Low literate readers suffer the consequences of misleading information in Nepal

A study titled “Misleading News in Media: A Study of Newspapers and Online News Portals of Nepal” disclosed that in a country like Nepal, where media literacy is very low, readers are more likely to suffer the consequences of misleading information. The study launched today by Randy Berry, U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, was carried out by Media Action Nepal (MAN) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State.

The study analyzed a total of 49,051 news stories and found that 3.70% of the content in Nepal’s leading media outlets represented misleading information and has thus recommended an investment in capacity building to enable journalists to understand the various aspects and impacts of disinformation in order to maintain the credibility of journalism and strengthen the watchdog role of the media.

  • The research included 23,291 stories (47.48%) published in 10 daily newspapers and 25,760 (52.32%) published in 10 online news portals.
  • A total of 1,817 news items contained misleading information.
  • Similarly, 907 (3.90%) news stories published in 10 daily newspapers were misleading, whereas online news portals published a total of 910 such stories (3.53%).
  • Of the total false and misleading information, 50.09% and 49.91% were published by online news portals and daily newspapers respectively.
  • Of a total of 1,817 items of misleading information 1,739 (95.71%) related to inappropriate sources whereby news items misuse the sources, fail to disclose the sources, and do not cite the sources when publishing news obtained from other agencies.
  • The six media outlets included in the study – four dailies (The Himalayan Times, The Kathmandu Post, Gorkhapatra, and Kantipur) and the two online news portals (Onlinekhabar and Baaharkhari) – have not published one single piece of misinformation related to the source.
  • A total of 36 misleading headlines (1.98%) were found.
  • Of the 20 media outlets included in the study, 12 published and six did not publish these misleading headlines.
  • 20 media outlets published a total of 23 (1.27%) news items related to disinformation.
  • 11 of these have not published a single piece of disinformation while nine media outlets have published at least one and a maximum of six such news items.
  • In addition, no misinformation or news was found in the study that was detrimental to social diversity. News relating to obscenity, abusive and defamatory content, and instances of the violation of privacy were not found.

Launching the report, Ambassador Berry said that over the last few years, the world has seen disinformation directly affecting lives, health, and governments. Stating that learning about misinformation and understanding its presence is a particularly critical first step towards preventing it, he said, “In newsrooms, the competition to break news often can result into broken news subsequently posing undue threat to democracy itself.”

Emphasizing that free speech and journalistic integrity are the lynchpins of our safety and our democracies, Anna Richey-Allen, spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Nepal said, “Misinformation about COVID-19, vaccines and climate change have enormous consequences and, without checking facts before publishing, without verifying sources, journalists risk disseminating falsehood that, in turn, can harm us and harm our democracies.” Adding that the United States of America has deep respect for the role of the free and independent press, she remarked, “I am proud to say that the U. S. Embassy and President Biden’s administration support transparency and recognize the press as vital to strong governments. We hope that the lessons learned through this report will help push us all towards being more informed, more informed journalists and more informed citizens.”

Praising the finding of the report, Dhruba Hari Adhikary, Senior Journalist said, “While Nepal’s media today faces a serious problem of credibility in the absence of skills and knowledge, it is good to see watchdogs are being watched by others.” This study will undoubtedly contribute towards an improvement in the quality of journalism in Nepal, he added.

Admitting that the news media in Nepal lacks the skills to present stories succinctly and truthfully, Rajan Pokharel, Editor of The Himalayan Times, the country’s leading English daily paper, said, “More needs to be invested in improving the quality of journalism; the study made public today should be taken as a constructive effort in preventing misleading news in the media.”

The news stories were compared against eight different indicators of preventing false and misleading information. Some news stories disseminated by the media about the COVID-19 pandemic were highly speculative and had the potential to mislead readers. The study is based on an analysis of news stories published in national daily newspapers and online news portals in the first three months of the COVID-19 related lockdown that started on 24 March 2020.

