Asia Internet Coalition asks government to rethink Nepal’s social media policyAIC calls for collaboration for practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of internet and keep people safe from harm.
The Asia Internet Coalition recently wrote a letter to Minister for Communication and Information Technology Rekha Sharma and expressed concerns over the recent regulatory developments, namely the Social Media Directive, and potential future moves to ban social media applications.
The government recently rolled out social media directives and enforced a ban on the social media platform TikTok, drawing criticisms from the internet fraternity in Nepal.
“While we acknowledge the importance of regulating social media platforms to ensure the responsible use of digital spaces, recent regulatory decisions by the government of Nepal raise significant concerns as they go against global best practices and have been introduced without any public or industry consultations,” said the letter sent to Minister Sharma on December 5.
Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a leading industry association of internet and technology companies, promotes the understanding and resolution of internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region while facilitating stakeholder dialogue between the public and private sectors, sharing best practices and ideas on internet technology and the digital economy.
A senior ministry official acknowledged the receipt of the letter and said it would take necessary steps to address the concerns raised in it.
Following the recent ban on TikTok, “we understand that the Nepali government is now setting its sights on prohibiting several other social media applications,” stated the letter. The government's decision to ban these applications “without properly establishing legal provisions goes against international best practices”.
“The AIC strongly believes that ensuring due process in the issuance of blocking orders for applications is crucial for business certainty. We wish to emphasise the importance of a transparent and fair procedure, preventing abrupt bans that could negatively impact investor sentiment and hinder the government's Digital Nepal goals. This impending decision requires a more comprehensive and collaborative approach that fosters innovation and supports the country's digital aspirations,” said the letter.
The alliance also requested a meeting with the government of Nepal.
“We humbly request the Nepal government to consider the issues highlighted in this representation and provide us an avenue for further engagement and input,” said the letter. “As an industry association, AIC strongly believes in the potential for multi-stakeholder dialogue to shape policies and legislation to foster innovation and technological advancement.”
The directive and regulatory approach, in its current form, would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their platforms and services available to Nepali users and businesses, it warned.
If Nepal wants to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, “we urge the government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm”.
The AIC also suggested that the government of Nepal initiate a consultative process involving industry stakeholders and civil society organisations so that a collaborative dialogue will not only enhance the effectiveness of the directive but also ensure that it aligns with global practices and the principles of a free and open digital environment.
The alliance said it is committed to working constructively with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to address these concerns and contribute to the development of a regulatory framework that meets the needs of both industry players and the broader community and addresses the concerns of the government.
“By conducting a consultation process that is credible, wide-ranging, and transparent, Nepal will be well-positioned to enact forward-looking policies that promote investment, job creation, and the rights of its citizens,” the IAC says in the letter also CCed to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Krishna Bahadur Raut, secretary at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, and Purushottam Khanal, chairman of the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA).
Their primary concern revolves around the immediate enforcement of the directive without consultation or a transition period, stated the letter. “This poses operational challenges for businesses and makes the directive unworkable.”
The mandatory registration of social media platforms with the ministry also “raises deep concerns, as it may discourage foreign direct investment and stifle innovation in the digital space”.
In addition, the stringent requirement for a content takedown within 24 hours lacked due process, hindering social media platforms' ability to conduct proper reviews in line with fundamental principles of free expression. A more nuanced approach, aligning with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, is needed, the coalition suggested.
The AIC also sought a meeting with Minister Sharma in order to settle the dispute. “We believe that a face-to-face or virtual dialogue would facilitate a more comprehensive exchange of ideas and insights, allowing us to collectively contribute to developing a regulatory framework that will effectively address the concerns raised while promoting the interests of all stakeholders involved.