A dreadful year
Dec 30, 2012-
The year 2012 has turned out to be the deadliest for journalists worldwide according to Reporters without Borders (RSF), a French media watchdog that began its global assessment in 1995. RSF reported that 88 journalists, 47 citizen journalists and 144 bloggers were killed this year.
Here in Nepal, the year began with a vandalised vehicle used by senior journalist Rajendra Dahal on January 20 by students and youth leaders of various political parties. It ended with a group of 50 hooligans storming the office of Nepal Republic Media in Kathmandu on December 20 and attempting to burn the office for a report published against their interest. During the year, Jhapa-based journalist Yadav Poudel, affiliated to Rajdhani daily and Avenues television, was murdered on April 3 for unknown reasons. Santosh Gupta, promoter of the Birganj-based Bindas FM was found dead in Bihar on July 6. Similarly, a Taplejung-based journalist Madan Poudel, affiliated to Radio Tamor, disappeared on September 16 and his whereabouts are still unknown.
Since the Constituent Assembly had a May 27 deadline to promulgate the constitution, the first half of the year was full of political mayhem, ethnic protests and chaotic scenarios, which nurtured media attacks. The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly without a new constitution generated a great depression in national politics and no major political/ethnic activities were organised; as a consequence, the number of press freedom violations dropped considerably in the second half of the year.
There were a number of cases reported during this period in which government authorities, political groups and armed groups threatened to silence critical reporting on
the abuse of authority and financial irregularities in public institutions. In addition, ethnic communities, politically-motivated groups and other interest groups also mounted pressure
through threats, intimidation and obstruction in the flow of information against unfavourable reporting. This practice imposed a huge self-censorship among journalists, promoted a spiral of silence against the powerhouse and forced journalists to confine themselves to formal reporting.
Government attempts to limit press freedom
On January 15, the government issued directives to ministries and civil servants listing 140 categories of information that would be denied to news media. This decision of increasing the range of official documents directly contradicted the constitutional and legal guarantees on the right to information. The Right to Information Act, 2007 lists such limits to only five categories, whereas the new provision attempted to deny access to information in many areas including political party financial transparency and government decisions. The move of the government was temporarily delayed by the Supreme Court immediately but the intention of the so-called democratic government was blatantly exposed.
The state-owned media were amply manipulated by the ruling political parties for favoured coverage and were discouraged from carrying out impartial journalism as mandated in statutes. For instance, Dipakmani Dhital, Acting General Manager of Nepal Television, was demoted on June 18 for the live broadcasting of a
programme organised by 27 opposition parties in Kathmandu on June
8. On the other hand, when sustainability was itself a question to
most of broadcast media, the government was discouraging, forcing them to pay two percent of their income or 10 percent of their profits as annual royalties. This financial burden could shut down many community radios across the country that operate through grants and donations from various sources.
Despite frequent commitments from the nation’s prime minister, the perpetrators of many of the most serious crimes (Uma Singh, Birendra Sah and Arun Singhaniya) in journalism remained at large in this year. The government was hesitant to publish the findings of a high-level committee that inquired into the killing of JP Joshi, a Kailali-based journalist. Similarly, the authorities were unable to bring alleged perpetrator Parshuram Basnet, youth wing leader of the CPN-UML, into the justice system for masterminding the attack on Khilanath Dhakal, a journalist from Biratnagar. Additionally, the government paid very little attention to effectively implement the Working Journalists’ Act 2008 and the Right to Information Act 2007 to ensure journalists’ job security and access to information.
Intimidation from non-government sectors
When reporting investigative issues related to corruption and human rights violations, many journalists received death threats or faced attacks on different dates from police personnel and other groups. Senior journalist Kanak Mani Dixit was declared an “enemy of the people” and received death threats for critical remarks by a Maoist monthly publication (January 30, 2012 issue). Three journalists of Kailali district were abducted on November 3 by timber smugglers and threatened with death if they published reports against their activities.
May was the worst month of the year in which ethnic groups organised strikes and other protest programmes in order to create pressure for ensuring their rights in the upcoming constitution. According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists, more than 100 incidents of media violence were reported in this month. On May 13, General Secretary of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) Angkaji Sherpa warned to exterminate journalists if media reporting remained unfavourable to them. Similarly, Malla K Sundar, an ethnic leader, publicly threatened to burn down an entire media house if journalists went against their ethnic interest.
NEFIN organised a three-day nationwide strike (May 20-22, 2012), in which coordinated attacks were heightened unexpectedly against journalists of different media across the country. Journalists’ vehicles were vandalised and camera and other equipments seized and damaged as if the perpetrators were revenging on the media for no disclosed reason. The strike organisers completely ignored the role of the media and treated journalists as their arch enemies. Freedom House, a US-based NGO, termed Nepal as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, whereas Reporters Without Borders reported these three days as the most hostile period in the post-Loktantrik era of Nepali journalism.
Pressure groups used the internet and multiple forms of social media such as email, Facebook, and Twitter to threaten journalists and media entrepreneurs. For instance, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, an armed group, emailed warning letters on 21 June to several local newspapers in Janakpur demanding that they publish their newspapers in the Maithili language within 35 days. Another armed group in the Tarai sent a Facebook message to Santosh Yadav, a reporter from the Rajdhani national daily, on August 8 accusing him of spying on behalf of the police administration.
There were hardly any media or journalists who were safe from attacks, threats or any sort of intimidation during the year. Most of the daily newspapers were burnt at various places by different groups either demanding adequate and positive coverage or publication in their language. Since journalists could not satisfy all, they did not feel safe with their press jackets and press cards and were inclined to hide their journalist identities during various protest programmes.
The prolonged political transition, instability in governance, political protection to armed or criminal groups, impunity against the journalists’ perpetrators and the failure to implement the rule of law were some of the key factors in the vulnerability in press freedom. After assessing the media freedom scenario of Nepal, the International Media Mission 2012 reported that “many of those responsible for murdering journalists remain at large, promoting a culture of impunity and leading to widespread self-censorship by journalists.” In the same way, for RSF, the lack of a stable government, uncertainty in the constitution-making process, impunity against press freedom violations were the major reasons that contributed to the fragile press freedom scenario.
Nepal was ranked 106th out of 179 countries in RSF’s assessment in 2011 but it might be pushed lower since the media scenario in Nepal was found to be one of the worst since the peace process commenced in 2006.
Published: 30-12-2012 08:46
- BHANU BHAKTA ACHARYA