NEPAL: Emergency lifted, but censorship stays
Journalists remain confused about media freedom despite lifting of state of emergency by the King
The Times of India
Saturday, April 30, 2005
Kathmandu -- Does Nepal have a free media now? No, say journalists. Though Nepal's King Gyanendra has lifted the state of emergency, there is still widespread confusion about media censorship.
Within a week after taking over the government February 1 and clamping emergency, the king prohibited any criticism of the government and army. The media was also told not to write about the underground Maoist insurgents unless the information came from the army.
A Media Monitoring Committee keeps tabs on the press and the government has stopped giving advertisements to publications critical of its methods.
"At least six weeklies are reeling under the government's 'economic blockade'," said Gopal Budathoki, vice-president of the independent Federation of Nepalese Journalists.
These are Sangu, Bimarsha, Deshantar, Prakash, Hank and Janamanch. Some of them courted the government's displeasure by publishing a blank page in their editorial/comments section after the authorities banned any criticism of the king and government.
Budathoki said his organisation has just completed a tour of Nepal's five development regions and found security personnel manning many district publications.
Though visits by several international media organisations led to the release of a large number of journalists, who had been arrested after the royal coup, Budathoki says at the last count, two women were still being held.
They are Surya Thapa of Hank and Tulasha Acharya of Janakpur, who, security personnel say, are being held for their political activities.
Budhathoki's own organisation had seen one of its leaders, Bishnu Nishthuri, arrested while another, Taranath Dahal, went underground after the imposition of emergency.
King Gyanendra, after a meeting with his ministers, issued a late night statement Friday announcing the lifting of emergency. The press censorship notice said it was to be effective for six months. It still has another three months to go.
"If media censorship too has been lifted, the government ought to issue a clear announcement," said Narayan Wagle, editor of Kantipur, the largest circulated daily in Nepal.
Wagle himself had been summoned by police regarding a report published in his daily but refused to answer, saying policemen were not the appropriate authorities to ask for clarifications.
"Though emergency has been lifted, obstacles to a free media still remain," Wagle said. "Unless there is a democratic setup, you can't have a free media."
He thinks the media will still not be able to write freely about Maoist guerrillas.
The suspension of Indian television channels seems to bear out his fears. Private Indian channels like the hugely popular Aaj Tak, Zee News and NDTV have been taken off air, though the government says it was a decision of cable operators.
Nepal1, an Indian channel beaming news and entertainment programmes in Nepalese, headed by Indian media celebrity Nalini Singh, has been the hardest hit by the suspension. Mainly intended for viewers in Nepal, its absence from Nepal's skies means advertisers pulling out.
Nepal's own FM radio stations have been reined in, asked only to air entertainment programmes. Certain Internet sites, especially those carrying articles about the Maoists, have been blocked, BBC Radio has been taken off and even mobile telephone connections have not been restored.
"Imposing emergency in the name of combating Maoists was totally unnecessary," said Daman Nath Dhungana, former speaker and one of the architects of the constitution.
"By lifting it, the king has taken a step towards a national reconciliation. But it is still not enough."
Date Posted: 4/30/2005