Regressive media bill passed allowing government to confiscate communication equipment

 KATHMANDU/MAN Monitoring Desk: The provincial assembly of Province number 2 of Nepal has passed a regressive media bill allowing the provincial government to confiscate the equipment of the media house.  A ‘bill to make arrangements for the provincial media’ has been passed by the provincial assembly on June 27. Sections 62 and 63 of the bill have provisions to confiscate communication equipment used for printing newspapers and operating online news portals respectively.

 Section 62, which prohibits publishing and distributing newspapers,  and printing Nepalese edition of foreign newspapers without registration as per sub-section 2 of section 19 states that the equipment used for publishing the newspapers will be confiscated with a fine of Nepalese rupees  10,000 to 20,000 depending on the nature of the offense. Similarly, section 63 has a provision to fine up to Nepalese rupees 20,000 and confiscate equipment of online media if they are found to be operating without registration as per section 20 or if they do not post website  details on the front page subsequent to section 24.

Meantime, responding to the provincial assembly decision, Mr. Laxman Datt Pant, Chairperson of Media Action Nepal (MAN) urged lawmakers of the provincial assembly to consider Nepal’s constitutional provisions on free press and her commitments to international treaties including that of the Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) while drafting laws relating to media.

Article 19 of the Constitution of Nepal beginning with a marginal note of “Right to Communication” envisages that “There shall be no prior censorship of publications and broadcasting, or information dissemination, or printing of any news item, editorial, article, feature, or other reading material, or the use of audio-visual material by any medium, including electronic publication, broadcasting and printing.” Sub-section 2 of the Article  states that “If there is any broadcasting, publishing or printing, or dissemination of news, article, editorial, feature, or other material through the medium of electronic equipment or the use of visuals or audio-visuals, no radio, television, online publication or any kind of digital or electronic equipment, or press, or other kind of media outlet, shall be closed, seized, or their registration cancelled for publishing, or transmitting, or broadcasting such material.”

It is to be noted that these provisions slam any form of seizure and closure of media outlets and by drafting the provincial media bill against these provisions, the provincial assembly has violated principles of free press in democracy. "Provisions on the media bill to confiscate media equipment are inconsistent to the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal and jeopardize Nepal's commitments to free press," Pant added.