Poll commission’s order to remove news report comes under fireLegal experts say the commission’s move is wrong and unconstitutional.
The Election Commission’s direction to the Nepali-language news portal Setopati to take down a news item within 24 hours has courted controversy.
On Friday, Setopati had carried out a news article stating that the former Law Minister Agni Prasad Kharel’s son who serves in the American army still holds Nepali Citizenship and his name is also included in voter rolls in Kathmandu.
"As it appears that the news has been published on Setopati in such a way as to assassinate the character of the candidate and his family or make personal insults, it is requested to remove the news within 24 hours and furnish a clear answer," the commission states in its letter addressed to the news portal's Editor-in-Chief Ameet Dhakal. "Why shouldn't the commission take action against the news portal as per Section 23 of the Election Commission Act?"
Legal experts say the commission’s move is wrong and unconstitutional.
Santosh Sigdel, an advocate who is a founder of Digital Rights Nepal, said it is an indication that the Election Commission considers the constitutional rights of the freedom of expression, right to information and press freedom come under its code of conduct, which is blatantly wrong. “No legal provision allows the commission to call for removing news, especially without establishing guilt,” he said.
Rajendra Dahal, former chair of the Press Council, said to conduct elections smoothly, the commission uses its rights which everyone should accept, including the media. “However, its actions should be based on fact,” he said.
Dahal added that if the news is not based on evidence, then it is not wrong for the commission to ask for content removal. “But if the online portal claims the news is factual, no code of conduct bars from publishing it. To bring out facts is neither a character assassination nor a defamation,” he said. “So, in such a case, the online portal can move the court.”
According to Sigdel, neither any concerned individual has made a complaint nor is there any dispute on the fact mentioned in that specific news referred to by the Commission. And, anyone aggrieved by news can seek legal remedy in case of wrong facts, he added.
“The commission should actually clarify how the news has affected the election, why reporting a fact by the media is a problem and why the commission is required to represent political leaders to protect their individual interest?” he said.