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A dangerous job

Publication Date : 04-05-2012

 

"Journalist Yadav Paudel killed in Jhapa." "Journalist Khilanath Dhakal brutally assaulted." These are some of the distrubing headlines in the Nepali media. News reports of Paudel’s killing usually mention that he was killed in a personal clash with a hotel owner when he had been drinking. However, no special taskforce has been established to investigate if the murder was due to a personal reason or for journalistic reasons.

As the press is universally accepted to be the fourth estate, its need and importance has been accepted all over the world. A free press is acknowledged to be a major component for sustained good governance or and democracy in a country.

It’s worth remembering that a well governed society creates the kind of economic, social, political and legal environment that allows the media to operate freely and enables other institutions to function at full capacity. A free press helps to promote and enforce governance efficiently and makes it result-oriented. They effects can reinforce each other.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 has defined that the right to information is a fundamental right of the people under Article 19. Similarly, Article 27 of the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2006 ensures the right to information as a fundamental right. But the Nepali press and media people have suffered much and been attacked and harassed during the 10-year-long Maoist armed conflict and direct rule of King Gyanendra.

From 2001 to April 2012, 33 journalists have been killed and the state has been involved in some of the cases.

Journalists Deva Kumar Acharya and Nava Raj Sharma "Bashanta" (of Kadam weekly) were the first to be killed after the start of the armed conflict in 1995. Similarly, Kanchan Priyadarshi (former board secretary, Federation of Nepali Journalists, FNJ, Sindhupalchok), Krishna Sen (Janadesh weekly), Chin Bahadur Budha (Janadesh weekly) and 24 other journalists were murdered during the period July 23, 2001 to Feb 28, 2006. The status of one journalist from Sindhuli named Chitra Narayan Shrestha is yet unknown. Nobody knows if he is dead or alive after his disappearance.

It is not known if journalist Prakash Thakuri, who was abducted by Maoist cadres, is dead or alive.

The Nepali media has been severely violated even after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord. Between January 2006 to April 2012, nine journalists have been killed including Birendra Saha of Bara district and Yadav Paudel of Jhapa district. The FNJ has reported 1,714 incidents of "constraints" on press freedom. Similarly, 43 incidents of constraint on press freedom were noted from January to April 2012. As a result, journalists, especially those from out of the Kathmandu valley, are in a state of panic and feel that journalism is an insecure job where their lives are at risk.

There has been much coverage and debate over press freedom and the right to information being a crucial constituent of democratic practices and human rights, but the press has been facing a situation of panic. FNJ President Shiva Gaunle recently said that "rising impunity is creating hazardous impediments to access to the right to information.

This is an example of continual physical insecurity faced by journalists despite commitments from leaders of political parties and the home minister."

Similarly, Director of the International News Safety Institution (INSI) Rodney Pinder said, "Nepali media owners should be serious and rational about the safety of journalists. While they are reporting stories, especially those related to crime, they might be attacked. As journalists have the right to live, the government of Nepal should be serious about journalists and it must establish a special taskforce to investigate the unpleasant incidents on journalists."

Criminalisation of politics is also contributing to the problem of journalists. Politicians often hire thugs to protect their interests. Recently, the Supreme Court ordered parties to disclose their income and assets annually.

That is just one of the problem with the parties. Despite efforts to rein them and their cadres, however,  threats and attacks by party cadres against journalists have become common these days. As a result, journalists have to work amid dangerous circumstances.

Civil society and rights defenders too have expressed grave concern over the threats and attacks against the journalists. Nepal is now enjoying democracy in theory but there are impediments in practice. Repeated threats against press freedom have weakened democratic norms and values. The government should act against this situation and remove the obstacles preventing people from enjoying their right to information.

 

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