Apart from trying to stay alive, the five-month old Baburam Bhattarai government in Nepal has got caught in a web of self-created problems. Besides attempting to curb information on several issues, it is also facing flak for a new policy to regulate media.
While the Supreme Court has stayed implementation of the gag on info, the media policy which aims at “revising or annulling obsolete or oppressive media and communication laws and reestablishing genuine freedom of speech and expression” is in its draft stage.
The government is of the view that existing laws related to media are uncoordinated and overlap in several areas with other statutes and hence there is a need to “simplify, integrate and unify” media laws. Not many, however, seem to share this view.
Ever since the Maoist-led government made public its desire by placing ads in newspapers seeking recommendations from the public, there has been an outburst of negative reactions with questions raised about involvement of a Japanese agency in framing the draft.
The draft policy categorises the media sector into broadcasting, print, cinema and advertising. But there is no mention of Internet-based media such as news websites. A glaring omission when most media content is gradually shifting to the web-based platform.
It is not clear on the need for the Media Policy 2012 by doing away with the two existing policies and overlooking suggestions given for the sector by a high-level committee formed by the government.
Even to prepare the draft, the information and communications ministry didn’t seek feedback from various stakeholders like media houses, journalist associations, filmmakers and advertising bodies.
At present, Nepal doesn’t allow foreign investment in media. But the draft’s proposal to allow foreign investment in the media sector to 49 per cent has raised many eyebrows.
Other sore points include the decision to abolish the system of giving government ads to media houses — something that would hurt small publications dependent on such generosity.
But above all, there is a genuine fear that by rushing to implement this policy when the country is in flux and in process of formulating its constitution, the government may throttle media freedom under the garb of a do-gooder.
A free press is one of the basic ingredients for a robust democratic society. Lawmakers in New Nepal need to remember that while enacting the new policy.