International Media Mission assessed press freedom in Nepal
UNESCO, in response to requests from local media in Nepal, took part in the 6th International Media Mission to the country, along with other media and press freedom organizations, such as the International Federation of Journalists, Article 19, International Media Support, the World Press Freedom Committee, Reporters without Borders and the International Press Institute, who have been closely monitoring the Nepali transition vis-à-vis the press freedom and freedom of expression.
The Mission, which was conceived in 2005 in response to the deteriorating press freedom and freedom of expression situation in the aftermath of the installation of direct rule by King Gyanendra, took place from 5 to 8 February 2009. Its purpose was to provide an assessment of the media situation in the country and to identify the challenges faced by the free press, in order to plan interventions for safeguarding media rights. The Mission team interacted with the media community, political parties, government and security agencies, as well as civil society organizations, and drew up a list of recommendations for addressing the problems currently faced by the media sector.
The Mission concluded that press freedom in Nepal continues to face serious threats despite the hope that restoration of democratic rule would improve the situation. UNESCO has been active in supporting efforts to enhance freedom of expression and conflict resolution in Nepal through concrete actions funded by the International Programme for Development of Communication (IPDC). The Organization also raised its grave concerns about the vulnerability and safety of journalists in Nepal, especially those working in the districts. UNESCO was part of the previous International Media Missions, urging the national authorities to put an end to the growing pressure on media freedoms.
Last January, <a target="_blank" href="ev.php?URL_ID=28089&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201&reload=1234436492">Uma Singh</a>, a 26-year old radio reporter from the town of Janakpur, was stabbed to death in her home. According to her editor, she was killed for critically reporting on the local politicians and speaking against the dowry system.
Uma Singh was the fourth journalist killed in Nepal since 2006. In 2008 alone, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) recorded 342 press freedom violations in the country.
During the visit, the International Media Mission met with all key officials including the Prime Minister, leaders of the main Government and opposition political parties.
The Mission expressed concern about the increasing number of attacks on and harassment of journalists. It highlighted that critical reporting is being met with violence and perpetrators are going unpunished. The Mission also emphasized that, unless the Government brings an end to impunity and clearly demonstrates its commitment to press freedom, the whole democratization process in the country will be under a serious threat.
Later this year, Nepal is embarking on a process to develop a new constitution for the country, which should be finalized by May 2010.
Media has a crucial role to play in this process by ensuring an open and transparent dialogue amongst the public about the ins and outs of the new constitution. The Mission stressed the importance of the new constitution to provide firm guarantees for press freedom in line with international standards and practices.
The Federation of Nepali Journalists and Freedom Forum, with the assistance of Article 19, have formulated and launched during the Mission an Agenda for Change, which outlines how a media policy reform and future media landscape should look like to guarantee freedom of expression and press freedom. The International Media Mission urged the national leaders to follow the Agenda for Change in the coming months and years.
The International Media Mission issued a 2-page Joint Statement, which draws the attention of the Government of Nepal and political parties to the following six points:
<li>freedom of expression has to be guaranteed for all;
<li>the Right to Information Act should be properly enforced;
<li>the Government should end control of media and introduce public service broadcasting;
<li>there is a need to create an independent regulator for broadcasting ;
<li>criminal defamation should be abolished;
<li>the Working Journalists' Act needs to be implemented.