Minister’s ‘dignified’ journalism jibe draws flakGovernment spokesman and communications minister Parbat Gurung says media was promoting ‘negative’ news.
Every time the government has come up with announcements of its intention to curtail free speech and bring new media-related laws, it has been dragged into controversy.
The latest of such announcements was made by the government’s spokesperson, who wants to make journalism in the country “dignified”.
Leaders of journalist associations and advocates of freedom of expression say it is not the job of the state to determine what is “dignified” journalism. They say the announcement by Minister Parbat Gurung is a worrying sign for the media.
Govinda Acharya, president of Federation of Nepali Journalists, said the government should refrain from coming up with any laws that attack on the freedom of expression and free press.
“The Constitution of Nepal provides for complete press freedom which means the media is a self-regulated industry,” Acharya said. “It’s not the government which should be developing criteria for dignified journalism. I expect that the government doesn’t take any steps against the established principle of free press.”
Speaking at a virtual interaction on Tuesday, Minister for Communication and Information Technology Parbat Gurung, who is also the government spokesperson, said that people’s trust of journalism has weakened in the recent time as sensational and negative news have been in its focus.
“The media sector is promoting negative news contributing to increasing frustration among the general public,” he said during the interaction. “I would like to inform you that I am for a law incorporating the provisions for dignified journalism in media law.”
Gurung didn’t specify what such a law would incorporate but his announcement comes at a time when the government is finalising the Mass Communication Bill.
The government wanted to register the bill in Parliament last year itself but it was put on hold because the government was already facing widespread criticisms over other related laws: Information Technology and Media Council.
Journalists and civil liberty groups objected to the two bills on the grounds that some of their provisions are aimed at curtailing freedom of expression and press freedom as guaranteed by the constitution forcing the government to put them on hold.
The Media Council bill is awaiting endorsement from the House of Representative while the Information Technology bill hasn’t been tabled.
The bill on Information Technology has prescribed fines up to Rs 1.5 million and/or five years imprisonment for posting “improper” content on social media sites that authorities construe as a character assassination and an attack on national sovereignty.
Similarly, the provisions in the Media Council Bill legalise hefty fines and give the government more say in hiring and firing of council members.
The federation under Acharya’s leadership had organised a series of protests against the Information Technology and the Media Council bills compelling the ruling party leaders to announce the controversial provisions in the laws will be revised before they get through the federal parliament.
Tara Nath Dahal, executive chairman of Freedom Forum, an organisation that advocates for free speech, said Gurung’s statement shows the government, despite huge criticisms in the past, is working on a law aimed at controlling the media and freedom of expression.
“There are already enough laws to make the media accountable. Coming with new law means the government wants to tighten grips on the media sector,” he told the Post. “It is saddening that the government doesn’t want the press to function without interference.”
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on different occasions has criticised the media for creating instability in the country. He has been claiming that the media coverage is intended towards dismantling hard-earned stability in the country.
Oli, similar to Gurung’s statement on Tuesday, has been saying the media propagates negative information and editors don’t have courage to publish the good works by the government.
“The statement from the government sometimes shows it isn’t happy with the way Nepali media is functioning,” said Acharya. “However, I can say our media is functioning in a way more responsible compared to those in our region.”