Press predators

Apr 9, 2012-

An unidentified gang murdered a journalist in Birtamod of Jhapa district last Tuesday night. Yadav Paudel was the Jhapa correspondent of Avenues Television and the national daily Rajdhani. This murder shows why, not surprisingly, the New York-based media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) placed Nepal at number seven on their global impunity index in 2011. According to CPJ, eight journalists have been murdered in Nepal since 1992, and judging from the past, the likelihood that Paudel’s culprits will be brought to book is not very high. This claim is made on the basis that of the seven cases prior to Paudel’s where journalists have been murdered, none have been fully solved. This is unacceptable, especially if the goal is to establish a vibrant democracy.

While the country treads along the road to peace, incidents of attacks on journalists are actually on the rise. According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), threats and incidents of “attacks/vandalism” against journalists have steadily increased during the last two years. Early last year, the FNJ said that the situation was so bad that the state of press in Nepal “was no better than at the height of the civil war.” And judging from the atrocities since then, the situation has not improved in any meaningful way, and journalists continue to face violence. What’s more dangerous is that the accused are protected by their patrons in political parties. For example, political affiliation of the accused was evident in the attack on Republica and Nagarik’s Biratnagar-based scribe Khilanath Dhakal. Parshuram Basnet, the district president of the UML-affiliated Youth Force, and two other sidekicks, who are the accused in the murder, still walk free.

In fact, the CPJ has linked the majority of cases of violence against media-persons to wider political affiliations. This trend of protecting local thugs by the political parties makes their modus operandi, in this case, similar to that of organised crime. Yet, it persists. Journalists, particularly those outside of the capital, face incredible dangers in duty. They are given no security—not from the state, or their employers. They often face the wrath of the powerful and their cronies in their attempts to dig out the truth. The tough task of reporting when the country is most fragile and problems of accountability and ownership are high is met by fact that the need for responsible journalism is at its peak. It’s bad enough that journalists have no protection, but when individuals affiliated to the political parties are the accused, it is an attack on free press and rule of law from very high quarters. In fact, of all the attacks on journalists, only two men, responsible for the murder of scribe Birendra Shah in 2007, have been brought to book. But the prime accused in that case too, who the Maoists have termed as a ‘rogue’ party member, remains at large. The harbouring of thugs by political parties is unacceptable and undermines the very essence of democratic culture. That is why it is necessary to immediately get to the bottom of Yadav Paudel’s case, determine whether it is of political or personal nature, and punish the guilty regardless.

Published: 10-04-2012 10:18

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