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Bills of wrongs

Bills of wrongs

 There is plenty of room to doubt the intent behind the proposed media regulations. A recently-tabled media bill in the federal par­liament proposes harsh fines, of up to Rs 1 million, if a media outlet is deemed to have damaged someone’s reputation. Another bill criminalizes publi­cation or broadcasting of any material seen as under­mining national sovereignty, with the offender facing 10-15 years of jail and Rs 10 million in fines. Another proposal is for the government to be able to hire and fire media regulators at will.


The government has come up with many justifica­tions for the new measures. It believes Nepali media has become unruly; that there is little verification of information before publication; that yellow journal­ism is rife; and that media houses are unduly profiting from the labor of journalists who are not getting even minimum wages. Another gripe is that the media is being influenced by foreign interests. Again, these may all be valid concerns. But the track record of the two-third Oli government suggests the real goal is to stifle all criticism of his government, which has visibly failed on many fronts.


If the intent was right, why isn’t the new press over­sight mechanism being made an autonomous body that can independently assess rule violations? How can its officials function independently when they know that only by constantly keeping the higher-ups happy can they retain their job? Likewise, how will there be any kind of investigative reporting when the journalist knows he or she may be jailed for years on end for it? And isn’t a court of law rather than a handpicked body the right institution to determine a breach of a loaded concept like national sovereignty?


If the government was serious about solving genuine issues facing the Nepali media, it would have proposed new legislations only after extensive consultations with stakeholders: journalists, media houses, intellectuals, lawyers. Forcing restrictive laws on the media on the sly is no way to go about it. At a time when the strong communist government has near complete monop­oly on the executive, the legislative, and some would say even the judiciary, its efforts at taming the ‘fourth organ’ of the state is troubling to say the least. Flawed as Nepali media is, it has performed a vital job of keep­ing people informed and fostering the progressive changes the country has witnessed in recent times. It would be dangerous to go down the slippery slope of restricting the media.