(Source : DevelopmentAid, 27 January 2021)

Impunity poses serious threat to independent media in Nepal

Recognizing the drastic consequences of impunity for crimes against journalists, the United Nations General Assembly announced in 2013 that 2 November would be the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI), and member states were urged to implement measures to counter the existing culture of impunity.

With the aim of alerting Nepal’s state agencies, particularly its security forces and the judiciary, regarding impunity for crimes against journalists, the United Nations introduced the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (2013 to 2016). The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sought the establishment of a national mechanism for the protection and safety of journalists but unfortunately, it was unable to do so. Furthermore, no concrete action has been taken by the state authorities to arrest those perpetrators who have committed crimes against journalists.

The Constitution of Nepal safeguards the fundamental rights of citizens including the freedom of opinion and expression, the right to communication and the right to information. Correspondingly, the Working Journalist’s Act (WJA) of Nepal also guarantees the working environment for journalists. However, journalists in post-conflict Nepal have been found to be practicing self-censorship due to the widening culture of impunity in the cases of crimes against journalists.

Although there are no instances of journalists having been killed in recent years in Nepal, their safety has become more difficult to ensure due to the government’s unwillingness to arrest those perpetrators who killed journalists during and after the 10-year conflict. The media in Nepal continues to face issues of self-censorship because the government and political leadership have failed to fulfill their commitment to arrest the perpetrators of crimes against journalists.

The safety of journalists and the issue of impunity are of crucial importance to Nepal’s transitional justice process. As well as enforced self-censorship, there is widespread harassment of journalists who observe the wrongdoings of both state and non-state actors, and thus the extensive culture of impunity in Nepal poses serious threats to the independent media.

The state’s failure to offer justice to victims by addressing the cases of the murder and disappearance of journalists during the conflict and thereafter has further encouraged violations of various human and media rights.

  • According to UNESCO, globally, close to 1,200 journalists have been killed simply for reporting the news in the past fourteen years (2006-2019)
  • In nine out of ten cases, the killers go unpunished
  • According to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), a total of 35 journalists have been killed in Nepal since 1996
  • Of these cases, only five have been subject to the judicial process
  • The whereabouts of four journalists remains unknown
  • As of 2019, more than two-thirds of cases that include the killing and disappearances of journalists have not been investigated by the police

It is significant that the victims’ families will not achieve justice until the police investigations into these incidents are completed. A study co-edited by this writer (UNESCO, 2016) states that, whereas the issue of journalists’ safety is significant across the world, it is more so in the case of Nepal as the political transition is taking a relatively long time and journalists have remained under a high level of risk despite the constitutional as well as legal provisions regarding the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the freedom of the press. The study also mentioned that the problem of impunity has further complicated the situation.

Disappointingly, the transitional justice commissions of Nepal, namely the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission for the Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), have been unable to investigate or recommend to the government that reparation is offered to victims of the conflict with regard to the cases of murdered and missing journalists. These commissions were established in February 2015 to deal with the human rights violations of the 10 yearlong armed conflict (1996-2006) that also include instances of the violation of media rights during that period. For example, both the TRC and the CIEDP have not yet investigated the complaints lodged by FNJ regarding incidents related to the murder and disappearance of journalists. Similarly, no action has been taken by these commissions regarding cases that have been registered by the families of the victims.

It is important for all concerned to advocate and interact more closely with the judicial and security institutions for the effective implementation of press freedom mechanisms that focus on ways to end impunity for crimes against journalists. Any incident intended to discourage journalistic freedom should be taken seriously. With more needed to be done to combat the fear and self-censorship among journalists, an effective state policy is required to implement its commitment towards independent media, to end impunity, and to provide justice to conflict victims.

(Source: DevelopmentAid, 02 November 2020)

Indian Media Degraded To Level of Ethical Crisis

At a time when the world is struggling to fight COVID19, Indian media outlets particularly television channels are engaged in a mean campaign against Nepal, its integrity and sovereignty. The smearing media campaign that started with disseminating fabricated and baseless information about Nepal’s historical decision to incorporate Limpiyadhura in its official political map, continues by offending Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli with framed obnoxious story; a discoloration in the name of journalism.

