Press Office manned by security personnel starts monitoring mediaIgnoring widespread criticism of the move, Election Commission inaugurated the office on Friday.
Tika R Pradhan
Despite public criticism, the Election Commission on Friday inaugurated the Press Office comprising representatives from cyber units of the Nepal Army and the Nepal Police to monitor social and online media.
Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya inaugurated the unit that has representatives also from the Advertisement Board, the Press Council Nepal and the Nepal Telecom Authority.
Different media organisations including the umbrella body of Nepali journalists, the Federation of Nepali Journalists, have expressed strong objections to the election body’s move. They have said the nature of the role given to the unit was tantamount to infringing general public’s freedom of expression and that mobilising security personnel to monitor online and social media content was seriously objectionable.
“The Federation of Nepali Journalists has concluded that the Election Commission has tried to infringe on general people’s freedom of expression and constitutional freedom of the press by forming a ‘press office’ comprising security personnel from Nepal Army and Nepal Police, among others representatives,” read a statement issued by the Federation on Friday.
Also, media experts and observers have condemned the move of the Commission saying that it would seriously affect the people’s freedom of expression.
“The election body has constitutional mandate and moral authority to monitor the media, but it’s wrong to involve security agencies in the task,” said Taranath Dahal, executive director of the Freedom Forum, a non-profit that advocates free speech. “Voters need diverse information, discourse and debate during the time of elections so that they can make informed choices and the election body must not discourage such an environment.”
Chief Election Commissioner Thapaliya, however, tried to clarify that they included representatives from the Nepal Army and Nepal Police in the unit with a view to take their support if they need to resolve cases related to cyber crime.
“Similar mechanism was in place also during the local polls, but that was not needed and I hope this time also such a situation won’t arise,” Thapaliya told journalists after inauguration of the press office. “Actually we wanted to work in collaboration with the technical manpower of the security bodies.”
A directive committee led by election commissioner Janaki Tuladhar will look after the press office.
The chief election commissioner, in an attempt to convince journalists, said the election body would utilise the Press Council Nepal for its regular job of monitoring the media.
“We won’t dare to monitor the mass media. We just want to see the content and analyse them to know what kind of information is being disseminated,” said Thapaliya. “Readers and audiences monitor them. The provision of the existing journalist code of conduct of self-regulation and self-evaluation should be implemented.”
The Press Office is given a role to monitor online and social media content and ask anyone involved in posting misleading information to remove such content. The unit will also recommend action against such individuals to the authorities concerned.