Lifeblood of democracy, Press, still remains insecure

August 9, 2017

Kathmandu: Democracy without press freedom cannot be possible, and press freedom cannot survive without democracy. The press always plays a constructive role in helping government carry out its activities, development or administrative, besides feeding people with news about what is happening around them and the world. Corruption and the press always stand in the opposite direction however and the latter becomes a pain in the neck for those who misuse power and indulge in corruption. It at all times acts as opposition to corruption. So, it often faces attacks, explicitly or implicitly. The practice is worldwide.

In the United States of America, a big democracy, there is regularly a tussle between President Donald Trump and the press. Trump invariably acts tough against the press, terming news disseminated by the US press 'fake'. One of the reasons of diplomatic crisis in Qatar is reported to be Al Jazeera news channel. Among the demands put forward by the countries that have taken tough steps against Qatar is to close down the English news channel.

Another recent incident of attack on the press is Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta resigned following the incident that Adani Power Ltd., India's private thermal private producer, sent a letter to the EPW team to take down an article on the Adani. The group said the article published in the EPW 'Modi Government's Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group' (June 24, 2017) was defamatory and harmful to the reputation of their client. Looking at the three incidents of implicit action against the press, there is an indication of weakening it.

Back in Nepal, a country which just entered a federal republic, ending long reigning monarchy and is enjoying Loktantra, the condition of the press is not that much good. Implicit and explicit attacks on media and journalists are apparent. In November 2016, Himal Southasian, a quarterly non-profit journal published from Kathmandu was shut down. It is reported that a critical reporting published in its sister publication, Nepali Times, about the abuse of authority by then suspended Chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority Lokman Singh Karki was a cause behind the shutdown. The government did not cooperate in releasing funds because of the report, thus forcing the magazine to close, it was reported.

Then the CIAA had also filed a case against Kanak Mani Dixit, who founded and edited the magazine for many years, on charges with financial irregularity. He also had to disappear apparently to escape police arrest on same charges. The recent attack on the press is assaults on Nagarik Daily's Dilip Paudel while reporting.

He reportedly received threats from the Managing Director of the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) just for writing news involving misappropriation of millions of rupees allegedly by Khadka in purchasing land for the NOC.

In Nepal's case, the aforementioned incidents cases are just in point. According to the report, 'New Fronts, Brave Voices: Press Freedom in South Asia 2016-2017', the year was one of growing attempts by the state to exercise control, especially over the online media.

The report was conducted by the International Federation of Journalists and launched recently in the Capital by the Federation of Nepali Journalists in association with UNESCO. There were 65 incidents of press freedom violations recorded from May, 2016 by the FNJ Media Rights Monitoring Unit (Of them police detained 17 journalists while on duty, 10 were attacked during reporting, 15 harassed by different groups, seven threatened, four of the incidents were attacks on media and two of the incidents were vandalism of equipment of journalists).

According to the report, "the media in Nepal continue to suffer from attacks, threats and harassment by both state and non-state parties. The FNJ said that Nepali press is still under threat and remains insecure". The UNESCO said among 35 killings of journalists in Nepal, only six were taken to prosecution. According to Freedom Forum, 19 of the 26 cases of death or disappearance during the Maoist insurgency still have not entered the judicial process.

Besides, journalists are in some cases restricted from access to information under different pretexts. All these incidents of attacks on the Nepali press raise a question whether we are in a real sense practicing press freedom?

Editor in Chief of Republica Subhash Ghimire said they (himself and Editor in Chief of Nagarik Daily) are under implicit pressure for critical reporting.

"Assaults on journalists have obviously psychological impact. However, we will run away from our responsibility as journalists," he said. RSS