The fabricated video story produced and disseminated by Zee News of India and sensationalised on social media sites fantasised that the Prime Minister of Nepal has been honey-trapped by Hou Yanqi, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Nepal. The video story has not only fantasised framed information but also attacked the integrity of a sovereign nation. It has assassinated character of a woman ambassador and escalated ongoing bilateral and tripartite tensions among the people and governments of Nepal, China and India.

Earlier, the Republic TV host Arnab Goswami and television channels in India verbally abused Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala, who favored Nepal’s decision on updating of the map. She was attacked on television shows, newspaper articles and trolled in social media merely for her stand in favor of her country’s historic decision. The television channels and newspapers in India have been giving space to so-called experts, ultra-nationalists who often engage in intensifying conflict between the people of two nations. The participating Nepali guests on such shows are sidelined, strategically limiting their space to have their say.

Indian media today are trapped by power centres, business tycoons and Indian state authorities converting their role of watchdog to lapdog, to which critics in India characterise as ‘godi’ media. A serious introspection on the part of Indian journalists and a strong media content monitoring by Press Council of India is required to put in track the long cherished relations of two countries. Deteriorating the fundamental principles of journalism and ethical standards would cost Indian media industry and the academia a lot for bringing back the credibility that is taught in universities and institutes across India.g independent views are proof that Indian media have forgotten integrity, mutual respect, truthfulness, verification and accuracy to the minimum.
It is relevant to note that Indian institutes have produced thousands of journalists for Nepal and they hold prestigious positions in Nepal’s media outlets. Yet they have never been engaged in defaming nations and national integrity. It is disheartening for the audience of a country that shares open borders and free movement across India to read and watch each day crafted, half-baked, unverified and botched stories from the Indian media that reach out to audiences in cities and villages.

The message to Indian media workers from Nepal is that you have lost the credibility of journalism. It is almost difficult for one to find a person who trusts the way information is disseminated in Indian television channels. This scribe is confident that the authorities, Press Council of India and the Broadcasting Authority would seriously look into Indian media content surrounding Nepal-India issues and take action against those engaged in smear media campaigns. Nepal and India enjoy long cherished and specific bilateral relations with similarities of culture and civilisation. Nonetheless, Indian fellows and media should understand and respect the way Nepal maintains her relations with other neighbors including China. Let’s play a role conducive to contribution towards dialogues, initiatives and solutions to the problem. Disseminating disinformation at the cost of credibility will do no good to strengthen Nepal-India relations. The fabricated story by Zee News is a blemish in the name of journalism. Illustrating the Nepali premier and Chinese ambassador to Nepal in a love frame, narrating that the former has fallen in love with the latter and demeaning the latter as ‘venomous-virgo’ are perfect signs that Indian media are suffering with serious ethical crisis. It is high time for Indian media, media academics and experts to introspect their approach and understanding of issues that go beyond their geography and require serious diplomatic analysis of the information. How can journalists of a country that has hundreds of journalism schools and takes pride in being largest democracy indulge in a smear campaign? Don’t they understand that an independent nation that was never colonised deserves full freedom of choice who to talk to and what to discuss around? Have they not been taught that information should be processed before dissemination?

This and many stories of recent months on Nepal-India border dispute demonstrate that television journalists in India are puppets of the business world. Additionally, the channels of that nature are serving the ultranationalist forces in India for survival, sacrificing principles of journalism. The act of Zee News demeaning a sovereign nation and hosts’ clamors on television shows trolling independent views are proof that Indian media have forgotten integrity, mutual respect, truthfulness, verification and accuracy to the minimum.

It is relevant to note that Indian institutes have produced thousands of journalists for Nepal and they hold prestigious positions in Nepal’s media outlets. Yet they have never been engaged in defaming nations and national integrity. It is disheartening for the audience of a country that shares open borders and free movement across India to read and watch each day crafted, half-baked, unverified and botched stories from the Indian media that reach out to audiences in cities and villages.

