With Nepal now becoming a republic, we in the media thought there would be more press freedom in the country. However, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal's recent statement against the free press has dashed all hopes. At the Republic Day celebrations in Khula Manch, Dahal threatened Kantipur Publications that if they keep criticising the Maoist party there will be consequences.
The Nepali press has taken this statement as a threat and a direct challenge. If there were differences between the party and the publication, they could have dealt with the situation amicably. There could have been dialogue.
People are also disappointed by the fact that a party they overwhelmingly supported would threaten the press so publicly. The Maoists should have used this time to build trust. Instead they have given the press community more reason to suspect their intentions.
This is not to say that the press is always right. Sometimes mistakes are made. But it is safe to say that no publication is on a witch-hunt against any political party. It is the right of the people to be informed, and that is not possible in a country where there is no press freedom. And to use the press against a particular party or individual, and for self-interest is unproductive and foolish.
Party leaders have to be careful about the tone and words they choose to use while speaking publicly. If the leader uses a threatening tone, party workers may take it as party policy and reflect that in their actions. The Federation of Nepali Journalists, Reporters Club and Press Chautari Nepal have condemned this recent statement and have requested that the Maoists respect press freedom, stop giving mixed signals and make clear their policy towards the Nepali media.
In a democratic republic it is the responsibility of political parties to ensure that the people's right to be informed is protected. Meanwhile in another public function, Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai has said that Dahal wasn't threatening anyone. He insisted that unlike in the past, the press would enjoy maximum freedom under the Maoists. If only the Maoists could translate their proclamations into action, Bhattarai's assurances would gain more weight.