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INTERNATIONAL MISSION CONCERNED ABOUT JOURNALISTS' SAFETY

Following recommendations by an international media mission to Nepal, the Nepali government has promised to "take seriously" the safety of media workers - especially during the upcoming elections in April.

On its four-day visit last week, the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal, a collaboration of 12 organisations that includes nine IFEX members, raised serious concerns about continuing press freedom violations, particularly as "impartial and independent media coverage would be essential for holding free and fair elections" for a Constituent Assembly on 10 April. The assembly is to decide the fate of the monarchy and write a new constitution for the country.

"Attacks, threats and interference in the media are unacceptable and deny the public's right to access independent and diverse information," said the mission in a statement.

The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), which hosted the mission, reported that 652 press freedom violations were recorded between April 2006 and December 2007.

According to local news reports, Home Minister Prasad Sitaula told the International Mission on 17 January that the government would form special committees across the country with the Home Ministry, district administrations and regional police offices to ensure the protection of journalists.

Sitaula also vowed to start investigations and take action against those involved in abducting and killing media workers. Earlier this month, an editor was murdered by armed men suspected of belonging to a militant group fighting for independence in southern Nepal.

The mission is planning to send a short-term observation team to focus on the media situation.

The mission also stressed the need for strong constitutional protection of freedom of expression, and urged the government to reform the broadcast law and transform state media into public service media that could offer "diverse programming serving the needs of all in society."

Media organisations should also represent diversity by giving women and marginalised groups - such as Dalits and indigenous nationalities - equal opportunities for work, pay and promotion, said the mission.

Representatives from 12 international organisations, including IFEX members ARTICLE 19, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) and World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) visited Nepal from 13 to 17 January. The delegation met with government ministers, political party leaders, community leaders, security forces, the election commission and a broad cross-section of the media during its visit. This was the International Mission's fourth visit to Nepal since its first mission in July 2005.

Visit these links:
- International Mission statement: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89940/
- IFEX Communiqué, "International Mission demands end to attacks on press" (August 2007): http://tinyurl.com/33ckol
- FNJ: http://www.fnjnepal.org/
- Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES): http://www.cehurdes.org.np/
- IFJ Nepal page: http://www.ifj-asia.org/page/nepal.html
- IFEX Nepal page: http://tinyurl.com/3ykcoq
- NepalNews.com, "Government serious toward security of journalists": http://tinyurl.com/2jfjm6
(22 January 2008)

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