The message to Indian media workers from Nepal is that you have lost the credibility of journalism. It is almost difficult for one to find a person who trusts the way information is disseminated in Indian television channels. This scribe is confident that the authorities, Press Council of India and the Broadcasting Authority would seriously look into Indian media content surrounding Nepal-India issues and take action against those engaged in smear media campaigns.

Nepal and India enjoy long cherished and specific bilateral relations with similarities of culture and civilisation. Nonetheless, Indian fellows and media should understand and respect the way Nepal maintains her relations with other neighbors including China. Let’s play a role conducive to contribution towards dialogues, initiatives and solutions to the problem. Disseminating disinformation at the cost of credibility will do no good to strengthen Nepal-India relations.

(The author leads Media Action Nepal. [email protected] 

(Source: The Rising Nepal, 11 Jul, 2020)


Muzzling the media: Threat to democracy

If media’s freedom is compromised, it will shrink democratic space, and government agencies will be less accountable and transparent. Curtailing media rights will mean curtailing individual rights and freedom of expression.

When this new government was formed in February, there were high hopes that the country would now embark on the journey of peace and stability. Meanwhile, there were also scepticisms that democratic space could shrink under the new step-up — a strong government with a nearly two-thirds majority and a weak opposition.

 A series of decisions taken by the government, some on already promulgated legislations and provisions of the draft bill, clearly indicate that the media and freedom of expression are in peril. Time has come to exert pressure on the government to roll back such decisions which seriously hinder freedom of speech and free media. Many provisions of these legislations also directly contradict the rights enshrined in international treaties and provisions, which Nepal is a state party to.

The Criminal Code that came into effect on August 17 has clauses that undermine freedom of speech and free media. The law prohibits release of private information without prior consent or parodying and disrespecting an individual. Depending on the infraction, journalists could face a fine up to Rs 30,000 or imprisonment of three years or both.

Section 293 criminalises recording and listening to conversations between two or more people without the consent of the persons involved, and Section 294 prohibits disclosing private information without permission, including private information on public figures. Section 295 prohibits photographing a person outside of a public space without consent.

There are both domestic and international pressures to amend such provisions, but the government does not appear to be serious on the demands. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has rightly urged Nepal government to repeal or amend the new Criminal Code to remove provisions that severely threaten press freedom. “Nepal’s new criminal code marks a giant step backward for press freedom,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator. “Legislators need to go back and scrub the laws of these overly broad provisions that effectively criminalize the normal newsgathering activities of journalists.”

Similarly, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has also expressed serious objections to the new provisions.

Responding to the “proposed privacy bill”, Bharat Dutta Koirala, senior journalist and the winner of the 2002 Ramon Magsaysay Award in Journalism, has said that the right to criticise people in public offices is an essential element of freedom of speech guaranteed in the constitution of a democratic country.

The Privacy Bill, tabled by the government, also has some objectionable provisions that limit the press freedom. Some of the provisions of the draft bill go against the concept of open data and open government.

The Privacy Bill states that documents of government officials including educational certificates should remain secret. This clearly restricts media to write about the certificates of people holding government offices. This year, Gopal Prasad Parajuli was removed from the post of chief justice after media detected discrepancies in his educational certificates.

And again, the Parliamentary Hearing Committee recently rejected Acting Chief Justice Deep Raj Joshee’s nomination for the post of chief justice after his educational certificates “were found to be suspicious”. As the government is taking a series of steps to curtail civil and political rights, freedom of speech and media freedoms, state mechanisms such as National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Information Commission (NIC) and judiciary have remained silent.

The Criminal Code and Privacy Bill contradict the provisions of the new constitution promulgated in 2015. Article 17 of the constitution guarantees freedom of opinion and expression, whereas Article 19 ensures right to communication. Similarly, the constitution has guaranteed the right to freedom of information. Article 27 says, “Every citizen shall have the right to demand and receive information on any matter of his or her interest or of public interest.”

