World Press Freedom Day marked by calls for clearer freedom of expression laws
The UNESCO Kathmandu Office and the Press Council Nepal jointly organized an interaction program entitled "Efficient Implementation of Freedom of Expression Laws in Nepal" to mark the World Press Freedom Day on May 3. The Day was observed globally under the theme "Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda."
More than 50 participants, including experienced media professionals, media educators and people with the knowledge of laws related to freedom of expression, were present at the interaction program.
Most of the experts believed the laws relating to freedom of expression in Nepal are not well-defined and specific, leaving those inclined to squelch free speech with enough room to do so.
Laxman Datt Pant, Coordinator of ‘Increasing the Safety of Journalists Project’, said that the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu was glad to collaborate with responsible government bodies to promote media freedom. Mr Pant said the UN has been pushing for a stronger media around the world to increase media’s role in development, strengthen institutions through media, and for maintaining transparency in government institutions by enhancing media’s monitoring role.
Underscoring the importance of the World Press Freedom Day, Pant urged the participants to discuss ways to ensure effective implementation of laws related to freedom of expression and to make journalists more accountable and responsible while carrying out their duties.
Director General of the Department of Information Laxmi Bilas Koirala said that freedom of expression is fundamental to developing personality of individuals and free media must hold the government to account and show it the right path. Koirala, however, noted that there is no reason to feel satisfied with the growth in the number of Nepali media as their quality and sustainability remain questionable.
During his presentation comparing different national and international laws related to freedom of expression, Ram Krishna Timalsena of National Law College said different countries have different laws regarding freedom of expression, but that courts around the world were gradually moving toward using the same legal language to define the term. Timalsena said no single article in the constitution fully covers the right to freedom of expression, therefore, several provisions must be considered as a package for ensuring the right to free speech and expression.
Former president of the Federation of Nepali Journalists Suresh Acharya, whose presentation focused on Nepal’s media related laws, said legal provisions in Nepal are full of vague wordings and terms that need to be elaborated to make them more specific. Acharya said going through some of the laws, one finds that there are more restrictions than freedom, which makes clear what kind of psychology was behind such laws. He said though in practice not much legal restrictions are imposed on the media, there are enough provisions that encourage such possibilities. Stating that the constitution guarantees “complete press freedom,” Acharya opined that laws should be made in such a way that they uphold the spirit of the country’s statute.
Hari Krishna Karki, president of the Nepal Bar Association said that commercialization and internationalization of media were hindering the ability of journalist to write freely. Such restrictions on freedom of expression, Karki said, would ultimately lead to suppression of citizen’s rights and obstruct promotion of good governance and transparency. Stating that media have the power to build or damage the image of people, Karki said, if media fails to carry out its duty responsibly it might have a negative impact on the citizen’s right to life with dignity.
In his closing remarks, the Chairman of the Press Council Nepal Borna Bahadur Karki said it is time to find out whether the problems affecting freedom of expression are emanating from weaknesses in the existing laws or due to disregard for the laws. Stating that the freedom of press and freedom of expression are parts of the same coin, Karki cautioned that press freedom was not given to fulfill personal interests but to serve and promote public and national welfare. Karki expressed hope that the ideas discussed at the interaction program would be useful for media workers and Freedom of Expression practitioners.
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