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Editorial: CAAN should come clean

Editorial: CAAN should come clean

The decision of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) to seek clarification over news published in a daily is an attack on freedoms of speech and expression, so it is condemnable. 

On Aug 18, CAAN sought clarification from Simrik Air Chairman Capt Rameshwar Thapa, who also chairs the Annapurna Media Network (AMN), regarding news materials published by AMN outlets, including the Nepali daily Annapurna Post.

While CAAN’s concern for flight safety is justifiable, the manner in which it has engaged with the media raises important questions about the compatibility of regulatory authority with the principles of press freedom and democratic governance. It also goes against the principle of editorial freedom. It is imperative that the principles of press freedom, enshrined in Nepal’s Constitution, are upheld.

The 2015 Constitution guarantees every Nepali citizen the freedom of expression and thought. Article 17 of the Constitution explicitly protects the press’ right to function independently, question authority, and ensure a transparent democratic society.

While CAAN’s concerns may be rooted in the well-being of air travel, the approach taken to seek clarification has raised concerns about overreach and potential violations of press freedom. The constitutionally-guaranteed rights of freedom of the press should not be overridden by any regulatory body’s actions. 

The CAAN move of seeking clarification seems to be a clear violation of these rights and could be perceived as an attempt to stifle media criticism and accountability. Questions arise whether there exists a legal basis to restrict the publication of opinions, comments, and reports concerning policy errors related to air services. While dissatisfaction with media coverage is a legitimate concern, there are established legal avenues such as the press council and courts for seeking redress.

The media’s role as the fourth estate within the democratic system is to ensure transparency, accountability, and checks and balances. It is not only the watchdog of executive, legislative, and judicial actions, but also a platform for citizens to question government decisions and policies. Thus, the media's ability to question the activities of bodies like CAAN should be safeguarded, especially when matters of public safety and accountability are at stake. If CAAN has any objection to the news content, it should approach Press Council Nepal and other regulatory bodies. 

It is essential to recognize that the editorial discretion for finalizing content rests with the editor. Moreover, it’s noteworthy that not only Annapurna Post but also other prominent national and international media outlets, including the BBC, have reported on the adverse impact experienced by citizens living in remote regions of Nepal due to CAAN’s directives. Regulatory agencies must recognize the role of the media in upholding democratic values, promoting accountability, and fostering public discourse. 

To maintain a delicate equilibrium between regulatory authority and press freedom, open communication, adherence to democratic norms, and a commitment to transparency are essential. In a thriving democracy, the actions of regulatory bodies should withstand public scrutiny without suppressing the media’s right to question and criticize. It is through such respectful engagement that Nepal can uphold democratic principles.