If Criminal Code and Privacy Acts are endorsed in the current form, they will seriously hamper the media’s right to criticise the functioning of the government. It would be tough for journalists to practise investigative journalism.

Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has ensured the right to freedom of speech and opinion, which has also been replicated in the national charter. The provisions on these acts are inconsistent with the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Nepal ratified in 1991. But both the Criminal Code and Privacy Bill fall short of meeting such standards.

The Privacy Bill goes against the principles of transparency and accountability. The current situation indicates that authorities could make efforts to incorporate the provisions that curtail press freedom.

If media’s freedom is compromised, it will shrink democratic space, and government agencies will be less accountable and transparent.

To avert such crisis, political parties and civil society must play a vital role. Curtailing media rights will mean curtailing individual rights and freedom of expression.

(Source: The Himalayan Times, Aug 27, 2018)

Insecure scribes

Even after a decade of end of armed conflict many journalists still feel insecure and are forced to practice self-censorship
Nepali media in the past two decades has been forced into self-censorship by various political interest groups. Nepali journalists have been intimated, attacked and some have even been murdered. This has weakened the media’s role of a watchdog over the wrongdoing of state agencies, especially concerning abuse of power and human rights violations.  

The media continues to be controlled in one way or the other even after a decade of the end of the armed conflict. The country has since adopted federal republic system of government with constitutional guarantee for free media and protection of human rights.

And yet the international media rights bodies have placed Nepal in the Global Impunity Index for its failure to address cases of violation of press freedom. 

There is a serious concern with regard to freedom of expression, as journalists are practicing self-censorship. Successive governments have time and again expressed their commitment to international laws and instruments on journalist safety, and yet Nepali journalists continue to work in unsafe conditions, particularly women journalists who routinely have to deal with sexual harassment and even physical violence. 

It is true that post-conflict, freedom of expression and safety of journalists has somewhat improved. Nepal for instance now has comparatively media friendly laws, with the exception of its rather harsh regulation on online journalism. However, many journalists still feel insecure and are forced to practice self-censorship. 

It would not be wrong to say that journalists have lost trust in state agencies, including criminal and civil justice systems. National and international stakeholders have also raised the issue of physical and professional safety of journalists. But we have failed to come up with common understanding on the issue and a national strategy to make state agencies responsive in such cases has yet to emerge. The government and political actors have failed in their responsibility of booking the perpetrators of crimes against journalists. 

The United Nations had introduced UN Plan on Safety of Journalists (2013 to 2016) in Nepal, with the focus on sensitizing Nepal’s state agencies, particularly security organs and the judiciary, on impunity in crimes against journalists. Major stakeholders like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) had subsequently agreed to establish a national mechanism for protection of freedom of expression and safety of journalists. And yet nothing has come of the plan yet. 

Nepal has failed in its commitment to report on attacks on journalists to appropriate UN agencies. The UN had urged Nepal to inform the Director General of UNESCO about actions taken to prevent impunity and to notify on the status of judicial inquiries on killing of journalists. This has not happened. In 2013, Nepal was one of the 57 countries requested to submit such information. In 2014, Nepal was one of the 59 countries requested to report incidents of violation of press freedom from the time between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2013.  

On the status of judicial inquiries on journalists killed during this period, the report even mentions the names of seven Nepali journalists, putting them under ‘no information received’ status. This suggests Nepal has not informed UNESCO even about the cases that are already under judicial investigation. By failing to report to such requests on time, Nepal has demonstrated lack of leadership and accountability to international bodies. 

Government actors and our political class are responsible for ending impunity on crimes against journalists. Nepal must thus speed up investigations and prosecute those involved in grave crimes against journalists. A lot more also needs to be done to protect Nepali journalists and to provide them and their families with compensations when appropriate.

