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State of Media and FES-Supported Activities - 2002

I. Status of Media

Nepal's news media, for most part of the year 2002, suffered severe restrictions in their work because of the state of emergency imposed by King Gyanendra on the recommendation of a democratically elected government. The emergency lasted for nine months from November 2001 to August 2002. New publications have been brought out from different parts of the country. The number of FM stations has also increased and some of them have increased their broadcast hours. On the television front, some private organisations have obtained licences for launching their TV services. The code of conduct to be observed by journalists has also come into sharp focus and the freedom of expression received a lot of public and press attention mainly because of difficulties faced during the state of emergency.

I. (1) Journalists during Emergency

During the emergency months, the media exercised extensive self-censorship on matters relating to security forces and their activities as well the Maoists and their activities. They relied heavily on government sources only for news on Maoist activities and the deployment of the army and the armed police force. Reporters posted in the districts, including areas most affected by Maoist activities, filed very little reports based on non-government sources. In short, independent sources were rarely quoted for their news stories.

Although the state of emergency was declared on November 26, 2001, it was extended till the last week of August 2002. During this period, many journalists were arrested. According to the Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), 150 journalists were arrested in different parts of the country. Although the state emergency was lifted in August, about two dozen journalists are reported to be still in detention. Some of the journalists were reportedly tortured, both psychologically and physically. Most journalists were released within a few days after their arrest. Many complained that they did not receive letters of detention at the time of their arrest. Many protested the mistreatment they were subjected to during the interrogation by security forces.
Two journalists were killed. Krishna Sen, editor of Janadesh weekly, believed to be close to the Maoists, was killed in custody. The government has not given any detail about Sen's death. The other journalist killed was Ambika Timilsina, who was associated with the pro-Maoist Janadesh and Mahima weeklies. Timilisna had gone underground after the declaration of emergency but surrendered to the local administration subsequently. His dead body was found riddled with bullets one kilometre from his house in Morang district in Eastern Nepal. Some reports suggest that Maoists might have killed him on charges of serving the security forces as an "informer".
National and international oganisations devoted to the cause of freedom of expression condemned the arrest, torture and killing of journalists. FES partner organisations like Federation of Nepalese Journalists, International Press Institute (IPI) Nepal National Committee, Press Chautari and Nepal Press Union were among the organisations, which played a major role in highlighting the problems of the journalists during the emergency. The amount of pressure they put on the government resulted in the release of many journalists.

I. (2) Public Complaints

Politicians and the intelligentsia in general complained against the media performance during the state of emergency. They urged the media to be more professional and inform the public about the goings-on in the Maoist-hit areas in a comprehensive manner. They wanted the media to inform the public about the various details concerning army operation against the Maoists and the actual situation of the people in the affected areas, including the situation of the rebels. At various functions, it was pointed out that professionalism demands journalists to report accurately even during a state of emergency.

II. News Media

The state-run Radio Nepal and Nepal Television came in for strong criticism for their reports on Maoists activities, army operations and the situation in the Maoist affected areas. The Sher Bahadur Deuba government and now the Lokendra Bahadur Chand government have been accused of misusing the state-run media to serve their own narrow interest and malign the Opposition.

II. (1) Newspapers

According to the latest Press Council report, the number of news publications increased this year as compared to last year's record. Although a total of 1756 publications were registered, only 215 were published regularly-40 dailies, 1 biweekly, 161 weeklies and 13 fortnightlies. The numbers are, however, an improvement over last year's record. Last year, there were 192 regular news publications-35 dailies, 147 weeklies and 10 fortnightlies. As usual, majority of the publications is registered in Kathmandu, which also takes the major share of regular publications in any single category.

Of the 35 "A" category publications listed by the Press Council, only 2 are published from outside Kathmandu Valley. Of these "A" category publications, 12 are dailies, 11 weeklies, 2 fortnightlies and 10 monthlies. The two publications published from outside Kathmandu Valley are daily papers, one each from Eastern and Mid-Western regions.
As many as 17 of the country's 75 districts have not recorded any newspaper publication originating locally. Because of poor road and transportation, national newspapers reach only one-third of the district headquarters within 24 hours after publication. Nearly one-third of the district headquarters receives newspapers from capital city two days late or even later.

