Stakeholders call for constant vigilance against tendency to muzzle free press

Various stakeholders have called for constant vigilance against the efforts to muzzle free press and freedom of expression, including among others by framing anti-constitutional laws or flaring up attacks, harassments and intimidation.

At a dialogue entitled 'Press Freedom in Nepal: Status and Challenges' organized by Freedom Forum in the capital on Tuesday on the occasion of the 30th World Press Freedom Day, the speakers said there was no situation of full assurance for the freedom of press despite its guarantee in the Constitution, especially in view of framing news laws governing media and expression.

Speaking on the occasion, Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) Chairperson Bipul Pokharel cautioned the media fraternity to keep vigil on the attempts to introduce laws not compatible with the constitutional provisions and work towards improving their own performance to gain public trust.

He highlighted growing mass attacks on media, professional insecurity, impunity, non-implementation of Working Journalist Act, media credibility and capacity gap among journalists to utilize digital dividends and tackle threats as key challenges to free press in Nepal. "A separate law was indispensable to deal with digital threats and impunity so as to keep media free and safe as a public good to protect the fundamental freedoms of the citizens, including right to freedom of expression and information".

Likewise, media educator Dr Kundan Aryal said non-state actors have increasingly emerged as a threat to media system due to rise in political intolerance. "In a bid to prevent different forms and manifestations of attacks, big media houses are required to come up with ethical commitment and adopt open and visible editorial policy and grievance hearing and redress mechanisms". Against the backdrop of polluted media landscape in Nepal, media and societal relationship should be transparent, he added.

Executive Chief of Freedom Forum Taranath Dahal said Nepali journalists remained prone to threats and intimidation online with rapid shift towards digital space. 'Nepali media faced digital threats on its content management software during democratic exercise such as election which was blatant violation of data privacy, free press, free expression and information', he shared.

Also speaking on the occasion, Chairperson of Nepal Forum of Environment Journalists Roshani Adhikari highlighted challenges faced by women journalists in terms of remuneration, working environment and decision-making roles. 'Women journalists are not in a position to carry on their profession after marriage so it needs to be addressed through favourable policy to keep them in the media landscape'.

Executive Chairperson of Rastriya Samachar Samiti Dharmendra Jha asked stakeholders to also discuss the issues of editorial freedom, news room diversity, human resource and inclusive content which would contribute to enabling environment for development of media as a common platform. 'Realizing the essence of building pluralistic society, it is the state as well as the multiple stakeholders, including media fraternity to take up the roles'.

Similarly, columnist and investigative journalist Namrata Sharma lamented on the rise in psychological fear among journalists. She insisted the need of educating new journalists on the new media system and human rights in the digital age.

Khimananda Basyal from National Human Rights Commission stressed the need to bring into implementation the journalist safety mechanism which was already developed in collaboration between NHRC and CSOs.

Likewise, Executive Chief of GOGO Foundation Kedar Khadka said the state mechanism was trying to control the civic space in the name of CSOs registration, renewal and project approval which may result in gradual extinct of civil society organizations in Nepal. 'The media and CSOs should collaborate to protect their space and fight against attacks and threats'.

Presiding over the dialogue programme, Freedom Forum Chairperson Haribinod Adhikari said self-censorship was continued to be a big challenge in Nepali media which was infringing on journalist's free expression.

The stakeholders also underlined the need of undertaking research on media's cyber resilience, intimidation on media through software and hardware measures, media monopoly, media transparency as well as recognizing youtube journalism.

The Annual Press Freedom Report-2023, prepared by Freedom Forum, recording trends and incidents of media freedom was also launched on the occasion. According to the report, press freedom violations stood 40 where 79 media persons were affected.

Source: National News Agency Nepal