Nepali Times Asian Paints
From The Nepali Press
Not scared

" All of Nepal's big media houses are in the hands of smugglers." Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's accusation against the press on 7 April has been one of the most dangerous yet. While the statement dented the self respect of everyone working in the media, it also served to justify all attacks on free press. Journalists are already working in an insecure environment and the PM's comment added to that insecurity.

Until now the national and international communities have given the Maoists the benefit of the doubt, but the PM's anti-press stance is sure to shake that belief to the core. Many chose to turn a blind eye to the undemocratic and violent behavior of the Maoists in the name of peaceful transformation. But it seems the Maoists are out to take advantage of everyone.

It is no secret that the Maoists joined in the peace process thanks to the support of other political parties, the Indian establishment and the press. Dahal, who 'picked up guns for the people' needed the support of the big media houses to appeal to the people. Nepal's Kantipur Daily, India's The Hindu and the UK's BBC were all used to build his public persona at a national, regional and international level. Even though the Maoists had brutally murdered many journalists, the press supported them to join mainstream politics for the sake of long term peace.

During the eight months, that the Maoists have led the government, Nepalis have experienced anarchy and lack of development. The Maoists still blame the other parties and the media for "not letting the Maoists do their work". Maybe they feel that if they can put a lid on the press, they will be able to control other societal factors. Or Dahal wants to divert attention from the conflicts within his party by pointing fingers at others. It could also be that their ideals do not let the Maoists accept a free press.

Being in the government gives a political force the highest power, which can be easily misused. Thus, it is the duty of the press to keep an eye on the leading party, to investigate and to expose the truth. The media has played this critical role before and continues to do so now. It is ironic that in the past the Maoists appreciated the media's observations about the government, but now that the tables have turned they are resentful. We are no longer in the conflict years or the interim period - Dahal's shortsightedness will not work. During the decade of conflict Dahal lived in hiding for eight years in Delhi. But now his each and every action is made public.

The media's role of watchdog is even more important in a situation where the leading party has a history of violence. Press freedom has become a liability for the PM. But he has to remember that the press will never back down.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)