Since newspaper editors and publishers have been raising various issues, including those concerned with newsprint and advertisement policies, the government in December formed a five-member committee headed by the chairman of the Press Council, Mr. Harihar Birahi, to make recommendations for addressing their problems.

II. (2) Radio

About two dozen FM radio stations are operating in different places, almost half of them in Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara, thus underscoring the uneven distribution of these radio services. Most of them are commercial stations and there is no transparency over the manner in which licences are issued. There are 75 districts in the country and not even ten districts have FM stations while there are many who are keen to run such stations elsewhere too. The Ministry of Information and Communication has to yet to become transparent over the manner in which radio licences are issued. The government does not allow the private sector to run national radio services. A three-member committee headed by a senior journalist, Mr. Bharat D. Koirala, was constituted in December to look into issues pertaining to the electronic media.

II. (3) Television

The government decided in April to award licences to three private companies-Image Channel Pvt Ltd to operate a metro channel in Kathmandu, Kantipur Television Network Pvt Ltd to operate a nationwide terrestrial television channel and Shangri-la Television to procure satellite uplink facilities. All three companies are required to begin their operations within 18 months of acquiring licences. The ministry had called for proposals from private parties in October 2000. Nepal Television is also set to launch a metro channel in the near future, with the help of assistance from the government of China, which provided the infrastructure and equipment worth over Euro 7 million. So far the state-run Nepal Television is the only Nepalese channel operating from the country.

III. Key Media Issues

III. (1) Foreign Investment in Media

A task force, constituted to study and make recommendations on the issue of foreign investment in Nepal's media, has submitted its report to the Minister of Information and Communication. The government had formed the committee to look into foreign investment in media. A joint secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communication, Mr. Hem Raj Poudel, headed the panel. Other members included representatives from the Federation of Nepalese journalists, industrial organisations and Press Council.
Details of the report have not been made public and the government is yet to come out with specific policies governing the question of foreign investment in the media.

III. (2) Higher Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

For the first time in Nepal, journalism and mass communication courses have been introduced at Master's level. Three colleges affiliated with Tribhuvan University and Purbanchal University offer the courses, all in Kathmandu. However, there is an acute lack of laboratory facilities and textbooks. Teachers, students and campus managements have felt the need to develop textbooks written in local contexts. There is also a need for special orientation courses for mass communication teachers.

III. (3) Demand for Media Policy

At FES-supported seminars and workshops as well as many other forums, there were frequent demands for a comprehensive media policy covering a range of issues such as advertisement, newsprint, Working Journalists' Act, right to information, gender participation, code of conduct, media pluralism, media ownership, foreign investment in media, broadcast policies and media professionalism. This prompted the government to constitute two panels-one covering the electronic media and the other dealing with the print media-to look into the related areas and submit a report along with recommendations to the government.

IV. FES-Supported Activities/Programmes

As in the past, FES supported media-related seminars, workshops, conferences and publication in 2002. The main thrust of the programmes was to promote media professionalism for adequately informing society in an accurate and responsible manner and with it contributing to the democratisation process in the country and fostering social harmony and ensuring justice.

FES-supported activities attracted an array of prominent personalities and experts in terms of chief guests and resource persons. The prime minister, chairman of the Raj Sabha (State Council) Standing Committee, former prime minister, ministers, members of parliament, senior leaders of various political parties, newspapers and radio station managers were among them. About 45 participants averaged in FES activity.

FES has emerged as the leading INGO in Nepal in supporting programmes that deal with some of the most topical and pressing issues pertaining to the news media. Code of conduct, right to information, conditions of working journalists, gender and the media, role of media in good governance, media ownership and a series of other topics were discussed at one programme or the other. And the media sector in particular has recognised and appreciated such support and effort.

