National

Three journalists are under investigation over publishing news about the Dalai Lama

  • Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota confirmed to the Post that the investigation was initiated at his orders.
- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

May 12, 2019-

Three journalists at the Rastriya Samachar Samiti, Nepal’s national news agency, are being probed for disseminating a news item regarding the Dalai Lama.

RSS journalists working at the English desk of the news agency--Mohani Risal, Somnath Lamichhanne and Jivan Bhandari--face the probe for translating and disseminating a wire report about the Dalai Lama being discharged from a hospital in New Delhi and his return to Dharamshala on April 27 after treatment.

Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota confirmed to the Post that the investigation was initiated at his orders.

In a phone interview with the Post, Baskota said the Tibet issue is sensitive for China and dissemination of a report regarding the Dalai Lama by the state-run news agency--particularly during President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s state visit to China--was against Nepal’s commitment to One-China policy.

“We should be sensitive to our neighbours’ concerns,” Baskota told the Post. “If a state-owned media [wing] in Nepal publishes a news item on Kashmir during a visit of the Indian prime minister, the Indian side will definitely raise their concerns,” said Baskota. “No state media writes about any controversial issue when the President is visiting the concerned country. That’s why I ordered a probe.”

Three reporters with the state-owned wire service told the Post that after some media outlets ran the RSS report on the Dalai Lama, the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu raised concerns with the government of Nepal.

However, the issue came to Baskota’s attention through a different route.

On the night of April 27, the state-owned Gorkhapatra, a vernacular daily, was being finalised. Just before the paper went to press, desk editor at the paper, Shreedhar Acharya, spotted the news item on the Dalai Lama--along with a picture--on the international page, multiple journalists at the newspaper told the Post. Acharya immediately removed the news item. Things were supposed to have been sorted out.

But the next morning, the issue reached Baskota. Upon knowing the source of the news report, Baskota immediately summoned RSS Chairperson Shyam Prasad Adhikari and ordered a probe.

Adhikari then formed a four-member probe committee under Dilliram Bhattarai, a member of the RSS board. According to multiple people inside the state news agency familiar with the development, the investigation was initiated by Baskota after pressure from Chinese officials in Kathmandu. One of the RSS reporters, who was among those who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals, said an official from Xinhua, the Chinese state-owned news agency, had visited the RSS chairman the day after the news was published on online outlets.

Some employees at the Gorkhapatra said the matter could have been “brought to Baskota’s notice deliberately” because of internal politics in the state-owned paper.

The Gorkhapatra page with the Dalai Lama item was designed by Surya Bhujel, who is a board member of the Gorkhaptra Corporation. The issue was blown out of proportion because of some people’s vendetta against Bhujel, at least two employees at the daily told the Post.

Baskota had also raised the issue of Dalai Lama during the 119th anniversary of Gorkhapatra on May 9.

Meanwhile, the journalists facing the probe had met with Adhikari, the RSS chairman, and expressed reservations about the working environment and the lack of press freedom.

All the three journalists, however, have already submitted their clarifications in writing.

Later, according to RSS journalists who spoke to the Post, the three reporters under investigation said the Dalai Lama is a global newsmaker and that his health condition made important news for people around the world, including in Nepal. They have also stated that they had simply translated the piece and disseminated it through the RSS portal.

The national news agency had picked the news item from an Indian private news agency, ANI, which had reported that Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama had returned to Dharamshala after receiving treatment at a private hospital for a chest infection.

“We have received clarification from the three journalists in question,” Bhattarai, who leads the probe, told the Post. “We are studying the clarification. The RSS chairman is the final authority to take a decision.”

The Dalai Lama, 83, is a Tibetan spiritual leader labelled a “separatist” by Beijing. He was exiled from Tibet in 1959 after a failed Tibetan uprising.

The RSS journalists under probe have said they did not have any ulterior motive, that they had decided to disseminate the news purely on the humanitarian ground--because it talked about the spiritual leader’s health--and that they did not have any political reason for doing so.

“We should be sensitive about our [geopolitical] location. Had that news been published on Gorkhapatra, I would have had to resign. This news was about to be published when our President was in China. It was not an ordinary time,” Baskota told the Post. “We don’t know whether it was politically motivated or planted or ignorance or a lack of judgment.”

Published: 12-05-2019 10:01

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