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Concern over directive on online media in Nepal

AP Photo/Binod Joshi

This statement was originally published on nepalpressfreedom.org on 24 March 2017.

Freedom Forum is alarmed over the issuance of the Online Mass Communications Operation Directive 2017 through its publication in the [official] gazette.

Since the government made an attempt to bring forth the directive relating to online media, FF has been constantly watchful to ascertain whether it fully embraces principles of freedom of expression and international practice.

One year ago, the Ministry of Information and Communication floated the proposal under the 'Online Media Operation and Management Directive 2016'; FF expressed serious concern that said directive was faulty and discouraging to internet-based media, which are gaining ground with the gradual expansion of the internet in Nepal. After receiving severe criticism from defenders of freedom of expression, such as FF, the Ministry withdrew the 2016 directive, saying it would garner suggestions and amend it accordingly.

It has now been brought forward with a slightly different name, as the 'Online Mass Communications Operation Directive-2017', but without any fundamental difference from the earlier version.

Amazingly, the Directive has been brought forward under the Good Governance (Management and Operation) Act-2007 which means the government is looking at the role of online media as a medium for good governance and as a government entity that can deliver a service, rather than as a vibrant medium that can boost the practice of freedom of expression and bring citizens' voice into the mainstream. The internet-based media are therefore not recognized as equal to other media and the employees that work in the online realm are not considered journalists.

Absurdly, 'online journalism' is defined only as mere technical work in the internet realm.

Most importantly, all parties - even TV stations and newspapers with an online service - have been asked to register their online media and renew their registration. It is highly probable that when deciding on registration, the government could take steps to suppress freedom of expression at any time.

"As the internet is a free, open and vast regime, expression (journalism) through [this medium] must be respected [and treated] equally to other form of media in line with the universal principle of freedom of expression. Registration is an unjust step that could block this open medium," said Freedom Forum Executive Chief Taranath Dahal, demanding the immediate repeal of the Directive.

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