With the restoration of democracy and the virtual overthrow of the restrictive and autocratic monarchy, Nepal bore witness to several positive advances towards a free media in 2006. These included the implementation of the Working Journalist Act and the establishment of a team to draft both the Right to Information and Right to Privacy bills, as well as the signing of the peace accord which expressed a commitment to press freedom and democratic values.
The events of 2007 thus far, however, have demonstrated that such legislation has yet to be enforced and Nepal remains far from achieving the basic rights of freedom of expression associated with a free and democratic press.
In addition, reports of journalists being subject to brutal attacks, death threats, abductions and the stalling of media production are all indications of the difficulties media workers fight to overcome in their struggle for a safe media free of intervention from both organised political forces and unorganised vigilante squads.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in support of its affiliates, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), National Union of Journalists Nepal and the Nepal Press Union, urges the government to enforce the Working Journalist Act to ensure that media workers are granted basic employment benefits and to warrant the safety of journalists in an unstable working environment. These conditions, it emphasises, are necessary in order to guarantee the Nepalese public free and critical information.
Mass sackings, staff strikes and paper production halted as IFJ call for media law reform
IFJ supports striking employees in call for basic benefits
Despite the introduction of productive legislation concerning the rights of the media and employers, recent disputes as reported by the FNJ highlight the strong need for the Nepalese government to enforce basic media rights.
After employees of Nepal 1 Television shut down production for three weeks in protest for improved working conditions and benefits, including appointment letters to guarantee security, in actions supported by the IFJ, an agreement was reached with management on May 7.
Only a week after the agreement was reached however, FNJ reported the forced resignation of 8 Delhi-based employees after constant threats from management.
“The IFJ has been completely behind the Nepal 1 TV employees’ campaign for better working conditions, and urges management to immediately implement the signed agreement,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
IFJ condemns attacks and arrests on sacked 49 journalists
The IFJ was shocked and angered by reports that 49 Nepalese journalists who had been sacked without cause were attacked during a protest alleged to have been directed by their former employer, and arrested at a another demonstration.
According to an IFJ affiliate the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), the journalists were assaulted and harassed at the protest organised by another IFJ affiliate, the Nepal Press Union (NPU) at the gates of their former employer’s offices, Gorkhapatra Corporation, on August 9.
“It is highly disappointing that these sackings and attacks indicate that the Government-Maoist promise to make a full commitment to press freedom and democratic values as expressed in the peace agreement signed in November 2006 has been unfulfilled,” Park said.
Media production halted
According to FNJ reports, Nepal’s free media was disrupted throughout August, including the halt of printing and distribution of daily newspapers such as the Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post and the alleged threatened closure of HBC FM radio station by Maoist aligned unions.
The IFJ stands alongside the FNJ in condemning these attacks on the media and call for the Working Journalists Act to be summoned in the resolution of these ongoing issues.
“It is vital for democracy that the Nepalese have a right to receive information concerning the public and that the media be able to provide it for them without hindrance,” Park said.
Broadcasting of TV channels blocked
Nepal Television and NTV-2 were blocked from 13 August and other national channels were blocked from 18 August for an indefinite period. The Nepal Cable TV Association took the action to demand from the government such measures as decreased renewal fees and the authority to broadcast local programs. The Association has threatened they will also close all foreign TV channels.
The IFJ and its affiliate the FNJ have demanded that the Cable TV Association solve these issues through dialogue and without blocking channels and hindering the free flow of information. The FNJ has stated that it is not opposed to the Association’s demands but asks that the claims be pursued without the public being deprived of its basic entitlement to information.
Freedom of Information Bill passed but not enforced
Free access to information is integral to the media’s role in serving the public’s right to know in a democratic society. The passing of the Right to Information Bill by unanimous vote implied such progress and was welcomed by the IFJ in Kathmandu on July 18.
FNJ reports of journalists being threatened in their attempts to obtain information, however, illustrate that Nepal remains far from enjoying a secure media industry, and the IFJ urges the government to enforce the legislation.
Nepalese journalists denied a safe working environment
Although a fundamental right of the media and democratic society, freedom of expression remains out of reach to Nepalese journalists whilst their work and safety are subject to death threats and attacks by radical groups, such as the Maoist affiliated Young Communists League (YCL) and the Madheshi People's Rights Forum (MPRF).
“Media organisations around the world play a role of vital importance in democracy by promoting freedom of speech and providing an informative service to society”, Park said.
“Nepalese journalists should be able to carry out this role freely for the benefit of the greater public without being subject to such dangers.”
Throughout the year thus far, FNJ has reported attacks on numerous journalists by radical groups in retaliation for their critical reporting.
Grave fears for safety of missing journalists
The IFJ was alarmed to learn of the abduction and alleged murder of Kailali-based freelance journalist Prakash Singh Thakuri, with no reports of his sighting since his disappearance on July 5.
Three days following the abduction, a Kailali-based newspaper received reports from a group proclaiming themselves the National Republican Army Nepal (NRAN) who credited themselves with Thakuri’s abduction and subsequent death, as a result of his alleged pro-monarchy activities.
The FNJ announced the abduction of yet another journalist, Khulamanch Weekly editor Hridayaraj Gautam, from his home on June 20.
Gautam was allegedly celebrating the birth of his new born child when two armed assailants arrived on motorbikes and forced him out of his house, with no reports of his sightings since.
“Thakuri and Gautam’s disappearance are grave reminders of the severe perils journalists face as a direct result of the lack of respect for freedom of speech in Nepal and we urge the government to fully investigate the abductions”, Park said.
IFJ demands the cessation of attacks on press freedom and journalists
With every report of yet further attacks against journalists in Nepal, the hindrances grow for free press and democratic society.
According to the FNJ, nine journalists were brutally attacked by rioters from the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) whilst attempting to report on the violent demonstrations in the south of Nepal after seven people were killed in January.
Editor and publisher of Morning Bell Daily, Lokshari Kuwar, meanwhile, was reportedly bashed and assaulted by three men in Kailali and was taken to Seti Regional Hospital suffering injuries in May.
The attack was allegedly prompted as retribution for Kuwar’s articles detailing timber smuggling, prostitution and the illegal trade in goods across the Indian border.
Also in May, death threats were issued against four reporters and two human rights workers by militant group Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM-Jwala Singh faction).
Military commander Prabhu allegedly threatened to kill the six individuals unless reports regarding threats made to villagers by JTMM were disavowed.
Such violence is condemned by the IFJ as a direct attack on press freedom in Nepal.
“When journalists’ safety is threatened, so is the public’s right to know, and the Nepalese people remain unable to enjoy the basic rights of democracy”, Park said.
Although small advances have been made in relation to media law reform, the lack of legislative enforcement and the dangers journalists face in their daily work suggests that a free and independent Nepalese media is yet to be realised.
The right to express one’s views without hindrance is a basic and integral right of a democratic society, and together with its Nepal affiliates, the IFJ continues to fight for such principles so that the Nepalese public can rely on their media as the authentic voice of their nation.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries