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Nepal okays 'one-window advertisement policy'
Publication Date : 01-02-2013
In a move reminiscent of former king Gyanendra Shah’s regime, the Baburam Bhattarai government on Thursday endorsed a "one-window advertisement policy", which gives the Nepal government sweeping discretionary rights to decide on which media outlets get government advertisements.
The move is widely seen as an attempt by the government to control media outlets critical of it.
According to the newly enforced "proportional advertisement policy", the government reserves the right to decide which media outlets get the government advertisement s. Currently, all government agencies operate autonomously in deciding the advertisement placements. Circulation figures (in case of newspapers) and reach (in case of radio and TV) are prime criteria that determine selection and advertisement rates.
Though the new policy says that the government advertisement s will now be proportionally distributed to the print and electronic media, based on their coverage, there are widespread apprehensions that the discretionary authority could be easily abused since there is no authority to monitor circulation figures and coverage.
Many see the government move as an effort to control the media fraternity by using the government advertisement s to control the media coverage. This follows widespread media criticism of the government, which has tried to put brakes on the Dekendra Thapa murder probe.
The government move to order the District Attorney’s Office in Dailekh to halt investigations has been widely criticised, including by this newspaper. The government is also unhappy about the way media covered the arrest of Nepal Army Col Kumar Lama by British authorities. It has also been on the receiving end over its position on human rights abuses on war-era crimes in general.
A Cabinet minister told the Post that no proper discussion was held in the Cabinet meeting on Thursday “in finalising such a delicate policy”.
“The policy was not adequately discussed in the Cabinet. We were kept in the dark about the contents and the intent of the new media policy,” said the minister. “The policy seems to be aimed at distributing patronage to government loyalists and tries to muzzle voices critical of it. The former king also tried to do something similar and failed miserably,” said a government secretary.
However, Minister for Information and Communications Raj Kishor Yadav claimed that the move was not an effort to control the media.
“We are responding to a long-held demand of the media fraternity for ad support.”
Advertisement Association of Nepal President Raj Kumar Bhattarai denounced the government move. “It is against the spirit of a democratic regime and we will oppose the government move. We will agitate against the decision,” he said.
“Any government agency is free to allot its advertisement to the targeted groups and class,” said Bhattarai. “It should be free to make decisions without the one-window policy, which is aimed at providing ads to the media outlets that support the government. Such a policy will lead to misuse of the tax payers’ money.”
As per the policy, the Department of Information has been given the authority to decide on the “reach, access, coverage” of each media institution, which will then be given the government-generated advertisement s. All government agencies will now need to forward their advertisements to the Department of Information, which will then distribute them in a “proportional manner”.
Highly-placed sources said PM Bhattarai had asked former Information and Communications Secretary Surya Silwal to prepare the advertisement policy.
Silwal, however, refused to do so and was subsequently transferred from the ministry.
Asked to respond to the new policy, Chairman of the Federation of Nepali Journalists Shiva Gaule said, “If the government move is aimed at social justice, that’s fine. But if its intent is to muzzle the media, it will be unacceptable to us.”