Kathmandu, Dec. 31: Sharp increase of press freedom violations with no concrete efforts to end impunity relating to crimes against journalists, defamation and discredit to media and journalists, intolerance to healthy criticism, hostile move while reforming media law and policy, ill efforts to control journalists and media and non disclosure of government information paint a disappointing situation of media freedom this past year 2018 in Nepal.
The Freedom Forum, an NGO working in the field of press freedom and freedom of expression, recorded a total of 98 press freedom violations that directly affected at least 223 journalists in 2018, which is a sharp increase from 66 violations in 2017. The number of violations is the highest in the last six years.
Despite the strong government and attempts for constitution implementation at larger scale, the situation for press freedom in the country deteriorated badly. With the installation of new government in February 2018 following the elections in all three-tier of governments as per the federal system, there were expectations that better environment would be offered for media.
Likewise, the government behavior towards access to information, media freedom and journalists turned more unreceptive, and several drafts of laws and regulation which are under consideration, are not press friendly. In sum, political environment for journalists turned gradually intolerant in the new set up.
The annual media freedom report released by the FF here today states that during the yearlong monitoring Province 3 witnessed the highest number of press freedom violation (35) followed by Province 2 (14) and Province 4 (12). The data shows that security officials are the major hostile element journalists where people from security agencies are involved in 40 freedom violations.
The trend of keeping the Cabinet decisions secret from reporters begun by the government has not only showed non- transparent decision making but also deprived media of their rights to reporting and citizen's right to information, the report says. The drafts of media laws prepared by federal and provincial governments have flawed and problematic provisions but adequate attention to correct these is falling on deaf ear. Systematic efforts to control media rights are reflected through other laws such as civil and criminal code, privacy law, and electronic transaction law.
During the year, four journalists were detained resorting to article 47 of Electronic Transaction Act (ETA) though the law is not related to media and journalists. A total of 52 cases were filed in the court four years back (fiscal year 2070/71 BS) which increased sharply to 104 in the last year (fiscal year 2074/075 BS). In majority of the cases, Sec 47 of the ETA was vaguely used to charge of cybercrime, which was even prominent in the case related to FoE online. As a result, Free Expression in social media is under direct threat as more and more people are detained abusing some provisions of ETA.
The FF's gender monitoring desk over the year reveals that out of the total of bylines, 9% are by female and the rest by the male. Similarly, among the news sources, 11% are female and 22% female write Op-ed articles in the major print media.
In the report, the FF has recommended to the government to assure the media fraternity that there is complete press freedom while the law-making process be open, transparent and consultative. The Government should immediately instruct police administration not to employ Section 47 of Electronic Transaction Act in the areas of freedom of speech and expression. Government media should be allowed to function without any interferences and control.
Furthermore, the journalistic organizations close to political parties must come together and make a common acceptable position on the issue of freedom of speech and expression. Media houses must boost the morale of journalists with their capacity building and urging them not to resort to self-censorship in their daily works. Ending impunity on crimes against journalists must be the top priority of all stakeholders. Media literacy and Internet literacy must be enhanced.
The report also calls on the government should develop action plan, devise new laws and amend old one to wipe out faulty provisions on FoE, press freedom. -Kumar Chaulagain, RSS
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