Nepali Times
Something to hide?

It is difficult for us in the media to look for a light at the end of the tunnel when that light could very well be another train.

There are many things that puzzle us about the past month, but none more so than the crude way that the media has been bludgeoned. A counter-insurgency war is no picnic, we grant that, and it would be foolish to seek subtlety and sophistication in these times. But such a broad swipe at civil liberties risks endangering the very institutions you are trying to preserve. The treatment is more damaging than the disease.

After all, what are we up against here? An underground group that doesn't believe in democracy, freedom, pluralism, a free press or non-violence. How does it help to fight it by undermining the institutions which believe in those very same values? Political parties which have been the worst victims of Maoist atrocities and believe in non-violence are supposed to be on your side. Civil society is a bulwark against extremism. A free press, besides being a fundamental right, allows people to vent off steam so pressures don't build up.

How then does it help to weaken those who are on your side? Imprisoning parliamentary leaders helps only those who have no use for parliaments. Harassing civil society strengthens only those who believe power comes out of the barrel of a gun. Gagging the press emboldens those who abhor freedom.

These are not western concepts being rammed down our throats by outsiders. The Nepali people have by now been accustomed to political choice, to think and speak freely. They have come to rely on a vibrant and independent media to inform them of events and interpret them from a wide range of perspectives and opinion. Turning the clock back may buy time, but the people won't take it for long.

Hitting the mute button has silenced not just the media, but the people as well. It's not just journalists who miss press freedom, the people want it too.

Some won't like us saying it, but we'll say it anyway: the people don't trust the official version of events even if it is the truth. Even as a counter-insurgency strategy the press needs to be kept free and credible. The information gap across Nepal is now being filled by clandestine rebel broadcasts, or by the BBC in Nepali (see Radio). Gagging FM news means outlandish rumours run rife. How does all this help fight terrorism?

The only reason we can see is that someone somewhere has something to hide. But even that is the wrong reason because the harder you try to hide the more obvious the deception becomes.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)