Nepal’s constitution-making process has entered a “super-fast-track” mode and the country could have a new statute by next month. But certain provisions in the final draft, already endorsed by the constituent assembly, have given rise to fears about curtailment of press freedom.
There is a provision that the freedom of press could be suspended during emergencies. And the phrase “full press freedom” in Nepal’s interim constitution has been replaced by “press freedom” in the draft.
“Clearly, the main drafters of the new constitution are afraid that free and independent media will put up needless obstacles as they work for the benefit of vested interests,” said an editorial in Republica daily earlier this week.
There is also apprehension on another clause which says the government can formulate laws to regulate media. “This seems to imply that in case the government deems fit, media houses can be shut down or their registrations cancelled,” said The Kathmandu Post in a recent editorial.
Fears on restriction of media freedom were amplified after President Ram Baran Yadav delivered a speech in parliament on Wednesday about the government’s policies for the next fiscal. He announced the government would formulate a mass media policy and amend the code of conduct for media to make it “reliable and dignified”. There was also mention of legal provisions to “regularise” online media.
“The code of conduct for media is prepared by journalist associations and the press council. The government’s decision to amend the code and implement it as part of its policy is unimaginable in a democracy,” said Mahendra Bista, president of Federation of Nepali Journalists in a statement.