Journalists’ safety mechanism still elusive
Over a decade ago, Nepal embarked on an earnest mission to fortify journalistic safety and uphold press freedom. A spirited endeavor sought to erect a comprehensive nationwide framework safeguarding the integrity and security of those entrusted with the mantle of holding power accountable. Yet, despite fervent determination and resolute global support, the realization of this noble undertaking remains tantalizingly elusive, emblematic of the chasm between aspiration and realization.
This chronicle finds its genesis in 2012, when Nepal’s vision coalesced into the framework for a journalists’ safety mechanism. Years of meticulous labor culminated in late 2019, with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the custodian of fundamental rights, promulgating protocols harmonized with the tenets of the Human Rights Act of 2012. However, the path from conceptualization to actualization has been punctuated with complexities and challenges.
Despite the concerted support of international organizations, lending their intellectual and financial weight, concrete advancement remains a chimera. Underpinning the stipulated guidelines was a triumvirate of mechanisms, conceived not only to shield journalists but to uphold the bedrock of unbridled expression.
At the epicenter of this vision stands a steering committee, envisaged as the linchpin of the entire edifice. Chaired by a distinguished NHRC member, this committee convenes stakeholders from diverse realms, including the Nepal Bar Association, the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, the Federation of Nepali Journalists, and the Nepal Police.
In 2021, the mantle of coordinating this pivotal committee was bestowed upon NHRC member Manoj Duwady. Yet, substantial progress remains an elusive quarry. Despite three meetings, the initiative languishes in its embryonic state. “Scarce resources, pivotal for the mechanism’s activation, are a critical constraint,” says Duwady.
Nestled within this overarching framework, the inception of a task force within NHRC was envisaged. However, an opaque veil shrouds the mechanics of these mechanisms, leaving stakeholders and the public grappling for clarity. Concurrently, the swift deployment of a rapid response unit, tasked with assuaging the predicaments of local-level journalists ensnared in challenges, remains more an abstract concept than a tangible reality. Regrettably, NHRC's vows remain stuck in the realm of verbal commitments, yet to materialize in the form of a functioning committee.
Laxman Datt Pant, a proponent of international media rights and chairperson of Media Action Nepal, leaves no room for equivocation in his censure of NHRC’s inertia. “The commission’s avowals to safeguard journalists and uphold the freedom of expression sound increasingly hollow,” he says. “Inaction not only corrodes the institution’s credibility but also underscores a palpable dearth of authentic commitment to the very ideals it professes.”
With a clarion call for action to supplant rhetoric, Pant implores NHRC to translate verbal declarations into palpable efforts, echoing the spirit of the ambitious UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
Having taken root in 2013, this initiative has garnered international solidarity, with prominent entities like UNESCO and stalwarts from the Nepal International Media Partnership providing vital technical counsel to NHRC.
In the face of NHRC’s assertions of constrained resources, a senior official acknowledges an intriguing absence of outreach to international channels for funding.
Ironically, despite multimillion-dollar investments by international entities, the journalist safety mechanism languishes in a state of inertia. Consequently, journalists grappling with danger at the grassroots level find themselves bereft of the prompt succor they direly require.
Bipul Pokhrel, the chairman of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, says that the operational blueprint of the steering committee remains an open question.
“Deliberations are underway to enhance the efficacy of these mechanisms,” he says. Emphasizing the imperative of inclusive stakeholder representation within the steering committee, Pokhrel underscores the significance of financial underpinning.
“With the mandate to safeguard journalists from tangible threats, financial support stands as a cornerstone. Thus, meticulous groundwork emerges as a decisive determinant in guiding the mechanism to realization.”
As Nepal’s chronicle spans over a decade, its odyssey to safeguard its journalistic guardians emerges as a narrative of soaring ideals tempered by intricate implementation. As stakeholders navigate this intricate terrain, the watchful gaze of the press, human rights advocates, and the global community remains riveted, poised for the transformative juncture when words transmute into resolute action.
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