The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate Nepal Press Union (NPU) have strongly condemned new provisions to the Media Council Act that will further tighten the state’s creeping control over the media. Nepal’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology registered the Bill to Amend and Integrate the Media Council Act that would have far-reaching implications for the national media.
Media protection groups have called on the government to consult media stakeholders and revise the changes. The new provisions risk turning the free press into a mouthpiece of the government, and has been made with an aim to censor the media, not promote ethical journalism, they said.
The move is seen as the latest attempt to gag the press in installments, and under it media houses can be fined up to Rs1 million for publishing content in violation of media code of ethics. Under section 18, any media outlet, publishers, editors and/or journalists can be penalised up to Rs1 million for publishing content found to tarnish the dignity or reputation of an individual. The bill also allows for any individual to file a complaint against journalists even if they are not personally affected by the content.
If passed, the bill proposes a structure for keeping the Media Council under the government’s purview and restrict the freedom of expression and jeopardise independence of watchdog media in Nepal.
‘The harsh provisions proposed in this bill will have wide reaching implications for press freedom in Nepal. The media cannot operate in an environment of fear and intimidation, which would be created by many of these proposed changes,’ said the IFJ in its press release. “We call on the Nepali government to conduct consultations with media stakeholders and revise the provisions immediately.”
The new provision is latest in a slew of recent moves by the Nepal Communist Party aimed at muzzling the media and comes close on the heels of Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index which saw Nepal drop six spots to 106 this year.
First there was the Civil and Penal Codes that criminalised photography and cartoons that ridiculed politicians. Then the Privacy Bill put official documents out of journalists’ reach. Journalists have been arrested for violating the codes and citizens have been threatened for their social media posts condemning the government’s attempt to restrict freedom of expression.