Partners of FES have begun undertaking follow-up programmes without any follow-up support from FES. For example, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists has taken up the issue of the need for a Right to Information Act so that information is easily accessible to citizens, from which the media could benefit a lot. It even drafted a Right to Information Act and submitted it to the government and the latter has prepared a bill based on the FNJ draft. It is likely to be introduced in parliament after the next general elections.

Nepal Association of Media Educators, through FES-supported programnmes, was the first to press for introducing Master's level course in journalism and mass communication. NAME on its own followed it up with more debates and campaign for the same. As a result, the course has been introduced much to the appreciation of media people in particular.

Four years ago, FES supported the Federation of Nepalese Journalists in organising seminars on code of conduct, during which there were suggestions that it be revised. FES partner organisations have taken up the matter in the subsequent years. This year, too, FNJ and Press Council, among others, discussed the subject and it is likely that the existing code of conduct for journalists will be revised sometime in the future.

IV. (1. A) Federation of Nepalese Journalists was the partner organisation which conducted a day-long seminar on "Media and Democracy" at Dharan in Eastern region (March 3). Over 60 journalists from different districts took part in each of these programmes. The focus was on a "calculated design to cause mental harassment of journalists" by the local administration. The participants said journalists should work fearlessly even during the state of emergency.

IV. (1. B) The Federation of Nepalese Journalists was also supported to conduct a national conference on "Media Professionalism in Strengthening Democracy" at Pokhara in Western region (December 29-30). About 55 journalists from different districts and regions attended the programme, which dealt with three key issues-Working Journalists' Act, right to information and journalists' code of conduct. The participants called for implementation of the Working Journalists' Act and stressed the need for introducing a Right to Information Act in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution which guarantees access to information to all citizens.

IV. (2) Press Chautari was supported to organise a day-long seminar on "Media Commission for an Informed Society" at Pokhara in Western region (February 8). About 60 journalists from different districts took part in the programme. The focus was on journalistic skills, right to information, transparency, and comprehensive and clear media policies. The general consensus of the participants was that a high level media commission should be constituted to deal with various issues concerned with the media sector. The commission should be a powerful body in order to monitor the overall media sector and come up with recommendation for the enhancement of media professionalism.

IV. (3. A) FES supported the IPI Nepal National Committee by meeting the expenses of lunch for a workshop in Kathmandu (September 12) on "State of Media in Nepal", in which there were about 45 participants. Officials of IPI headquarters in Vienna also spoke on the occasion. They also met with Prime Minister Deuba who assured them that the media would be allowed to exercise their freedom. As a follow-up action, the Committee took the initiative of establishing a "Press Freedom Grand Jury".

IV. (3. B) Another occasion when FES extended partial support to the IPI Nepal National Committee in Kathmandu (November 21) was when the latter organised a seminar on "Journalists during the State of Emergency". About 30 journalists and human rights activists attended the interaction programme. As a follow-up, the Press Freedom Grand Jury and the Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES) filed petitions on behalf of journalists who sought help to obtain compensation from the government for being illegally arrested and/or mentally/physically tortured.

IV. (4. A-B) Sancharika Samuha Nepal (Women Communicators' Group, Nepal) organised two workshops on "Reporting on Violence Against Women" at Pokhara in Western region (July 12-13) and Birgunj in Central region (November 1-2). About 40 journalists, social workers and gender activists from different districts attended each of these two-day programmes. Media trend, news coverage of incidents of violence against women and ethical issues were among the topics that figured prominently at the workshops. The participants said the media should work for ensuring that their work did not victimise women already victimised by violence.

IV. (5. A) Nepal Association of Media Educators organised a two-day workshop on Specialised News Reporting" in Eastern region (April 8-9). Attended by more than 45 participants, the programme acquainted journalists with the basics of specialised reporting, significance of spcecialisation in reporting and need for regular review of issues overlooked or under-reported. Training on specialised news reporting was a top priority laid down by the workshop.

