The fourth estate

  • Free press is a pillar of democracy and it should be allowed to function unhindered

May 2, 2019-

It is not possible to celebrate freedom when you are not free. A new report by the Freedom Forum--a civil liberty group--has revealed that Nepal has become increasingly intolerant of journalists; owing to the increased number of attacks against them and growing digital surveillance of reporters. This comes at a time when journalists and media outlets globally have been subjected to a subtle wave of vilification. During times of peril, journalism has always been a force for good and this World Press Freedom Day too, this is what we need to uphold.

The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) reported that there have been 42 incidents of abuse against journalists since May 4, 2018. Reports from IFEX Nepal detail many cases--each peppered with violence and abuse. In June 2018, five journalists were attacked by Nepal police officers while they were covering clashes between the police and demonstrators near the parliament in Kathmandu. In November, a dozen cadres of ruling the Nepal Communist Party attacked journalist Lokendra Khanal of Nagarik daily in Rukum in West Nepal. Police made no arrests in connection with the case. Other cases of unwarranted arrests, threatening phone calls, and online abuse of journalists in the country tend to go unreported.

On the Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group on issues relating to freedom of information and freedom of the press, World Press Freedom Index, Nepal ranks 106 out of 180 countries. The report also described Nepal’s press freedom as a ‘victim of political vicissitudes’. This is certainly not something to be proud of. What’s more, we have been witnessing different laws being drafted that is clearly indicative of a constricting mindset. The new Criminal Code introduced in August 2018, for example, included a number of  articles that many human rights agencies have claimed would severely hinder the ability of journalists to engage in free and fair reporting. Similarly, the Electronic Transaction Act has enabled the criminalisation of journalistic activity. Four journalists were detained citing provisions under this Act in 2018.

Critical media thrives on the pursuit of truths that those with economic and political power do not want told. These truths, once brought to light, become the starting point for public debates. It has been just one year since the new government was put in place with a thumping two-thirds majority, but to see it flex its muscles and tighten the rules and regulations for the media is unfortunate.

Freedom of press and democracy enjoy a intertwining relationship. But in recent times, the government and the press seem to be on a collision course. The press is a watchdog of society and for the government, too. To be aware of what is happening, how its state organs are functioning, a free and thriving press is a must for any governing body. The current government, and all future ones, will need understand and come to recognise this. The free press is a pillar of democracy and it should be allowed to function unhindered.

Published: 03-05-2019 07:00

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