Government ignores free press concerns

  • New bill bars journalists from even gathering information on public staff
- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

Aug 22, 2018-

The government registered a new bill at the Parliament Secretariat on Tuesday, outlining provisions that would further muzzle the country’s free press.

The move comes in the backdrop of national and international concerns that the privacy provisions of the criminal code which came into force last week would hamper the work of journalists.

The draft Bill on Protection of Individual’s Right to Privacy, registered by the Ministry of Home Affairs, has several restrictions on publications and journalists. The bill bans collection of individuals’ information, taking photographs, and recording a conversation without prior permission. Anyone found guilty of flouting the provisions could face up to three years in prison or Rs30,000 fine or both.

The bill, which needs to be endorsed by the federal parliament before it is implemented, also has provisions for compensation equal to the loss incurred by a victim due to violation of their privacy right.

Legal and media analysts say the blanket ban on gathering information concerning even those who hold public positions curtails freedom of the press. Clause 12 of the bill, for instance, denies collection of any information about the income, business, or other private affairs of any individual—including those who hold government office.

“The draft bill, pretty much like the criminal code, has come with an ill intention to curtail the rights of the press,” Ujjawal Acharya, the South Asia coordinator of International Federation of Journalists, told the Post. “It has to be revised before it gets approved by Parliament.”

In proposing the new bill, Acharya added, government authorities have fully ignored the universal practice of journalists collecting information on public figures in course of reporting. Privacy provisions in the Criminal Code that replaced the ages-old General Code say infringement on an individual’s right to privacy would result in up to three years imprisonment and fines in thousands of rupees. While the Criminal Code is a general law, the new bill is specially drafted for implementation of Article 28 of the constitution that guarantees the right to privacy.

Advocate Baburam Aryal said the draft law is also against the principle of open data, as Clauses 25 and 26 of the document restrict the use of statistics available in the public domain for research and journalism.

“The act to come up with a new law amid fierce criticism of the criminal code shows that the government is not willing to compromise,” Aryal told the Post.

Contested clauses

  • Ban on gathering of information on individuals, taking photographs, and recording conversation without consent
  • Ban on collection of information on income, business, or other private affairs of an individual including those who hold public positions
  • Restrictions on using data available on public domain for research and journalism
  • Use of drones restricted

Published: 22-08-2018 07:23

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