IFJ mission Releases Preliminary Findings on Media Conditions in Nepal

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has released preliminary findings on the situation facing journalists and media in Nepal, part way through its high level mission to the Himalayan nation, led by IFJ President Christopher Warren.

Journalists' safety, censorship, media job losses and lack of independent news are the most serious threats to independent media and free reporting, in Nepal reports the IFJ. This is having a crippling effect on democracy.

"Since King Gyanendra's royal coup on 1 February, he and his army have suffocated the media by directly enforcing censorship through armed military intervention and indirectly fostering a climate of fear and self-censorship," said the IFJ President from Kathmandu today.

"As a result of this sweeping censorship, media organisations have been shut down, journalists have been arrested, the public doesn't know what's going on and close to 800 journalists are out of work," Warren said.

The IFJ is also concerned for the welfare of three detained trade union leaders and calls for their immediate release. Ms Manju Bhattarai, Pushkar Acharya and Kishore Gautam have all been detained in a clampdown on trade union rights and there are reports that Bhattarai is not well. All are executive members of the ICFTU affiliate, the Nepal Trade Union Congress.

The IFJ found four areas of most concern for free and independent media in Nepal:

1. Safety of Journalists

Following the Royal Proclamation and declaration of emergency, any statements critical of the King were prohibited. The statement by the FNJ, strongly criticising the King's actions, was met with reprisal. The president of FNJ, Taranath Dahal was hounded, and continues to remain in hiding. Bishnu Nisthuri, General Secretary of the FNJ who was arrested on the night of Friday, 4 February 2005, continues to remain in detention. His whereabouts was unknown for three days, until his wife, Shakuntala Nisthuri, was allowed to meet him. She has met him on four occasions, and he is in reasonable physical condition. Nisthuri is being detained in Singha Durbar Ward Police Station without any detention notice.

Responding to a habeas corpus petition filed by the FNJ, the Supreme Court ordered the government on Monday 14 February to submit a written explanation within three days why Bishnu Nisthuri is being kept in detention. A single bench of Justice Khil Raj Regmi issued the order to the authorities including the Ministries of Home and Defence, Nepal Police Head Quarters, Armed Police Force, Royal Nepalese Army, Kathmandu District Administration Office and Singha Durbar Ward Police Office (The Himalayan Times, 15 February).

Rounding up of those critical of the royal coup continues to be a threat. It is the political leaders and human rights activists who seem to be targeted, but journalists are under real threat also. Taranath Dahal, President of the FNJ continues to remain in hiding, with a real apprehension of detention.

On 13 February, D. R Panth, a reporter with the daily Kantipur, was arrested in Dadeldhura town in the Mid Western Region.

On 15 February, two journalists were detained in Chitwan: Basant Prajuli (representative of Gorkhapatra Daily) and Narayan Adhikari from Government-owned Rastriya Samachar Samiti. The reasons are not known.

2. Censorship

Following the Royal Proclamation, there has been severe censorship of the media in Nepal. Even before the royal address ended, at about 10.15 am, armed personnel entered media houses, TV and radio stations and demanded that work be stopped. Phone and internet lines were totally cut for three days, and intermittently and arbitrarily turned on and off for a few house at random. Mobile phone connections continue to be cut off.

The Royal Proclamation itself contained "guidelines" on what the media could report, essentially prohibiting any criticism of the Royal Proclamation or the King's actions. Any reports that would give publicity to the Maoists were also proscribed.

The FNJ and the IFJ are investigating reports that more journalists have been detained in western Nepal.

Censorship has been of four kinds:

Direct censorship: prohibiting any news critical of the King and present government, or giving "publicity" to Maoists. This has meant that armed military personnel stationed themselves at state-owned and private media houses, vetting all news to be published. Army visits at the daily newspapers went on for at least three days and the IFJ witnessed it continuing well into the second week of the coup. Many newspapers have responded by publishing ridiculous editorials or leaving huge blank spaces in protest. FM radio stations were prohibited from broadcasting news, all news bulletins stopped immediately.

Self Censorship: due to fear of reprisals (either being picked up and detained, harassed by the security personnel), or their publications being closed down, editors and publishers have opted to self-censor. In the beginning, there was literally no political news except for handouts from official sources.

Cutting off communications: cutting off mobile phone connections and some land lines has severely affected newsgathering and confirmation of news reports, especially from remote areas.

Total clampdown: The FM radio stations have been prohibited from broadcasting news forcing up to 800 radio journalists out of work. There are 56 registered FM stations in Nepal, with 41 in actual operation. They have a wide outreach, and their listeners in remote areas have no other form of news. With a widespread non-literate population, radio is an excellent - sometimes the only - means of communication. By cutting off the access to FM news, the King is denying the Nepali public of a vital source of independent news.

Private Indian news channels like Aaj Tak, Zee News, NDTV, Star News and the state-owned Doordarshan News have been banned. No cable provider can broadcast these channels. These were widely viewed in Nepal.

Channel One, a private Nepali news channel uplinked from India, has been closed down totally.

Interestingly, BBC radio (Nepali service) has not been banned. There is a bulletin for 30 minutes from 9-9.30pm which is widely-listened to as the only source of authentic news. The service has increased now to 45 mins ever since 1 February with a special 15 minute program on nine years of the Maoist insurgency. The IFJ has reports of people buying up new radios to be able to listen to BBC (the FM radios they had cannot catch the short wave BBC transmission).

3. Layoffs

Media workers in the FM radio stations are most severely affected by the clampdown on news. According to our reports, it is understood up to 800 journalists are out of work. If the ban on news is not lifted, it is likely they will lose their jobs permanently.

4. Lack of Independent News

The imposition of censorship has had a deep impact on provision of independent news to the public. Cutting off radio news has a particularly severe impact. The IFJ visited Pumdivundi village outside Pokhra (Kaski district), where some villagers expressed their frustration at not knowing what was going on politically, that newspapers were not publishing news, and radios were only broadcasting music. The Maoist blockade is biting everywhere outside the Kathmandu Valley - vehicular movement is at a minimum, schools and colleges are closed, shops are more or less closed.

The IFJ will release a full report on the media situation in Nepal after the conclusion of the mission.

For more information please contact:

Christopher Warren: +871 631 525 998,

Laxmi Murthy: +977 1 5524694 or 5521073 Jacqui Park: +61 411 721 692

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries

The IFJ mission to Nepal is supported by International Media Support

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