Stakeholders urge for a joint media rights violation monitoring mechanism
In view of continuing violence against journalists in Nepal, media experts, academicians and representatives of human rights organizations have urged all stakeholders to jointly push for a national-level mechanism that is empowered to take immediate action in case of threats to journalists and also mandated to chart out long term plan to create conducive environment for journalists to discharge their duties.
The participants expressed such view at the “National level consultation on improving media rights violation monitoring mechanism”, organized jointly by the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu and the Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (ACORAB) under the project “Increasing the Safety of Journalists” in Lalitpur on March 10.
Citing a pre-assessment during his introductory session on the project progress Laxman Datt Pant, Coordinator of the UNPFN/UNESCO project “Increasing the safety of journalists”, said public officials, including chief district officers and heads of security forces, are found to be less updated on the issues and rights related to freedom of expression. He stressed on the need for extensive debate among civil society, security forces, government officers and judiciary to foster better understanding on the issues.
Part of the problem stems from the lack of uniform approach in the dissemination of data on cases of violence against journalists. The discrepancy in data produced by different organizations who claim to monitor violence against media is both baffling and discrediting in the eyes of international organizations that support journalistic causes and work at global scale to promote safety of media workers.
In the consultation, Nirmal Mani Adhikary, who led a research on organizations involved in monitoring of violence against media, said out of 23 such institutions only 17 are functional, with only a handful still actively engaged in the work. Lack of common or widely shared data in public domain, Adhikary said, leaves room for criticism and suspicion and questioning the reliability of data provided by individual organizations.
The research showed that access and reach was not a problem for monitoring organizations, but lack of common standards hindered production of consistent data.
Yadu Prasad Panthi, under-secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC), said journalists should not violate code of conduct or professional integrity on the pretext of lack of job security. He said the MoIC was willing to take steps to safeguard the interests of journalists based on the recommendation of the national consultation.
Borna Bahadur Karki, president of the Press Council Nepal said that an effective joint media monitoring mechanism is possible only by strengthening government institutions. Citing preamble of the Press Council Act that mandates council to look into press freedom issues, he also sought for a leadership role of the council in such mechanism.
Min Bahadur Shahi, vice-chairperson of AMARC-Asia Pacific, said journalists should not lose faith on state mechanisms but continue to raise voices to make them more accountable and effective. He was of the view that if documentation of incidences of violence is strengthened, justice would prevail even after hundred years. He supported the idea of forming a national-level mechanism under state ownership to deal with the issues related to the safety of journalists.
Suresh Acharya, former chairman of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, said media houses and journalists must abide by laws of the land before seeking protection from the state. Citing several incidences of violence against journalists in which journalists themselves were at fault, Acharya criticized the practice of sweeping the findings that put journalists in bad light under the carpet. Unless such findings are made public, he opined, it would be difficult to get to the root causes of violence against journalists and take measures to protect them.
Vijay Raj Gautam, executive director of the INSEC, said that journalists, who are human rights defenders, themselves often become victims. Stating that journalists who work in remote areas are still fearful of reporting about conflict-era cases, Gautam said, expansion and presence--formal or informal--of bodies like National Human Rights Commission in all places is a must to ensure physical safety of journalists.
Mohan Kumar Singh, chairman of the Madhesi Journalists Association, said that the nexus of terror outfit, businessmen and contractors involved in illegal activities and corrupt bureaucrats orchestrate attacks against journalists at the slightest provocation. He lamented at the lack of effective response from the existing bodies dedicated to promote the welfare of journalists in case of an incidence of violence.
Kundan Aryal, general secretary of the Nepal Press Institute said when faced with threats, what is in the law or constitution is less consequential for journalists in danger. He called for the formation of a rapid response team to deal with immediate threats to journalists and a creation of a long term plan to guarantee not just the physical safety of journalists but also their professional or job security.
Ganesh Prasad Ghimire, general secretary of the Human Rights Journalists' Association, said professional or job security is the most pressing issue for many journalists at present and urged the Press Council Nepal to take the issue of minimum wage more seriously. He was of the view that, more than anything else, journalists in districts plead for lobbying the government to implementation the minimum wage in line with the Working Journalists Act.
Upendra Aryal of Equal Access painted a bleak scenario of media industry as a whole citing dire manpower situation. Pointing particularly at the quality of radio programs, he said the future of the medium is in jeopardy in want of skilled and motivated professionals.
The national consultation was followed by the two separate regional consultations organized in Birgunj earlier on March 3 and in Ilam on March 6 among the journalists, media advocacy groups, civil society members, indigenous and women groups. A total of 120 persons from eastern hill and central terai districts participated in three separate consultations and discussed on a joint strategy document on monitoring media rights violation cases. The strategy document is now circulated among the stakeholders for the scrutiny. The consultations were facilitated by Laxman Datt Pant, Mohan Chapagain, Rabindra Bhattarai and Saurav Dhakal.
Meanwhile, regional consultations revealed that aggressions against journalists are both related to their work and matters unrelated to their profession. Attributing such anomalies to professional or job insecurity, the participants at the national consultation, were more or less unanimous in their support for enforcing measures like exams for entry into the profession of journalism and implementation of minimum wage as prescribed by the Working Journalist Act.
Earlier, the stakeholders participated in an online consultation carried in social site for a month from February 7 to March 7, 2014.
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