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International press freedom mission issues recommendations to government

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 7 September 2006 mission statement by AMARC, ARTICLE 19, IFJ, RSF and other organizations:

Mission Statement by International Organisations
International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal

This Statement contains the observations and recommendations of the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission. The aims of the Mission included both advocacy to promote freedom of the media as well as the identification of concrete activities to achieve this. This is the third International Mission, the two previous visits having taken place in July 2005 and March 2006.

We wholeheartedly welcome the steps taken to restore democratic processes, peace and media freedom in Nepal since April 2006. At the same time, we note that much still needs to be done to ensure the institutionalisation of media freedom. We applaud the key role played by the Nepalese media community in bringing about these seminal changes and its proactive efforts since then to contribute to the democratisation process.

Full respect for media freedom is central to a functioning democracy. The media are a key means of ensuring that citizens can play an informed and active role in the peace process, elections and other democratic processes.

Their role as watchdog of government has been widely recognised, as has their role in controlling corruption, and in promoting human development and security. A free media is a central underpinning not only of democracy but also the protection of all human rights. These roles are reflected in the recognition of freedom of expression and media freedom as fundamental human rights in international law and the Nepalese Constitution.

The mission met with the Prime Minister, leaders from the Seven Party Alliance, the Maoist leadership, the Speaker of the House, parliamentarians, media practitioners, representatives of professional organizations, civil society members and representatives of the international community. Those met, including all political leaders, unanimously stated their commitment to press freedom and freedom of information, and recognized the pivotal role of the media in upholding and promoting democracy. The political will to respect media freedom which was communicated to us during the Mission needs to be translated into concrete actions.

The Mission welcomes the steps that have been taken to secure media freedom, including the establishment of a High Level Media Commission. Nepal now has an important window of opportunity to achieve these goals. Quick action needs to be taken if this window is to be utilized to maximum advantage.

Observations and recommendations

The Nepalese media community has identified a comprehensive list of issues which need to be addressed to facilitate the development of an independent and pluralistic media in Nepal. In consultation with this community, the Mission has identified the following five key priorities for change. The observations and recommendations articulated below are not comprehensive but are, rather, the most immediate needs.

1. The Interim Constitution

According to the information we have received, the draft Interim Constitution differs little from the 1990 Constitution in its provisions relating to freedom of expression and of the media. While it represented an important development at the time, the 1990 Constitution does not reflect fully international standards and the demands of Nepalese civil society in this area.

We recommend that the provisions in the draft Interim Constitution relating to freedom of expression and of the media be comprehensively reviewed and amended to ensure that they provide strong protection for these fundamental rights.

2. Comprehensive Reform of Media Law

Provisions in Nepalese law are unduly restrictive of freedom of the media. For example, the Broadcasting Act was used during the royal regime to ban the broadcasting of news and it fails to provide for a three-tier system of broadcasting involving public, community and commercial broadcasters. Defamation is still a criminal offence and security legislation places undue restrictions on the right to publish.

We recommend a comprehensive review of legislation which affects the media, to be conducted in a manner which is broadly consultative in nature, and with a view to bringing those provisions into line with international standards.

3. Reform of the State Media

A number of media outlets - Radio Nepal, TV Nepal, Gorkhapatra Sansthan and RSS - remain subject to government control. Although these media have undergone significant changes since April 2006, their structural independence is not guaranteed. All political leaders met expressed to the Mission their support for measures to address this problem.

We recommend that measures be taken to protect these outlets from potential interference, whether this be through privatisation, transformation into public service media or some other means.

4. The Right to Know

The 1990 Constitution guarantees the right to access information held by government and other public bodies but legislation giving effect to this right has never been adopted and it remains elusive in practice.

We recommend that comprehensive legislation giving full effect to the right to know be adopted as a matter of priority and that it be implemented in practice.

5. Conditions of working journalists

The Working Journalists Act 2051 (1995) fails to provide adequate protection for journalists. A large majority of working journalists is not covered by its provisions, it denies journalists their right to strike and provisions aiming to enhance the working conditions of journalists have not been implemented. Attacks on journalists and media houses, although significantly reduced since April 2006, are still occurring. Women and marginalized groups are significantly underrepresented in the media sector.

We recommend that the Act be comprehensively reviewed and amended to ensure that it can effectively achieve its objective of improving the working conditions for journalists. Once amended, the Act should be implemented in accordance with its intentions. Urgent attention should also be given to addressing the climate of impunity for attacks on journalists. Measures should be taken to address the issue of under-representation in the media.

We also call on the international community to extend full support for the consolidation of democracy in Nepal and for the achievement of respect for freedom of expression and of the media. We specifically call on the international community to do their utmost to promote the implementation of the recommendations outlined above.

The Mission members are committed to active engagement in a programme of action contributing towards local efforts to bring about democratic change.

As a first step, we will make a submission to the High Level Media Commission setting out our recommendations.

This statement is endorsed by the following international organisations:

Free Voice
International Federation of Journalists
International Media Support
International News Safety Institute
Reporters sans Frontières
Open Society Institute
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation - UNESCO
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC

International Federation of Journalists

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