Following the mass movement for democracy in 1991, which in the context of subsequent history has been named the first peoples’ movement (or Jana Andolan), Nepal’s journalists secured the passage of a Working Journalists’ Act (WJA) in 1995. The provisions were in most respects, similar to those of counterpart laws in India and other South Asian neighbours. Yet the law remained unimplemented both on account of relatively weak organisational capacities on the part of the journalists and the under-developed character of the media industry.
The Nepali experience with democracy in its first coming proved rather mixed. Successive governments failed to establish any degree of consensus on governance norms and the rules of the legislative process. A military-backed restoration of the absolute monarchy followed in February 2005. By April 2006, popular resentment at the misrule of the palace had peaked and Nepal’s journalists played a pivotal role in the mass agitations that followed, compelling the king to reinstate the parliament that he had placed in suspension and restore the democratic constitution of 1991.
Among the significant gestures of recognition that Nepal’s journalists obtained for their stellar role in the restoration of democracy through the second Jan Andolan, was a broad-ranging set of amendments to the WJA, enacted in 2007. The salient features of these amendments include a ceiling on the extent to which media organisations can employ contract workers, a commitment that a certain proportion of aggregate revenue would be earmarked for journalists’ skill development and professional training, and a stipulation that journalists would be eligible every few years for special professional development courses.
Article 12 of the Interim Constitution of Nepal guarantees freedom of speech.
Art. 12. Right to Freedom:
(1) No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law, and no law shall be made which provides for capital punishment.
(2) All citizens shall have the following freedoms:
- freedom of opinion and expression;
- freedom to assemble peaceably and without arms;
- freedom to form unions and associations;
- freedom to move throughout the Kingdom and reside in any part thereof;
- freedom to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, or trade
The articles that follow provide for “reasonable restrictions” on the free speech right in the interests of the “sovereignty and integrity” of Nepal, “harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes or communities”, or “sedition, defamation, contempt of court or incitement to an offense; or on any act which may be contrary to decent public behavior or morality”.
Article 13 of the Nepali Constitution holds out explicit guarantees of press freedom, subject to “reasonable restrictions” on similar grounds as can be applied on the right to free speech. It also provides explicit guarantees against censorship and the closure of media for anything that they may publish.
Art. 13. Press and Publication Right:
(1) No news item, article or other reading material shall be censored: Provided that nothing shall prevent the making of laws to impose reasonable restrictions on any act which may undermine the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom of Nepal, or which may jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes or communities; or on any act of sedition, defamation, contempt of court or incitement to an offense; or on any act which may be contrary to decent public behavior or morality.
(2) No press shall be closed or seized for printing any news item, article or other reading material.
(3) The registration of a newspaper or periodical shall not be canceled merely for publishing any news item, article or other reading material.
The Nepal Press Council Act was passed in 1992. It has not since been amended and remains a law that vests large powers in the hands of the government in terms of nominating the chairman and membership of the Press Council.
Code of Ethics
The Nepal Press Council has laid down a detailed code of conduct for journalists. This was first written in 1992, later amended and revised in 2008.Back to top