As protest mounts, media bill draws ruling party members' ireSenior leaders and party-affiliated journalists are now openly criticising the government and the information minister over the controversial bill
Tika R Pradhan
After widespread criticism of the Media Council bill from all sections of society, censure has begun to appear from inside the ruling Nepal Communist Party itself.
A number of senior leaders from the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) are claiming that the bill, which is currently in Parliament, has tarnished the reputation of the party.
At a Sunday meeting, organised by the party-affiliated Press Sanghathan, at the party office in Dhumbarahi, Subas Nembang, deputy leader of the NCP Parliamentary Party, said that he could not support the bill in good conscience, as he has been fighting on the side of press freedom since the Panchayat days. Nembang then censured Gokul Baskota, the minister for communications and information technology, for pushing through with the bill.
“It would be best if the provisions that journalists are concerned over are amended,” Bishnu Rijal, a central committee member, quoted Nembang, also a Standing Committee member of the communist party, as having said in the meeting.
When asked to clarify his comments, Nembang told the Post that since the bill is already with Parliament, the way forward would be to make necessary amendments by holding discussions with relevant parties.
Despite much opposition, the Media Council bill was quietly registered at the National Assembly secretariat on May 9.
After Nembang’s comments, Baskota, who has so far been adamant about endorsing the bill as it is, agreed to amendments.
“The bill will not be withdrawn, but the government is ready to amend some of its provisions,” Rijal quoted Baskota as telling the meeting.
Baskota was rebuked not just by party leaders but also by party-affiliated journalists.
“This is not your ministry. You are in the party office now where senior leaders are present. You should listen to them,” Saindra Rai, former vice-chairman of Press Chautari Nepal, told Minister Baskota, according to those who were present in the meeting.
Press Chautari was the then CPN-UML’s journalists wing.
Nembang is not the only senior party leader who has expressed concern over the bill and the ire it has invited from journalists, rights activists, and the opposition. During a press meet at the Reporters Club, Dinanath Sharma, a National Assembly member, said that he would not let through any bill that contravenes the constitution and press freedom.
Sunday’s meeting was organised to seek solutions to the controversy over the Media Council bill, where both the government and journalists have been unwavering in their stances.
Minister Baskota had earlier said that the bill had been drafted after extensive consultations with journalists and the media, but Govinda Acharya, chairman of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, rebutted this claim.
“I was asked once to comment on five media-related bills for five minutes, and without access to the documents,” Acharya said at a discussion programme on Sunday. “I told them that the FNJ would provide clause-wise comments, if they wanted comments.”
The Federation had announced a week-long protest on May 12 against the Media Council bill, demanding that it be withdrawn. With the end of the protest on Sunday, Acharya announced that a second phase would begin on Monday, concluding on June 8 with the formation of a human chain from New Baneshwor to Maitighar.
The Media Council bill, which aims to replace the Press Council Act-1992 in effect, provides sweeping authority to the proposed government-led Media Council to issue hefty fines to journalists, among other controversial provisions. Rights activists and journalists have expressed fears that this council could proscribe press freedom.
A large section of journalists close to the ruling communists have themselves protested the bill, while others have refused to defend it, choosing to stay silent. Those critical of the bill have been attending the Federation of Nepali Journalists’ ongoing protests.
Ganesh Basnet, a former chairperson of the Press Chautari and joint-coordinator of the Press Sangathan Nepal, skipped Sunday’s meeting. Minister Baskota had had a heated exchange with Basnet on Friday for the latter’s support of the federation’s protest