Amend IT Bill to protect independent journalism

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KATHMANDU: Media Action Nepal (MAN), a research based media rights organization working for the promotion of independent and accountable media is deeply concerned on the restrictive provisions of the controversial Information Technology Bill. The Bill passed on December 29, 2019 ignores the fundamental rights provisions of the Nepal’s Constitution and the international human rights treaties particularly the Articles 12, 19 and 28 of the Constitution and the Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, said Laxman Datt Pant, Chairperson of Media Action Nepal. The provisions within the Bill are restrictive to freedom of expression and discourages investigative and independent journalism, Pant added.

The Bill is a replacement of the Electronic Transaction Act which was used to silence the freedom of expression. This Bill in its form though looks to control cyber content particularly governments’ criticism on social media including Facebook, Twitter and the YouTube, it is substantively targeting to the journalistic content produced/prepared by the newspapers and television channels.

The statement released by Media Action Nepal today states that “The provision to fine with 1.5 million Nepalese rupees and five years of imprisonment, or both, for posting content on social networking sites that may pose a threat to the country’s sovereignty, security, unity or harmony is against the principles of free expression and is meant to silence the independent media”.

The fact is that journalistic content today is widely shared via social networking sites and the media outlets reach out to wider audience via these sites. The provision no doubt would put journalists into self-censorship stopping them to criticize the wrongdoings of the state organs. In addition, citizens at large would stop sharing media content to social networking sites. These restrictive provisions need immediate amendments in line with the Nepalese Constitution and the provisions of the human rights treaties that Nepal is a state party to.