The National Assembly will move the media bill forward. The bill has not been submitted in the Upper House after the main opposition party Nepali Congress (NC) and journalists protested against the bill.
National Assembly Chairman Ganesh Timalsina called leaders of the parties in the upper House, Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Baskota and representatives of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) for discussion at the Singha Durbar on Monday.
The FNJ and NC demanded commitment of amendment from the bill while Minister Baskota expressed commitment to amend it as per parliamentary process.
Leader of NC in National Assembly Surendra Raj Pandey opined that Prime Minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli and the main opposition leader in the House of Representatives (HoR) Sher Bahadur Deuba should reach agreement about the bill first. He added that consultation between the two leaders will determine the future of bill. “We are looking for commitment from the PM as the government may renege on the commitment,” Pandey stated.
NC had earlier been demanding withdrawal of the bill.
The bill could not be presented even for discussion in principle despite being registered in the National Assembly on May 10.
The ruling CPN had tried to ease the situation through deputy parliamentary party leader Subas Chandra Nembang after widespread criticism of the party and government following registration of the bill. Nembang had asked journalists close to the party to submit points for amendment of the bill.
The bill–that proposes a fine of Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 million on journalist for violating code of conduct, has been widely condemned with the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) demanding its withdrawal while President of the main opposition party Nepali Congress (NC) Sher Bahadur Deuba calling it a coup on journalists and press freedom.
The bill that will turn the current Press Council Nepal into Media Council has proposed a fine of Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 million on the media, its publisher, editor and journalist if they seem to have hurt somebody’s dignity and prestige.
The current Press Council Act does not have a provision of fine. It only requires publication of the aggrieved party’s version, and recommendation to the government to partially or completely stop government’s facilities and benefits for a certain period for repeated violation.
The Media Council can also order compensation for the aggrieved person or institution on top of the fine. “The council can also get the aggrieved persons or institutions compensated if they suffer any loss due to the publication or broadcast of the material violating the code of conduct issued by the council,” the bill states.
It has also paved the way for punishment against the journalists as per other laws for violation of code of conduct.
The council will have to write to the bodies concerned for such legal action. It also states that punishment for violation of code of conduct will not save the journalists from punishment as per other laws for the same violation.
The bill allows the council to receive assistance from foreign individuals and institutions without government permission, even as the government has registered an amendment bill requiring even the National Human Rights Commission to take permission from the Finance Ministry for accepting foreign assistance.
Qualification for chairman of such a powerful council, however, has been limited to bachelor’s degree. Only a retired Supreme Court (SC) justice or senior advocate or a journalist who has made significant contribution through journalism can chair the current Press Council.
The chairman must have a 10-year journalism experience but members need a 15-year experience.
The bill has tried to establish the Media Council as a government body instead of the quasi-judicial the Press Council is now, and the role of Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has been expanded.
Members are nominated by the speaker of House of Representatives (HoR) and National Assembly chairman as per the current Press Council Act but the government will appoint the chairman, and the ministry members as per the bill.
Six members of the nine-strong Council will be appointed by the ministry, with a first-class officer nominated by the ministry, and the Federation of Nepali Journalists chairman being the other members.
The bill also allows the government to sack the chairman and members for unsatisfactory performance whenever it wishes.