Anne Cooper, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was in Nepal this week on a fact-finding mission. She spoke to Nepali Times about her impressions.
Nepali Times: In your meetings here this week did you see any hint that press freedom will be restored?
Ann Cooper: The government is beginning to see the mistake it has made, partly because of international pressure and criticism and also what its actions have done to the Nepali people. This is a country that had a very vibrant media. It is important for people to know about human rights abuses by Maoists. It seems ridiculous that journalists have been accused as Maoist sympathisers just because they report about Maoists.
You spoke with army, too. What was their take?
The Brigadier General said that if there was an investigation and misbehaviour on the part of the security forces, he would rectify that. He said there would be an investigation if CPJ were to bring complaints about harassment of journalists.
Did you raise the issue of curbs on radio journalism?
Broadcasting is all in the state's hands. In some areas, you can get state broadcasting while in other areas you can also get these clandestine illegal Maoist radio broadcasts. There is nothing independent in between to give people a more objective view about what is going on. I hope the government is beginning to realise that by these restrictions they are really hurting themselves.
FM radio stations are very important in rural areas and now they are told not to broadcast any news at all. They had local discussion programs where people could talk about very local issues like clean water, women and children's health and environment. All of that is being taken away from them.
CPJ has been following events here since February First, do you see signs of relaxation?
The fact that the government has allowed UN monitors is a sign that they listen to the international community and realise there is serious criticism out there. I think that is the important step to bring in the monitors and have them make sure that press freedom is allowed according to the mandate they are looking at. The very visible and extremely intimidating situation (soldiers stationed in newsrooms) is now gone, but many restrictions remain and worst of all, the ban on news reporting by FM radio stations.
Will UN human rights monitoring help press freedom?
The monitors will be living in the field and they will be living in those areas, watching on a day-to-day basis and reporting on abuses. If there are abuses of press freedom we will ask the government to respond. This monitoring is an important step because the UN monitors will come in the name of UN and all countries around the world. That potentially carries a lot of weight. When you defend press freedom you are really defending the public's right to know and be informed.
Globally, how do you rate the media situation here?
It is definitely one of the worst in the world. It's been very difficult for journalists as things got much worse after February First. This is one of the biggest press freedom crises in the world right now.