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