Press Council wants to monitor journalists’ social media use because it wants them to be ‘role models’Amendments to the Journalist Code of Conduct could stifle journalists’ freedom of expression on social media, rights advocates say.
Press Council’s eyes will now be on journalists’ social media accounts. Earlier this week, the Press Council and Nepali journalists’ umbrella association, the Federation of Nepali Journalists, amended the Journalists’ Code of Conduct, in an attempt to monitor what reporters say on social media.
If a journalist’s tweet or Facebook post is reported to the Council as a violation of the Council’s code of conduct by posting anything that’s not “respectful”, he/she might have to face the music.
Kishor Shrestha, Press Council’s acting chairperson, says the implications could be far-reaching based on how the Council assesses the violation and could result in their press pass getting suspended, the reporter’s newsroom being barred from receiving government advertisements or the reporter being stripped of state-sponsored awards he/she may have received in the past.
But Shrestha is also quick to defend the amendment, saying this is part of their attempt to ensure that reporters behave like “role models”.
“Journalists these days are using their social media’s wide reach to propagate anarchist ideas, like making calls to tie the black ribbon to protest the government's actions,” said Shrestha. “They shouldn’t be acting like political and social activists.”
He said Nepali journalists, through their social media posts, have tried to break laws on many occasions, without giving any concrete example of such incident or elaborating on it. He also added that the government wouldn’t have formulated stern laws like the Media Council Bill and the IT Bill if journalists had simply restrained themselves on social media.
“We will take complaints of such violations by journalists very seriously and follow the due process to hear from them and if they fail to respond or repeat such behaviour, there will be repercussions,” he said.
But freedom of expression advocates say a single institution cannot decide what is respectful and what is not. And advocate Babu Ram Aryal, who specialises in cyber law, says as long as there are sanctions for not complying with the code of conduct, these amendments shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“Surveilling what journalists do on social media is extremely problematic,” said Aryal. “So does that mean reporters will now be watched like criminals?”
But Govinda Acharya, chairperson of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, says the code of conduct has been amended merely to address the growing number of complaints the Federation has received relating to reporters’ “troublesome” use of social media.
“A lot of people have been complaining that it is restrictive and will curtail freedom of expression without understanding its objective,” said Acharya. “The amendment is just aimed at making journalists aware of how they should use their voice and privilege.”