IV. (6. B) Nepal Association of Media Educators also organised seminar on "Study of Mass Communication", with special reference to journalism and mass communication at the higher secondary (Plus-Two level) in Kathmandu (December 10). About 30 participants were involved in extensive discussion on media education. The general consensus was that efforts should be made to produce media-related textbooks since there was an acute dearth of such books. Special orientation courses for teachers/lecturers involved in this sector should be provided for uniformity and quality teaching. The participants said that more interaction programmes were required to look into the various problems faced by both students and teachers.

IV. (7) Women and Development Communication Centre organised a seminar on "Community Radio and Information Sharing" at Butwal in Mid-Western region (November 28). About 45 journalists, social workers and intellectuals, including representatives of various radio stations attended the programme. The participants discussed at length the lack of a clear policy on the part of the government regarding FM radio licences and their functioning. They also stressed more community participation in radio broadcasting services and called for training and skill-oriented programmes for radio personnel.

IV. (8) Department of Journalism and Mass Communication was supported to edit and publish a book on professional journalism, entitled "Sanchar Jagat" (Media World). Written in Nepali, the book is based on a manuscript draft that was prepared with FES support in 2001. It is expected to be of value to journalism and mass communication students.

IV. (9) Nepal Swatantra Patrakar Samaj (Society of Independent Journalists) organised a seminar on "Media Council for FM Radio" in Lalitpur (October 5). More than 40 FM radio jockeys, allied personnel and other journalists took part in the programme. It was mentioned that although about two dozen FM radio stations were operating in the country, there was a need for increasing the total number of FM radio stations in a country with 24 million population. The seminar concluded with recommendations that trained manpower be produced, FM radio stations not be aligned with any political group, facilities for FM stations to broadcast news be improved and a media council exclusively for FM radio stations was considered necessary for recommending policies covering the FM radio sector.

IV. (10) FES, in coordination with the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Pune, India, organised a five-day workshop in Pune (December 13-17) for 14 mid-career journalists, five of them women. The participants represented all the publishing houses bringing out national broadsheet newspapers, National News Agency (RSS), Nepal Television, Radio Nepal, Federation of Nepalese Journalists, Women and Development Communication Centre, Women Communicators' Group, Radio Sagarmatha (South Asia's first community radio) and Kantipur FM, a private sector FM radio service with the largest listeners for any FM radio station in Kathmandu Valley and many parts of Eastern Nepal. Newspaper editors and scholars were the resource persons for the workshop, which discussed extensively on bilateral relations, regional cooperation, international affairs as well as national politics were topics.

IV. (11) The Telegraph Weekly organised a seminar on "Youth, Media and Democracy" in Kathmandu (December 27). There were about 40 participants. The participants said that the young generation in the media must play a remarkable role for enhancing and safeguarding democracy. Accusing political leaders for creating "the current mess" in the country, they said the youth in the media should think about the nation and find their own ways for the betterment of democracy and that political parties were responsible for the existing political crisis.

V. Under the Regional Media Project, FES supported five partner organisations for organising a series of ten activities, with the central theme being on "Right to Information and Good Governance". Nepal's Constitution is among the few of its kind in the world, which guaranteed all its citizens right to information-something that is expected to promote transparency and accountability so essential for good governance. However, it has been more than 12 years since the existing Constitution came into effect after the restoration of democracy in 1990, and right to information is yet to be put into effective practice in the absence of a Right to Information Act. Media organisations have been campaigning for such an Act so that information from public institutions are forthcoming easily.

V. (1. A-B) Federation of Nepalese Journalists was the partner organisation which conducted day-long seminars on Media and Democracy" in Baglung in Western region (September 2) and Kathmandu in Central region (December 8). About 60 journalists from different districts took part in each programme. The seminars discussed existing media practices and the role the news media could play in strengthening democracy. The participants voiced concern over a "calculated design to cause mental harassment of journalists" by the local administration. The participants said journalists should work fearlessly even during the state of emergency.

