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Tensions between India's embassy and local media in Nepal

(IFJ/IFEX) - September 6, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates and partners in Nepal in calling upon the Indian embassy in Kathmandu to clear the air with the Nepali media, after an alarming surge in mutual accusations.

The recent exchanges reportedly began with the Indian embassy issuing a press release on August 27, speaking of "certain print and television media" that had been reporting "against products manufactured by Indian Joint Ventures in Nepal". The statement went on to allege media outlets had attempted to extort the Indian "joint venture" companies, saying they had "informed the embassy that they have been approached by such media houses for release of advertisements and are being threatened with negative publicity if those requests are not met".

The Indian embassy upheld the commitment of the Indian companies to the highest quality standards and warned that their persecution by the media would have grave repercussions for investment decisions in Nepal, according to the statement.

A storm of protest has followed, with journalists' unions, media organisations and the Nepal Press Council all denouncing the Indian embassy for breaching diplomatic propriety and acting in gross disrespect of the freedom and autonomy of the Nepali media.

The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), an IFJ affiliate, has termed the embassy statement as "unfit and improper" and vowed to undertake a "detailed study" of the entire incident.

Also joining issue with the Indian mission were the Television Broadcasters' Nepal, the Nepal Media Society, the Broadcasting Association of Nepal and the Association of Community Radio Broadcasters.

The Indian mission responded by pointing out that the organisations would carry more credibility if they were also attentive to unethical practices that flourish within the media.

According to a thorough media investigation of the incident and its background, friction between the Indian mission in Kathmandu and Nepal's largest media group, Kantipur Publications, began early this year after a number of reports in the group's two main publications - Kantipur in Nepali and the Annapurna Post in English - led to a determination by the Indian embassy that the newspaper group was adversely disposed towards Indian interests.

While the IFJ does not judge how well-founded this determination was, it is concerned that the Indian mission in Kathmandu may have reacted without due respect for media freedom, in inducing Indian companies operating in Nepal to withdraw their advertisements from the identified media group.

The IFJ, with the support of its Indian affiliates, has earlier pointed out that in following up this action with a questionable decision to hold up a shipment of newsprint imported by the Kantipur group at Kolkata port, the Indian mission and other official agencies were guilty of grossly obstructing media freedom and putting the livelihood of Nepali journalists at risk.

The IFJ has in the past upheld the need to build up the autonomy of media institutions in Nepal as part of the historic political transition under way in the country.

"The IFJ urges all parties involved in the ongoing verbal exchanges to submit the entire range of issues to the adjudication of the Nepal Press Council," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"This course of action would help build up institutional capacity of Nepal's media and establish precedents that could guide future decisions on matters of ethical practice and professional conduct".

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