Laws turning media landscape into a lethal minefield

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KATHMANDU: The country (Nepal) ranks fairly better than its Asian counterparts. However, its policies and laws are slowly turning the media landscape into a lethal minefield. Needless to say that even though Nepal fares better than the rest of Asia in terms of press freedom—ranking 106 out of 180 as opposed to China (176), Bangladesh (146), Pakistan (139), India (138) and Myanmar (137), among others—its policies and toxic nationalism signals an equally alarming trend that often goes unnoticed in the eyes of the international community.

The new Criminal Code is the latest in a string of laws that prevents Nepali journalists from following their duties. VICE got in touch with Laxman Datt Pant, Chairperson of Media Action Nepal, one of the few media rights advocacy groups in Nepal that also works with international media watchdog organizations such as Committee to Protect Journalists, to gather further perspective on current events. Last year in August, Pant, along with fellow Nepali journalist, Kamal Dev Bhattarai published his analysis of legislations that “directly contradict the rights enshrined in international treaties and provisions, which Nepal is a state party to.”

The Criminal Code, passed by the parliament of Nepal, became effective from August 2018. The law prohibits the dissemination of private information “without prior consent or parodying and disrespecting an individual”. A violation of this could cost a journalist a fine up to Nepali Rs 30,000, or imprisonment of three years, or both. Furthermore, its Section 293 makes it illegal to record and listen to conversations between two or more people without the consent of the persons involved. Yet another, Section 295 bans photojournalists from photographing persons “outside of a public space without consent.” Article 306.2 further leads anyone who shows “disrespect” towards someone directly or even satire, straight to the prison for three years.

“This is all clearly against investigative journalism,” says Pant, whose career graph includes roles in journalism, the United Nations, and the Nepal International Media Partnership. “On top of that, Nepal is faced with a kind of impunity, a 10-year-long conflict-induced impunity, towards all the journalists killed and about five journalists going missing. Three cases were found wherein the government did not want to investigate the killing of the journalists’ cases. This obviously explains why journalists find themselves unprotected, especially if they’re criticizing the state power.”

Text & Photo Credit to https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/kzdayv/nepal, Analysis by Pallavi Pundir; illustrated by Fawaz Dalvi of VICE Media