The author, a media rights advocate, is the chairperson of Media Action Nepal


(Source: myRepublica, July 2, 2017)

Not so free

Although Nepal recognises the right to information, journalists are not able to investigate issues properly

Since the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek, May 3 has been marked as the World Press Freedom Day to assess the situation of press freedom all around the globe and to defend its independence. The day also pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. Marking this day gives an opportunity for the media and concerned stakeholders to inform citizens about the violations against press freedom. The day is also a reminder of many instances of obstruction to media freedom all around the world. In some countries, news is censored and journalists are fined and suspended for doing their job, which is writing the truth. On this day in particular, media, development organisations including the UN condemn harassment, attacks, detention and murder against journalists. This day encourages concerned stakeholders to develop initiatives in support of media freedom and reminds state agencies of their commitment to press freedom. This year, the day is being celebrated with the slogan, ‘Access to information and fundamental freedoms: This is your right’.

Fundamental right

Freedom of information is a fundamental freedom and covers the right to seek, receive and impart information. The right to impart information is an exercise of making public a piece of information; this is directly related to the notion of press freedom. Media disseminate information to thousands of dispersed and heterogeneous people in a fast and reliable manner. The dimension of right to information contributes to a free press; it is highly significant for the assurance of other fundamental rights.

In particular, freedom of information shows the level of transparency maintained by the state and public agencies. The limitations imposed on the process of imparting information restrict the free flow of information. The recently declared Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) too have a number of issues concerning access to information. The SDG Goal 16 states “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Additionally, freedom of expression as a whole is vital to achieving Goal 16, target 10: “Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”

In the case of Nepal

Assurance of freedom of information is key to attaining participatory democracy and good governance. It permits public scrutiny and oversight and ensures their participation and empowerment. Currently around 90 nations have adopted freedom of information laws. Nepal introduced the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2007 and formulated regulations in 2009 along with the establishment of National Information Commission (NIC) as an independent body to oversee the implementation of the RTI Act. However, the implementation of the right to information in Nepal remains sluggish due to many reasons including limited capacity of the NIC, non-responsive public bodies and recklessness of the bureaucrats. Ordinary citizens have yet to enhance their bargaining power in terms of seeking information from the public entities. Awareness programmes on the right to information by the civil society have failed to reach the grassroots.

Despite the fact that Nepal recognises right to information as a tool to maintain transparency in public bodies and ensure the public’s right to know, the public in general and the journalists in particular are not able to investigate issues in detail. Corruption, misuse of government resources, and abuse of power, mismanagement and misconduct within the government offices are rampant and increasing. Extreme gap between the haves and the have-nots and limited mass awareness about the instruments on right to information are the major reasons behind the slowness in the empowerment of the marginalised and socially excluded groups. There is a pressing need to engage these groups in the process of development and to create a just society. Journalists have a bigger role to play in this regard. They can utilise right to information tools while doing their job, especially when digging up information in cases of corruption and fraud.

Need for transparency

A case of the successful utilisation of the RTI Act about a murdered journalist is worth discussing. Journalist Ramjee Dahal sought information with original bills and expenditure details of a probe commission formed to investigate the murder of journalist JP Joshi. He appealed to the NIC after the Ministry of Home refused to provide information. He was provided with all original bills and expenditure details following an order by the commission. The 485-page-long document that he received revealed how the authorities were engaged in corruption.

Access to information and media freedom are essential to democracy, equality and sustainable development. Journalists play a vital role in actualising the right to information in the interest of citizens; they empower citizens with information. Yet, it is not an easy task to collect information from the authorities engaged in corruption. There is al

so a need to improve the working environment for journalists. In particular, their safety concerns have to be addressed for them to engage in investigative journalism. This will help to develop a culture of openness and access to information in the country.

Pant is the Chairperson of Media Action Nepal

(Source: The Kathmandu Post, May 3, 2016)  

Free the press

World Press Freedom Day, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1993, falls on May 3 and reminds us annually of the need to create a free, independent and pluralistic media environment across the world. This year’s celebration is focused on the theme, ‘Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda’. On this occasion, the UNGA has unequivocally condemned all attacks against journalists. Issuing a joint statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Unesco Director General Irina Bokova said, “Journalism provides a platform for informed discussion across a wide range of development issues—from environmental challenges and scientific progress to gender equality, youth engagement and peacebuilding. Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticise policies and actions can good governance exist”. Governments and those with influence must now act on this condemnation by protecting journalists and other media workers, they said.

