Situation and FES-supported Activities in Nepal - 2003
The months from February to August 2003
when a cease-fire prevailed between the government of Nepal and
the Maoist rebels were a refreshing change for journalists to
work in a more or less normal manner without maltreatment from
either of the warring parties. But the situation after the breakdown
of the talks in the last week of August has taken a disheartening
turn. Although the situation is not as bad as it was during the
state of emergency, two journalists were killed and at least 70
journalists are reported to have been subjected to detention/interrogation
since September. Most of the journalists were released after a
brief detention but the whereabouts of eight others are not known.
In the course of the army's operation against
Maoist rebels in the last two years, ten journalists were killed
and over 170 others were detained, interrogated and/or tortured.
There was a storm of protest by media organisations, journalists'
associations, human rights activists and international media
institutions. Unlike during the state of emergency, security
forces have not raided press installations and offices but a
degree of fear, uncertainty and self-censorship continues.
Meanwhile, the number of news media-both print
and broadcast-has recorded a sharp rise. The number of FM radio
licences issued in the second half of the year has been dramatic.
In the field of television services, too, there has been a remarkable
development. The number of regular news publications has also
Right to Information
The government made a public announcement
in October that it was preparing a Right to Information Ordinance,
which would be issued "soon". The Ordinance route
is being mooted because of the dissolution of parliament last
year on the recommendation of a democratically elected government
and elections having been postponed due to Maoist insurgency
and violence in many parts of the country.
The Constitution of Nepal 1990 protects freedom
of speech and guarantees right to information. Previously, it
was difficult to obtain licence for bringing out newspapers;
editors/publishers used to be arrested for printing views critical
of the partyless Panchayat system; and printing presses, at
times, were seized and publication licence cancelled for carrying
politically "objectionable" material. As a result,
the 1990 Constitution has guaranteed that newspaper licences
will neither be cancelled nor publishing houses and their printing
presses seized. There is now been a marked boom in the number
of newspapers and magazines published in the country. But, in
the absence of a Right to Information Act, public access to
information is limited.
The Ministry of Information and Communication
is solely and wholly responsible for issuing radio licences
and also overseeing/administering the use of the air waves.
But the criteria for issuing radio licences are considered not
specific and transparent. Illiteracy being as high as 60 per
cent and electricity supply servicing barely 20 per cent of
the 24 million population, radio is considered the easiest means
of mass communication in a country with very limited road and
transport network accompanied by rampant poverty.
The government owns and runs Radio Nepal and
Nepal Television, which are national broadcasting services.
It appoints the chairmen, general managers and board of directors
of these services. However, there are television and radio stations
run by private companies as well. About 20 private FM radio
stations are currently on the air and 30 others have obtained
licences to operate. Although South Asia's first private radio
service, Radio Sagarmatha, was launched in Nepal in 1995, half
of the 50 FM radio licences were issued in the second half of
this year. About ten of the licences are for community radio
Likewise, there is a remarkable development
in the television world, with a total of five services. Till
last year, the state-run NTV (Nepal Television) was the only
regular television channel operating from the country itself.
Kantipur Television Network, Channel Nepal (with uplink facilities
obtained from Nepal this year) and Image Metro Television-are
private companies while NTV and Nepal Television Metro are government-owned
services. Shangrila Channel and Everest News Television are
expected to operate in a full-fledged manner in 2004. There
is also Nepal 1 Channel, beamed from Delhi, neighbouring India's
capital, and exclusively aimed at Nepali-speaking viewers.
In addition to the local broadcasting and
cable services, Nepalese have access to many foreign channels,
including the BBC, CNN and those from neighbouring India. Since
electricity reaches barely 15 per cent of the people, television
channels are generally confined to urban areas and radio is
easily the most popular and accessible medium of mass communication.
With the spurt in the number of FM radio stations, increasing
number of people in the rural areas are having alternative radio
services as well. Research studies on broadcasting channels,
their structures, programmes, reach, revenue and the like are
Newspapers and Magazines
Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed
by the Constitution. According to the Press Council's annual
report released this year, there are a total of 306 regular
publications, 54 of them daily papers and 202 weeklies. This
comes in sharp contrast to the number recorded last year when
the Press Council reported 215 regular publications, including
40 dailies and 161 weeklies. Most weekly papers are partisan
and serve either particular political parties or vested interest.
The broadsheet dailies are considered relatively less partisan,
some of which give diverse perspectives and cover different
issues. But many other news publications are biased when it
comes to political issues and the performance and policies of
the parties they openly support.
Of the many media-related organisations and
associations, about 15 of them can be considered more serious
than the rest in competing for members and support for resources
and attention for the cause they profess to champion. Some of
them are closely associated with political parties.
According to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists,
there are about 4,000 practising journalists across the country.
Many of them lack proper training. Diversification of news beats
and issues, and lack of specialisation have affected the quality
of the news media in general. Partisan characteristics of most
media have also affected the principles of value-based journalism.