V. (1.C) FES also supported the Federation of Nepalese Journalists Chitwan unit to organise a seminar on "Rural Reporting" at Chitwan district in Central region (October 29). With over 35 journalists participating, the seminar called for adequate training, quality reporting, greater thrust on development journalism and mass media expansion in rural areas and small towns. The particiopants said that although more than 80 per cent of the population lived in rural areas, issues pertaining to people living in the rural parts of the country were either ignored or given only a casual mention in the media. They said such attitude should be changed in order to make democracy and governance inclusive and participatory.

V. (2.A) International Press Institute-Nepal National Committee, approached FES for support to attend the "IPI World Congress" at Ljubljana in Slovenia (May 9-12). FES extended partial financial support to the tune of about Euro 1700. In addition to this support, IPI National Committee pooled its other resources to enable four of its members to attend the conference in Slovenia, during which the Nepalese delegates made a presentation on the state of media in Nepal during the state of emergency.

V. (2.B) IPI Nepal National Committee also organised with FES support a conference in Lalitpur (July 26) on "Journalism and Conflict", placing the main focus on media and the Maoist problem. The then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba made the inaugural address. The participants numbering about 45 discussed various aspects of conflict prevention and resolution. They said that journalists should not lose sight of the sensitivities involved in connection with the conflict but, at the same time, they should faithfully carry out their professional duties in reporting accurately comprehensively, with the objective to inform the public credibly and contributing to social harmony as well.

V. (3. A) Nepal Press Union organised a seminar on "Media Professionalism and Working Journalists" in Kathmandu (October 5). Attended by about 40 journalists, the programme was addressed by Press Council Chairman Harihar Birahi. During the discussion, the participants complained that journalists were becoming the targets of the government as well as the Maoists rebels. They called for measures providing compensation to working journalists who suffer while performing their professional duties. Stress was also laid on appropriate provision for training and study so that journalists can increase their knowledge and skills for better performance.

V. (3. B)Nepal Press Union also organised a national conference on "Review of Working Journalists' Act" at Lalitpur in Central region (December 7). More than 50 journalists took part and discussed various aspects of the Working Journalists' Act which is yet to be implemented despite the fact that it formally took the shape of an Act more than seven years ago. Suggestions were also made for amendments to the Act. The participants said that without making the Working Journalists' Act effective through proper implementation, professionalism in the news media could not take place to the desired extent.

V.(4) Federation of Editors and Publishers-Nepal organised a seminar on "Media and Constitutionalism" in Kathmandu (March 14). There were about 45 participants and issues like the functioning of the existing Constitution, political culture, political parties and their characteristics as well as the Maoist rebellion were discussed. Former Prime Minister and Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala addressed the seminar, making it clear that he was for introducing amendments to the Constitution. In the course of subsequent discussion, many others said that the Constitution should not be made a whipping boy by any section simply because political parties and their leaders failed to live by the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The then leader of the main Opposition, Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal, and former Minister of Information and Communication Kamal Thapa also addressed the opening function.

V. (5. A-B) Press Chautari was supported to organise two day-long seminars on "Media Commission for an Informed Society" at Pokhara in Western region (February 8) and at Nepalgunj in Mid-Western region (April 12). A conference on the same subject was also organised in Kathmandu. More than 60 journalists from different districts took part in each of these programmes. The focus was on journalistic skills, right to information, transparency, and comprehensive and clear media policies. The general consensus of the participants was that a high level media commission should be constituted to deal with various issues concerned with the media sector. The commission should be a powerful body in order to monitor the overall media sector and come up with recommendation for the enhancement of media professionalism.

VI. FES provided material support to three media-related institutions, all partner organisations conducting FES-supported activities.

VI. (1) FES supported Nepal Press Union with office furniture. NPU is one of the oldest partner organisations of FES and has branches in about 50 districts.

VI. (2) FES provided a computer and printer to Press Chautari, which has branches in more than 40 districts.

VI. (3) FES supported the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, under the Tribhuvan University, with books on various media subjects to strengthen its library for the newly introduced Master's level course in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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