Media Council Bill tabled in the Upper House amid uproarMinister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Baskota says the government is ready to refine it.
Despite reservations from the main opposition, the government on Tuesday tabled the controversial Media Council Bill in the National Assembly.
The bill, which will replace the existing Press Council Act, was registered in the National Assembly on May 10. Though the government wanted to get the bill endorsed, it backtracked following strong reservations from the Federation of Nepali Journalists, Nepal Media Society and the Nepali Congress.
After commitments from some senior leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party that the bill would go through a revision, the federation had withdrawn its protest. Subas Nembang, deputy parliamentary party leader of the NCP, and Khim Lal Bhattarai, chief whip of the party in the National Assembly, had assured the federation of amendments to the bill as per its demand.
The National Assembly will now hold a discussion on the bill before it is sent to the Legislation Committee for finalisation. Deliberations will begin on Friday.
Lawmakers can submit amendment proposals on the bill once it lands in the House Committee.
“We are still holding discussions with the federation and the main opposition,” said Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Banskota while tabling the bill in the House on Tuesday. “It can be revised based on the feedback.”
Before it was tabled, Nepali Congress Lawmaker Radheshyam Adhikari had said the regressive bill should be stopped from being presented. He said despite the established principle that the Media Council should be an autonomous body, the bill envisions it as a subordinate body of the government.
Adhikari said a committee either led by the chairman of the National Assembly or by the Speaker of the House of Representatives must be formed to recommend the name of the chairperson of the council.
“I also oppose the provisions of hefty fines to journalists,” said Adhikari.
The bill proposes that the council can slap a fine up to Rs1 million on journalists.
The Nepali Congress, however, allowed to present the bill after Banskota assured changes after consultation with the concerned parties.
The leaders of the federation say they are hopeful that the bill will be revised as per the commitment from the ruling party before it gets endorsed by Parliament.
“We have been told the bill will be revised based on the understanding reached with us,” Ramesh Bista, general secretary of the federation, told the Post. “We are closely watching the development.”
The ruling party had agreed in writing with the federation that the provisions regarding hefty fines and making council an autonomous body would be revoked and that consultation with the concerned parties would be held before drafting any law related to the media.
Bista said the federation has learnt that both the ruling and the opposition parties will jointly register amendments in the bill. The lawmakers will get 72 hours to register the amendments once the Upper House completes the deliberation. The Legislation Committee will then finalise it after the discussion on the amendments. It has to be endorsed by both the Houses before it comes into implementation.