State of impunity

Journalists in many countries face systematic hindrances to reporting the truth, ranging from censorship, arrest and imprisonment to intimidation, attacks and even assassination.  Journalists in Nepal also continue to face high levels of risk despite the ambitious peace-building framework envisioned in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the constitutional provision on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the freedom of the press. During the conflict, the country witnessed many cases where journalists were intimidated, threatened and even killed, thereby making them unable to perform

their duties. The high number of threats and cases of violence against journalists, which continue to take place in different parts of Nepal, often as the result of media investigating in cases of rights violations and corruption, seriously undermine these benefits. This holds true in particular for journalists engaged in investigations in the Central Tarai and the eastern hill districts.

According to the Media Monitoring Unit of Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), there were 54 incidents of media rights violations in 2013. Journalists have been attacked and threatened by government bodies, political parties and their sister organisations, civil servants and security agencies. Journalists face threats from political cadres and various non-state actors, and, in some cases, from state institutions too. However, the state authorities and political actors deny these allegations and hence, the perpetrators have gone unpunished.

This state of impunity has diminished public trust in security and justice and has escalated insecurity and oppression. Such impunity harms editorial freedom and leads to self-censorship among journalists. This situation leads to a de facto limitation of the freedom of expression. A free press cannot flourish in a society characterised by insecurity and impunity. The safety of journalists is a prerequisite for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. As a key group of human rights defenders, journalists have a crucial role to play in Nepal’s ongoing transition.

 Behind threats

The immediate and root causes that hinder the safety of journalists in the districts are based on the multifaceted dynamics of conflict in the districts. The environment of impunity is a major factor in this matter. Various political parties and other groups, security officials and government agencies demand positive coverage from the media. This points to a lack of awareness about the independent role of journalists and the principles of balanced reporting. The incongruence between their expectation and the actual coverage by the media often leads to security threats for journalists.

However, journalists’ lack of professional skills and knowledge are also found to be responsible for instigating antagonism. The representatives of political parties and other key informants in the districts perceive journalists to be politically biased and partial. This situation has made journalists vulnerable to attacks from opposing parties. There is another dimension too. Journalists from the districts complain that desk and news editors in the Capital do not understand local dynamics and hence, news reports are edited in such a way that the published or broadcasted version often leads to security threats for local journalists.

Freeing the media

The Long-term Policy of Information and Communication Sector 2003, the Report of High-Level Media Recommendation Commission 2006 and the Interim Government’s Communication Policy 2007 treat the issue of press freedom extensively and provide various policy insights for the development of the media industry in Nepal. Professional security for journalists is also addressed. However, such documents do not highlight the physical safety of journalists.

Journalists perceive security agencies as being vital to ensuring safety and ending impunity. On the other hand, they also perceive these institutions to be sources of threat and hence, practice self-censorship. Targeted safety programmes can bring about increased awareness of security officials and personnel in the district for the safety of journalists.

Furthermore, journalists in the districts are often deprived of exposure to journalism education and training. The quantitative growth of the media and journalists has not been followed by a corresponding rise in quality. Rather, some stakeholders allege that journalistic standards have degraded since the arrival of local media.

A Unesco assessment of the media in Nepal in 2013 provides an excellent framework to guide the efforts of different actors working for media development. It suggests establishing a robust national mechanism to consistently follow up on attacks on journalists and to end impunity. This would undoubtedly minimise fear by highlighting a range of anti-social roadblocks to development, such as corruption and human rights abuses.

A free and pluralistic media can continue to be empirically tested for its role in sustaining development gains, along with respect to good governance. It is high time that Nepal pursues sustainable development as an interlinked system and develops a national media policy which enshrines free and pluralistic media as an integral part of governance in its future federal states.

(Source: The Kathmandu Post, May 2, 2014 09:17)