Nepali Times Asian Paints
Headline
Press under pressure


KUNDA DIXIT


The persecution of Kantipur this week may have been the royal regime's way of showing it means business with its media control decree but it appears to be having the opposite effect.

After the heavy-handed midnight break-in on Kantipur FM last Friday, the government gave the station a 24-hour ultimatum to stop broadcasting news. Targeting the country's most powerful media is obviously a message to the rest to toe the line or else.

The regime's credibility was at stake. Three weeks after the promulgation of the media ordinance on 7 October, radio stations throughout the country had been openly flouting its provisions. The royal council of ministers was annoyed about the defiance, insiders told us, and wanted to show that the ordinance had teeth.

But the crackdown has gone against domestic public opinion and intensified protests from international media watchdogs and governments. Even US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said his government was "deeply disappointed and concerned" about the "the shocking seizure at gunpoint of radio equipment".

State media and pro-establishment op-ed writers have been justifying the crackdowns, saying the government doesn't want to control the press, only to "regulate yellow journalism". Indeed, some of the provisions of the royal decree, such as restrictions on cross-ownership, a code of conduct for journalists and even the ban on news on FM, were tabled by the elected Deuba government three years ago. But a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2002 won FM stations the right to broadcast news.

Journalists and civil society members say it's the sneaky way the edict was announced on the eve of Dasain and its draconian nature that proves the royal regime is acting in bad faith. Senior officials often point to critical coverage in the papers to prove the press is free.

But Shiva Gaunle, vice president of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, says people shouldn't be hoodwinked: "It may appear free but the media gag rule hangs like a sword over our heads." Indeed, the sword now seems to have fallen on Kantipur FM as punishment for its fiercely critical coverage of the February First royal takeover by its sister newspapers.

But the crackdown has united the media like nothing before. Journalists and activists camped outside Kantipur FM on Thursday as the government's 4:30 PM deadline for the station to stop broadcasting news neared. It also woke up the seven party alliance, which is still on Dasain hibernation, to announce a protest shutdown in the Valley on Friday.

Of all the provisions in the ordinance, rights activists say it is the ban on FM radio news that is the most illogical. Frequent statements by officials that nowhere in the world is news allowed on FM has made them a laughing stock. The media ordinance has also severely eroded the credibility of the king's election announcement.


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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