Constitution must guarantee press freedom and freedom of expression
World Press Freedom Day was celebrated on 3 May around the world under the theme “media freedom helping transform societies”. In Nepal, this theme translated into an event advocating the appropriate coverage of press freedom, freedom of expression and right to information in the ongoing constitution-writing process. The event was jointly organized by UNESCO and the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ).
The seminar in Kathmandu was attended by journalists, civil society activists and representatives of media houses. Representatives of all four main parties were present in the event, and all parties reiterated their commitment to press freedom and freedom of expression.
During the discussion it was pointed out that while relatively strong, the proposed guarantees on press freedom, freedom of expression and right to information are weaker than those found in the 1990 Constitution or in the 2007 Interim Constitution and not fully in line with international standards. It was brought up that the current proposal on the right to information is too narrow, according to which people have right to information deemed to be of concern to the citizens or the general public.
“This limitation leaves room for negative interpretation and might lead to a situation where authorities for example refuse access to information which they do not deem to be of concern to a citizen or the public” said Axel Plathe, Head of Office and UNESCO representative to Nepal.
It was also discussed who are entitled to these rights. In the draft constitution the guarantee of freedom of expression and opinion applies only to citizens, as opposed to everyone.
“This limit is particularly unfortunate in Nepal with a large number of non-citizens, some of whom are stateless. It is crucial the right to information to be extended to all men and women in Nepal, regardless of their citizenship status”, Axel Plathe said.
Participants of the event also raised the issues of Working Journalists Act and safety of journalists. Throughout the event the message of Nepal’s journalists was clear: media has a crucial role in supporting Nepal’s pursuit towards sustainable peace and democracy but it can only play this role when its rights have been guaranteed both in the constitution and in practice.