Sending diplomatic note to complain about Indian private media an immature and wrong approach, experts sayMedia and foreign policy analysts say the issues could have been easily dealt with by the Nepali embassy in Delhi through a presser or a statement of rebuttal or a formal complaint with the concerned media or channel.
In a rare practice, the government of Nepal has lodged a protest with India over “some objectionable content” about Nepal and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli by the Indian media. The Embassy of Nepal in New Delhi submitted a note verbale to India’s Ministry of External Affairs on Friday.
Diplomats and media experts, however, say that sending a diplomatic note to the government over publication and broadcasting of some content by the private media could set a bad precedent, not only affecting the bilateral ties but also hampering press freedom.
Both India and Nepal are democracies, with their constitutions guaranteeing freedom of expression and press freedom.
Experts say while some content in the Indian media about Nepal and Nepal’s prime minister are objectionable, condemnable and beneath the basic journalistic principles, seeking redressal to such activities through diplomatic channels undermines press freedom—a key tenet of democracy.
“The issue no doubt was grave, but it could have been easily sorted out without employing the diplomatic channel. There was no need to issue a demarche,” said Deep Kumar Upadhyay, a former ambassador to India.
“The government of Nepal or the Nepali embassy in Delhi could have directly taken the issue up with the concerned channel or the media rather than taking the Indian Ministry of External Affairs route.”
According to Upadhyay, the embassy in Delhi could have just held a press conference or simply issued a statement refuting the media reports.
Indian media lately has been hostile to Oli since his government released a new political map of Nepal depicting Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as parts of the Nepali territory in response to India’s move of opening a road link via Lipulekh to Kailash Mansarovar in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China.
Both Nepal and India claim Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as their territories.
The Indian media had been accusing Oli of acting at the behest of China.
Recently, as Oli was facing a crisis within his own party with the rival faction demanding his resignation as both Nepal Communist Party (NCP) chair and prime minister, Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi met with some influential ruling party leaders including Oli and President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
For the Indian media, especially TV news channels which are often criticised in their own country for their fictitious and salacious news reports, Hou’s meetings with Oli made a good fodder for them.
Zee News, in particular, had aired a ‘news report’ making sensational claims about Oli’s relationship with the Chinese ambassador.
That ticked off some in the government and sections of the Nepali society. Amid public outcry, Nepal’s cable TV operators banned Indian news channels in Nepal. The decision came hours after Yubaraj Khatiwada, the government spokesperson, said that the government would seek legal and political remedies against some Indian media for their “baseless” and “insulting” allegations against Oli.
Media experts say there certainly was a need to seek a remedy to what the Indian media were broadcasting, but complaints should have been filed with the concerned media and not with the government of India.
Though the Indian media has earned a sobriquet of Godi Media for being servile to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their status is “independent”, as legally they are not controlled by the government.
By issuing a diplomatic note to the Ministry of External Affairs, the Nepal government in a roundabout way seems to be giving the Indian private media the status of the government media, they say.
According to Dharmendra Jha, former president of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, an umbrella organisation of Nepali journalists, a diplomatic note against India’s privately owned media could mean inviting dangers for the Nepali press.
“What will happen if India or any other country starts to employ diplomatic channels to complain about the content published and broadcast in Nepal’s private media,” Jha told the Post. “Sending a diplomatic note to the government over the content published and broadcast by independent, free and private media is rarely heard.”
While media analysts are concerned about the possible attack on press freedom in Nepal due to such an immature move of the government, experts on diplomacy say resorting to diplomatic channels to gripe about certain private channels is a bit far-fetched.
“If we look at the content [of some Indian media], the protest, including the ban, looked justified,” said P Kharel, a professor of mass communication and journalism. “But a diplomatic note to complain about the content by some private media raises a simple question: why is the government using all its weapons at once?”
Kharel stressed that the media should be careful and sensitive while carrying reports on issues, including foreign relations.
“There should be a self-regulatory mechanism for the media, rather than allowing government control over it, as this defeats the whole objective of independent and free press,” said Kharel.
“When contentious and baseless issues appear in the media, there is no hard and fast rule on how to respond. But there certainly are some platforms that could be employed, like the International Federation of Journalists or the Federation of Nepali Journalists, among others.”
Kharel said he was a bit concerned why Nepal decided to send the diplomatic note.
Experts on foreing affairs say issuing a demarche to complain against a particular private media over its content is tantamount to abuse of diplomatic communication.
“The issue that we are talking about could have been easily resolved just by Nepali ambassador to India holding a press conference to make things clear or issuing a rebuttal,” said Madhav Khanal, a former chief of protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Submitting a diplomatic note is neither a solution nor an answer to what the Indian media were broadcasting.”
According to Thapa, the foreing secretary in Kathmandu could have summoned the Indian ambassador and quietly expressed displeasure about the goings on.
“The way the protest has been lodged is incorrect,” Khanal told the Post. “The entire process is flawed.”
Gopal Bahadur Thapa, a former joint-secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said it was a wrong approach on the government’s part to dispatch a diplomatic note on such small issues, signifying them as big irritants on bilateral ties.
“Sending a diplomatic note over the content published in the private media does more harm than good to bilateral ties. I call this incident an immature foreign policy,” said Thapa.
“The move of sending the note is not in keeping with diplomatic propriety. The issue should have been dealt with by the Nepali embassy in Delhi or the ambassador could simply have spoken with editors of the concerned media.”