CAAN’s anti-press freedom move draws criticisms
There is a constitutional and legal provision enabling responses to media reports. If such responses are not published, individuals can lodge complaints with the Press Council Nepal
The decision of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) to seek clarification over news published in Annapurna Post daily is an attack on freedom of speech and expression, experts have said.
They are of the view that CAAN, a regulatory body of Nepal’s civil aviation sector, is not authorized to seek clarification on the issues related to news stories. Of late, Post and its sister publications had been publishing a series of stories regarding the new rules of CAAN that are discouraging the aviation sector.
Balkrishna Basnet, chairperson of Press Council Nepal, says it is the council’s jurisdiction to examine the authenticity of news, not CAAN’s. “The letter issued to Annapurna Media Network by CAAN seeking clarification about news stories is unacceptable to the media fraternity.”
There is a constitutional and legal provision enabling responses to media reports. If such responses are not published, individuals can lodge complaints with the Press Council Nepal.
“The Press Council will carefully examine and inquire into instances where the media’s published materials do not meet expectations,” says Basnet.
Editorial freedom in media pertains to the autonomy of publishers in making decisions free from external interference. This encompasses editors’ independence to determine content and coverage. An integral facet of editorial independence is its role to act as a barrier against undue influence, be it from owners or external parties, when it comes to editorial choices and what gets published or broadcast. This becomes particularly relevant when media outlets publish content that may not align with advertisers’ preferences or owners’ viewpoints.
It is a well-known fact that Nepal’s geographical remoteness poses extreme challenges for accessing health services and transporting food. They have no choice but to rely on air services for these essential services.
But CAAN has enforced a policy suspending air services in remote districts after 12 pm starting July 31. This decision has had serious repercussions in remote and mountainous regions of Nepal. Tragically, due to the absence of air services, four children in remote regions of Karnali province recently lost their lives. They could not get timely medical attention due to the new CAAN policy.
After Annapurna Post, a sister publication of ApEx, reported about the hardship faced by the people living in remote hinterlands of Nepal, the issue garnered significant attention. Media outlets, such as BBC, Kantipur, and Radio Nepal, also covered similar news stories, emphasizing the need for prompt government intervention to resume essential air services in remote regions of the country.
Despite appeals from the chief minister of Karnali province, the federal minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, political leaders, and local representatives, CAAN Director General Pradeep Adhikari decided not to lift the air service restrictions. Instead, the CAAN decided to go against the media for exposing his misguided and callous decision.
The clarification letter states that AMN has repeatedly disseminated news, analyses, and comments that gravely undermine flight safety. The letter further points out that despite Capt Thapa’s role as the head of an airline company responsible for upholding flight safety, he seems to have misused his publishing rights through his media outlet, engaging in misleading and rumor-spreading activities.
Senior advocate Bijay Gupta says that the news covered by the Annapurna Post was about the effects of flight suspension. “It’s what the media should do.”
These actions, as stated in the letter, conflict with the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority Act of 2053 BS and the associated regulations, requirements, manuals, and other standards outlined by the authority.
But experts maintain that while CAAN has the capacity to regulate airspace, it has no right to encroach on editorial freedom.
Bipul Pokharel, president of Federation of Nepalese Journalists, emphasizes that the media conveys information in alignment with their principles, benefiting from editorial independence and direction. “Individuals without relevant involvement should not become the focus of clarification or measures based on edited content,” he adds.
Clause (b) of section 7 in the Press Council Act of 2048 BS stipulates that the journalist code of conduct of 2073 BS, endorsed by the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, emphasizes the importance of upholding editorial freedom. According to this provision, the code establishes that editors bear ultimate responsibility and control over news collection, editing, production, presentation, and distribution. Aligned with the global principle of editorial independence, the code underscores that media outlets and journalists must have the freedom to gather, publish, and express information, opinions, and perspectives without external pressure or influence.
As pointed out by legal experts, Capt Thapa holds leadership roles within three distinct organizations, each governed by separate laws. Hence, it is inappropriate for CAAN to conflate Thapa’s roles and seek an explanation for news published in his newspaper while linking it to his involvement with Simrik Air. Capt Thapa’s roles in Simrik and Annapurna are separate, and experts believe that CAAN Director General Adhikari has committed a constitutional and legal misstep.
The authority to write and publish news and editorials rests with editors, not investors. If dissatisfied with news coverage, individuals or organizations concerned should approach the relevant journalist or editor to present a rebuttal, or file a complaint with the Press Council Nepal.
Simrik Air functions as a separate company. “In accordance with the Companies Act of 2063, individuals are legally permitted to establish a company to achieve objectives specified in the memorandum of association, either independently or collectively,” says senior lawyer Jagadish Dahal. Pursuant to the Companies Act, Capt Thapa assumed the position of chair for Simrik Air, he says that there is another distinct law that governs the selection of the Airline Operators Association's president.
“As CAAN DG Adhikari has committed a series of unconstitutional moves, he should step down from the post on an ethical ground,” says Dahal. “According to the Publication and Printing Act, Capt Thapa undertook the role of the AMN chair as a mere investor, meaning he does not exert editorial control over published content.”
Dahal adds CAAN cannot address the chairperson of different organizations in the same way, though the individual may be the same. “There is no legal provision for CAAN to interfere.”
The FNJ has also warned the Civil Aviation Authority to immediately withdraw the clarification sought over the news published in the Annapurna Post daily. The FNJ concluded that asking for clarification in an illegal way is objectionable and against the constitutional concept of press freedom, reads a letter issued by FNJ General Secretary Roshan Puri on Aug 21.
The federation has also warned the CAAN to withdraw the clarification asked in an illegal way by respecting the constitutionally-guaranteed rights to expression and press freedom.
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