Press Council Structure & Code of Ethics
There are regular complaints from civil society
and others that the existing laws against defamation are not
comprehensive enough to protect individuals from unfair and
biased journalism. Previously, the Press Council used to be
statutorily headed by a judge but the related Act was changed
more than a decade ago whereby the government can appoint anyone
as the Council's head. As a result of renewed call for reverting
to the previous practice, a former Supreme Court justice was
appointed December to head the Council. The existing code of
ethics formulated by the Council does not cover broadcasting
services. In the absence of a media council, there is no code
of ethics for the broadcasting organisations.
Trend in Media Industry
A major development in the last decade is
that the private media sector is increasingly making its presence
felt. Government media no longer enjoy the extent of monopoly
they did earlier. The state-owned media are increasingly losing
their reach and influence because of competition from their
counterparts in the private sector. The government has little
or no influence on the private media but it controls the state-owned
media with a firm grip. Questions are also being raised every
now and then as to whether the government should own and run
news media organisations.
Issues like foreign investment, ownership
and media concentration are some of the issues that have come
for discussion of late. Owners of Kantipur Publications not
only control two of the country's largest daily papers, in Nepali
and English, but also own the largest FM radio stations in Kathmandu
Valley and eastern Nepal in addition to being a major share-holder
in the Kantipur Television Network, the largest of its kind
in the private sector. Other companies have not yet made keen
attempts on such concentration of media but the field is quite
open in the absence of any regulation checking such a trend.
The government owns two of the largest broadsheet daily papers
and controls the only two national radio and television services.
It also owns the national news agency, whose chairman, general
manager and board of directors are all appointed by the Ministry
of Information and Communication.
FES Nepal Office organised a total
of 21 activities, most of them through nine different media-related
organisations and a few by FES itself. The objectives of supporting
the programmes included enhancing media coverage of issues pertaining
to conflict management and strengthening media role in democratisation
process. The efforts were geared to acquainting journalists
representing different media-print and broadcasting-with major
issues, including conflict, peace, democracy and the role of
media in reducing and managing conflict on the one hand and,
on the other, in contributing to promotion of social harmony
based democracy, democratic institutions and democratic practices.
FES organised three activities, including
one under a regional project on workshop concerned with peace
and diversity journalism. The partners for the rest of the media
activities were Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), Federation
of Editors and Publishers of Nepal (FEPN), Department of Journalism
and Mass Communication at Tribhuvan University (DJMC), The Telegraph,
International Press Institute/Nepal National Committee (IPI
Nepal), Sancharika Samuha/Nepal (SAS/N or Women Communicators
Group of Nepal), Editors Society of Nepal, Nepal Press Union
(NPU) and Press Chautari (PC).
Some of the major highlights of the media
- Prime Minister, Ministers, top-notch political party leaders,
Speaker of House of Representatives, leading newspaper editors,
broadcasting chiefs, human rights activists and university
professors attended the activities either as key speakers
or as participants.
- FES is at the forefront among INGOs operating in Nepal as
far as bringing into discussion major media issues is concerned.
- For the first time, planned efforts were made to ensure
that women's participation increased and, as compared to the
past, this was achieved to a notable extent. Special effort
was made to enlist women as also resource persons-chairperson/paper
writer/commentator in media-related activities.
- Right to information, code of ethics, professional journalism,
gender issues in the media and role of media in strengthening
of democracy were among the key topics that in one way or
the other figured in the course of the seminars/workshops/interaction
- As a result of previous efforts and this year's programmes
that FES supported, some of the partner organisations have
undertaken follow-up programmes on their own without additional
support from FES. FNJ and Press Council worked to revise and
refine Code of Ethics. In the past, FES had supported FNJ
to organise seminars on code of ethics. A group of very senior
- As a direct outcome of media consultation programmes of
FES, a group of very senior journalists got together and filled
a long felt vacuum by establishing Nepal Press Club, which
aims at providing a forum and meeting place for professional
journalists. Prime Minister, ministers, foreign ambassadors,
captains of Nepal's trade and industry, and representatives
of most prominent media organisations attended the formal
launching of the Club.
Activities in Brief
1. (a) With the cooperation of local media
organisations, FES helped organise two workshops of one day
each on "Role of District News Media for Good Governance"
at Chitwan in Central Region (June 9) and Saptari in Eastern
Region (August 26). There were 45 participants in the FNJ-assisted
programme at Chitwan and about 30 at Dhanusha. The focus was
on media role in diversity reporting; investigating corruption,
misuse of office by public figures and institutions; and highlighting
democratic rights, guarantee of security, concept of rule of
law, transparency in budget allocation and people-participatory
(b) FNJ organised two regional workshops of
two days each on "Gender Issues and Participation in Media"
at Butwal in Western Region (May 17-18) and Dharan in Eastern
Region (August 3-4). There were over 60 participants in each
workshop which included a balanced number of women resource
persons who presented working papers or offered key comments.
