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Journalist receives death threat; station questioned over TV programme

UPDATE: Station manager's demotion for broadcasting opposition gathering demonstrates government move to authoritarianism, says Freedom Forum (Freedom Forum, 20 June 2012)

(Freedom Forum/IFEX) - Freedom Forum is concerned over a violation of press freedom violation which occurred in Kalikot, a hilly district in the midwestern region of Nepal, on June 14, 2012.

An unknown caller issued a death threat against Arjun Bhattarai, a reporter with the New Karnali monthly magazine.

Talking to Freedom Forum's media monitoring desk, reporter Bhattarai said, "Without any reason, an unknown person warned me that I would be killed if I continued to report."

The threatening call was made from the number 981 651 2357, according to the journalist. He added that the unknown caller also warned that the magazine and its office assets would be torched.

The threat will have a negative impact by encouraging self-censorship among journalists, Freedom Forum notes. The organisation strongly urges the concerned authorities to seek the individual who issued the threat, arrest him and mete out punishment.

In a separate development, the government led by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) grilled the state-run Nepal Television (NTV) management about the live broadcast of a programme involving opposition parties.

Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai personally questioned NTV General Manager Deepak Mani Dhital and Director Rajendra Dev Acharya saying, "Why did you broadcast live the programme organized by 22 opposition parties?"

The Prime Minister made the inquiry one day after the 22 opposition political parties organized a joint mass gathering in the capital city on June 8, in protest of the government's allegedly unconstitutional move of dissolving the Constituent Assembly and unilaterally announcing an election.

"The Inquiry to the media house by the Prime Minister about the live broadcasting of a peaceful gathering of the opposition parties is a direct attack on a free press. It is an autocratic practice by the government to suppress press freedom and deprive people of their right to information. Also, it is a move [aimed at] controlling every view opposite to the government thereby rendering the opposition's role insignificant. It is undemocratic," said Taranath Dahal, Chairperson of Freedom Forum.

The Prime Minister has blatantly ignored the role of the opposition which is detrimental to democracy. The government has been gradually making efforts to bring the media under its control which is a serious threat to democracy in Nepal.

Had there been a question about the content of the media programme, it would not be the role of the government but a separate body - the Press Council Nepal - to oversee this. But, there was no issue over the content. It is clear that the government violated press freedom by attempting to suppress public opinion and the right to criticism, Freedom Forum notes.

Freedom Forum recalls that on May 20 the Ministry of Information and Communications had written to the Image Channel about the Jana Chaso (People's Concern), a radio programme broadcast on Image FM, urging the station to make it "unbiased". Therefore, this is not the first time that the government has tried to suppress press freedom. Freedom Forum vehemently condemns the latest incident.

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