Vibrant and vigilantNepali press faces problems, but has evolved considerably over the years
On May 3, the International Federation of Journalists and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network marked World Press Freedom Day 2017 by releasing a report entitled “New Fronts, Brave Voices: Press Freedom in South Asia 2016-17”. In Kathmandu, the report was launched by the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), in association with Unesco.
The 15th edition of the annual report documents the press freedom situation, media rights issues and national and regional journalistic activities in South Asia between May 2016 and April 2017. It says that 19 journalists, bloggers and media workers were killed in the past year in South Asia, with Afghanistan leading the list with eight killings, followed by Pakistan (five), India (four) and Bangladesh (one). No media staff was killed in Nepal in the last year.
Of course this does not mean that all is well for Nepali media. The report states that impunity for crimes against journalists is still a big concern here and that our media continue to suffer from attacks, threats and harassment by both state and non-state parties. According to records from the FNJ Media Rights Monitoring Unit, there were 65 incidents of press freedom violations in Nepal in 2016.
Press freedom in Nepal does not have a long history. Private media houses came into being only after the restoration of democracy in 1990. The decade-long conflict between 1996 and 2006 made journalism risky, especially in rural areas, with journalists caught between the excesses of the state and the rebels. Despite setbacks, the Nepali media have evolved considerably in the last two and half decades and played an important role at crucial moments in the country’s history. For example, they were crucial in rallying people against king Gyanendra’s usurpation of power. In recent times, the Nepali media were key in making people aware of the abuse of authority by the chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, Lok Man Singh Karki, and in voicing opposition against the unjustified impeachment motion against Chief Justice Sushila Karki.
Unlike in authoritarian countries, the press in Nepal is lively and noisy. A vibrant and vigilant press is essential to any democracy and is a way to hold government accountable. The onus lies on all of us to enhance the vibrancy and independence of our press so as to help our democracy take firmer root.