International Mission Nepal Releases Joint Statement on Press Freedom in Nepal

 

The International Press

Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission (also

known as the International Media Mission) visited Nepal from 5 to 8 February to

undertake a rapid response assessment of the press freedom situation in the

country. The International Mission

was represented by ARTICLE 19, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International

Media Support (IMS), International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), UNESCO and World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC).

 

Press

freedoms in Nepal

continue to face serious threat despite the hope that restoration of democratic

rule would improve the situation.

 

The

Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) recorded a staggering 342 press freedom

violations in 2008 alone, including

a significant escalation in the number of physical attacks on journalists and

media houses. Four journalists - Uma Singh,

J.P. Joshi, Birendra Sah and Pushkar

Bahadur Shrestha - have been killed since 2006. The International

Mission calls on the authorities to undertake prompt,

independent and impartial investigation of these and all other cases of murder

and disappearances of journalists.

 

Another

journalist, Prakash Singh Thakuri, has been missing since July 2007. Late last year

the Government withdrew charges against the accused,

who was earlier released on bail. Prime Minister,

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, assured the International Mission that the case would be

reopened. The International Mission

also calls for an investigation into killing of Dekendra Thapa, after his remains were found last year.

 

The International Mission is deeply worried over the

attacks on media houses, including

Kantipur, Himal Media, Ankush Daily,

Ramaroshan FM and APCA Group. Such attacks on media workers, publications and property are unacceptable. Those

responsible must be held accountable for their actions. Any substantive

grievances over work conditions must be addressed through dialogue and

negotiation.

 

The International Mission

is concerned that due process is not being observed in the cases against Rishi

Dhamala, Ram Subhak Mahato, Birendra K.M.,

Manoj Mahato. The reported kidnapping of Pankaj Das in Birgunj whilst the International Mission was in the country must be

swiftly followed-up by the authorities.

 

The ongoing

attacks, threats and harassment of

media personnel and organisations are having a chilling effect on press freedom.

Free and open debate is being undermined with journalists and media being forced

into self-censorship, seriously jeopardising

the peace and democratisation process currently underway in the country.

 

A pattern in

the attacks and harassment is discernible. Critical reporting is being met with

violence and perpetrators go unpunished. The authorities are failing in their

duty to prevent, punish and redress

the harm caused by such attacks. The violations of journalists’ rights is a

direct infringement of the public right to information. Furthermore, the links between political parties and some the

perpetrators of these violent acts are a matter of serious concern and would

indicate the acceptance, and

possible complicity, of those

political parties in the violence. The Nepali constitution and international

covernents that Nepal

is signatory to place a positive obligation on the State to prevent these

abuses.

 

Conditions

for women journalists, already

seriously underrepresented in the profession,

are of particular concern as they are more vulnerable to attack and harassment, and are being forced to leave their work and

sometimes to move away from home due to such pressures.

The International Mission notes that as of now, not one person has been convicted for a criminal

act against journalists and media houses,

and calls on the Prime Minister and Government to follow-up their commitment to

end impunity. Moreover, the International Mission demands that all acts of

violence against journalists and the media end immediately.  

The International Mission urges the Government and

political parties to implement the recommendations for freedom of expression

and press freedom outlined in the Agenda

for Change document as swiftly and fully as possible. Specifically, the International

Mission draws attention to the following six points,

which should be addressed in accordance with international standards and best

practice:

 

v      Guarantees of freedom of

expression for all and press freedom must be enshrined in the new constitution;

v      The Right to Information (RTI) Act should

be properly enforced so as to give practical effect to the presumption in

favour of disclosure;

v      The Government should end control of

media and introduce Public Service Broadcasting;

v      An independent regulator for

broadcasting should be created in place of direct government control;

v      Criminal defamation should be abolished

and defamation should be addressed only through civil law;

v      The Working Journalists’ Act should

be implemented and accompanied by regular dialogue between media workers and

owners.

 

Furthermore, the International Mission urges the Constituent Assembly

to form a committee to deal with the reforms outlines in the Agenda for Change,

as well as to follow and respond to the press freedom situation in the country.

 

The International Mission is convinced that all media stakeholders

must rally around the common goal of safeguarding freedom of expression. The International Mission urges the international

community to support the national media community in its efforts to defend press

freedom.

 

The International Mission remains committed to

supporting and defending freedom of expression and press freedom in Nepal together

with its national partners.


About the International

Mission

 

The International Mission travelled to Nepal in

February 2009 with only two weeks notice on the request of the Federation of

Nepali Journalists and other members of the Nepali media community. The International Mission met with the Prime Minister, Ministers,

Constituent Assembly, leaders of

Government and opposition political parties,

heads of security agencies, media, and civil society organisations. Mission

members also visited Janakpur in Dhanusha District,

where the journalist Uma Singh was murdered on 11 January 2009.

 

The International Mission incorporates

fifteen international organisations,

including UN agencies, global media

associations, freedom of expression

advocates and media development organisations. This is the sixth visit of the International Mission

to Nepal, the previous trips being in July 2005, March 2006,

September 2006, January 2008 and

April 2008.

 

The International Mission thanks the Federation of

Nepali Journalists and other national media organisations involved in preparing

and hosting the visit, acknowledging

the importance of close cooperation with national stakeholders and ensuring a

nationally-driven process for ensuring press freedom in Nepal.

 

For further

details about the International

Mission please contact any of the participating organisations or:

 

Sukumar

Muralidharan

International

Federation of Journalists

Mobile:

+91 98105 18009

E-mail: Sukumar.md@gmail.com

 

Thomas

Hughes

International

Media Support

Mobile:

+45 2645 6563

E-mail: th@i-m-s.dk

 


8 February 2009
Kathmandu, Nepal