. SABIN DHITAL
Nepalese media has suffered significantly for some months with the unprecedented health crisis following the outbreak of COVID-19, a media monitoring report reveals. It has resulted in journalists’ loss of jobs, closure of many small media and curtailment of news from the big media and denial of citizen’s right to information, free speech and free press, stated the annual media monitoring report published by Freedom Forum.
The report further noted that increased press freedom violations coupled with political intolerance; selective, organized and technological surveillance on media and journalists; coordinated verbal and social media attack against journalists and critics; attempts to flow guided information and censorship; apathy to address impunity relating to crimes against journalists; poor media safety to face crisis featured significantly in the recent past year beginning May 1, 2019 to April 30, 2020.
“Despite sheer political hostility and intolerance, active role of journalists and media houses to save free press by holding public authorities and officials to account for their misconduct and irregularities is worth noting this year”, the report added.
“Number of press freedom violations has slightly increased this year with 107 as comparison to 104 last year while this had directly affected a total of 206 journalists across the country this year”, the monitoring report said, adding out of total affected with the violations this year, 62 are from threats followed by 44 from attack and manhandling combined, 39 from arrests, 27 from misbehavior; 21 from barred from reporting, nine from vandalism and obstruction combined, and four from expulsion from job.
It is highlighted that among the affected 69 were from online media, 48 from print, 42 from Television, and 30 from radio, 14 freelance and three others. As per the Province, Province 3, which is also the federal capital Kathmandu witnessed the highest number of violations (43), followed by Province 2 (20). Similarly, Province 1 and Gandaki Province shared equal number of violations (10). Province 5 and Far West Province witnessed equal number of violations (6) and Karnali Province recorded 12 violations.
Most of the violations took place while journalists were covering stories regarding public interest/concern issues, crime, irregularities, corruption and political demonstrations.
In the third week of March, Press Council Nepal, a media regulatory body, shut down nearly 50 web portals and wrote to the National Telecommunication Authority to restrict access to those online portals from the country alleging them of spreading ‘false information on Covid-19.’
Blaming, discrediting, and making virulent verbal attack and threatening journalists and free press have further escalated. It has resulted in belittling of the role of free press in democracy, panicked journalists and fomented efforts to control information regime, reads the report.
“The journalists from private media are not allowed to the office of the President and the Prime Minister, thereby dividing media and journalists”.
“As the political disputes emerged lately dominating the State affairs, the democratic space is largely shrunk, where free press is suffering. The tussle within the ruling party over leadership mismanagement created vertical division among their cadres and leaders fomenting factions which are resulted in mounting intolerance to news and media reports”, said Taranath Dahal, Executive Chief of Freedom Forum.
Electronic Transaction Act has been a continuous source of journalists’ suffering since its enactment; anyone intolerant to free media are invoking it randomly and harassing media persons, he noted, adding with increasing number of internet-based media and their quicker visibility and immediate impact as compared to the print media, the journalists working in internet-based media are more vulnerable.
Alleging journalists of spreading rumour was rife this year especially while exposing the weakness and mismanagement on the face of COVID-19 crisis. In the wake of stay-at-home order enforced to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country, thousands of media were disrupted, thereby relieving journalists of their job. It has not only resulted in the financial crises but also badly shrunk the information regime, the report highlighted.