About half of the participants were women journalists, writers
and social workers. The focus was on media coverage of gender-related
issues and what could be done for enhanced media coverage of
such issues and increased participation of women in the media.
2. FEPN organised two seminars of one day
each on "Media and Constitutionalism" at Lalitpur
in Kathmandu Valley (March 22) and Chitwan in Central Region
(April 26). Role of political parties, the issues they raise
or choose to ignore and the coverage media give or do not give
to various issues were discussed. Each programme was attended
by more than 50 participants.
3. (a) DJMC organised in Kathmandu (September
22) a workshop on "Current Media Issues" with special
focus on strengthening of media practices in Nepal. Participated
by more than 50 journalists, media educators and other communicators,
the workshop dwelt on print and broadcast media practices, including
newspaper circulation, radio/TV reach, commercialisation, public
service media and professionalism. Emphasis was also placed
on conflict reporting and security for journalists working in
(b) DJMC was supported for organising a day-long
seminar on "Community Radio and Information Sharing"
at Butwal in Western Region (November 1), which drew about 40
participants. The growth and development of community radio
services were discussed at length. The structure and functioning
of community radio and the role and problems they faced were
the topics that figured in the course of the interaction.
4. The Telegraph organised a day-long seminar
on "Media, Development and Democracy" in Kathmandu
(December 3). About 60 journalists and academics took part.
The intelligentsia and the news media both came in for critical
comments for having not done enough in raising major issues
of national concern. The participants called for promoting better
norms and values in the practice of politics and the functioning
of the news media.
5. NPU organised a national conference on
"Working Journalists' Act: Implementation and Sensitisation"
in Kathmandu Valley on September 10. There were more than 60
participants. The participants lamented that the Working Journalists'
Act had not been implemented even after seven years of its existence.
They also called for putting pressure on government and media
houses in refining and activating the provisions contained in
6. (a) PC organised a day-long seminar on
"Foreign Investment in Media" at Lalitpur in Central
Region (March 30). Lack of policy on foreign investment and
the consequences of the same were the key theme of discussion.
There were more than 50 participants.
(b) PC organised two workshops of two days
each on "Media Commission on Promoting Professionalism".
The first workshop was held at Biratnagar in Eastern Region
(August 1-2) and the second in Kathmandu (November 2), each
drawing over 60 participants. The main focus of discussion was
the existing condition of media and the resultant need for the
government to constitute a national media commission for addressing
various media-related issues.
7. IPI Nepal organised a day-long national
workshop on "Conflict Reporting" in Kathmandu (July
23). More than 60 participants from different parts of the country
attended the programme, which dwelt upon press freedom and conflict
reporting. Leading media organisations were represented at the
8. SAS/N was supported in organising a series
of five interaction programmes on "Media and Current Issues".
While two were held in Kathmandu (March 2 and May 2), the remaining
three took place at Hetauda in Central Region (June 28), Chitwan
in Central Region (June 29) and Nepalgunj in Mid-Western Region
(July 28). Each programme averaged 40 participants. The themes
of these programmes included "Peace Process Agenda and
the Role of Women", "Participation of Women in Media
and Media Issues" and "Importance of Women's Role
9. (a) ESON organised a seminar on "Media
Transparency" in Kathmandu on April 6, with focus on different
aspects of media functioning. There were more than 50 participants
from various media organisations. Foreign investment and advertisement
also came up prominently during the discussion that called for
substantive policy changes for a better environment in the media
(b) ESON received support for a day-long seminar
on "Conditions of Small Newspapers" at Illam in Eastern
Region (April 6), in which about 40 participants contributed
to the discussion. Competition, advertisement, problems of local
media and government media policy constituted the main theme
of the interaction.
10. (a) FES organised a series of four "Media
Consultations", in which more than 150 persons took part
and discussed a range of issues, including those related to
radio, TV, print media, need for enhancing professionalism in
the news media and introducing Right to Information Act. As
a direct follow-up of these programmes, a group of very senior
and prominent journalists has formed Nepal Press Club in Kathmandu
where journalists can meet regularly and interact among themselves
and also invite prominent personalities for informal conversation
or for addressing the press on various issues of news value.
Nepal Press Club is the only one of its kind functioning in
the country. Prime Minister Surya Bahadur addressed the Club's
first formal programme on December 15, which was attended by
more than 90 prominent personalities, including newspaper editors,
TV and radio chiefs, diplomats and leading business personalities.
(b) FES organised a four-day workshop on "Peace
and Diversity Journalism" in Kathmandu Valley (November
4-7), with 16 participants, half of them women. A German expert
was entrusted with the task of conducting the workshop, which
also had four guest speakers. The response from the participants
and their editors has been highly enthusiastic.