Nepali Times
Pressure on the press


Influential circles in Kathmandu can be divided into two schools of thought. One holds that the Maoists are genuine about entering non-violent mainstream politics, that it is a difficult transition for them, and that we must help them along in every way we can.

The other is convinced that the former guerrillas have not given up trying to capture state power and turn Nepal into a totalitarian people's republic and that, as soon as time is ripe, they'll go back to the jungle.

These two objectives seem to co-exist even within the Maoist fold. Which is probably why we hear Pushpa Kamal Dahal first taking the moderate conciliatory line when talking to ex-US presidents and European envoys, and then rattle sabres for cadres about the revolution.

It's been a year. Even those who wanted to give the Maoists time to get adjusted to peacetime politics are now losing their patience amidst continued reports of intimidation, extortion and militant unionism. Maoist leaders predictably dismiss these accusations as a smear campaign by "status-quo bourgeois lackeys" of a "238-year-old feudalism".

We looked the other way when the Maoists didn't put all their big guns in containers. We pretended we didn't know that the YCL is actually the PLA who theoretically should be in cantonments. We excused the league's high-handedness because, we said, the leadership couldn't possibly control each and every ex-guerrilla. The comrades have used this to play it both ways.

Anyone who has watched NTV news lately, listened to Radio Nepal's current affairs programs or read Gorkhapatra will have noticed that state media is used shamelessly for party propaganda. It must be said, however, that Information Minister Mahara is behaving no differently than his predecessors from the NC or UML.

Much more sinister, it looks like the threat of violence, if not actual violence, in the run-up to elections is part of the plan. Let's have no illusions: the systematic infiltration of private media by Maoist unions in the past weeks is about putting pressure on editors. It would be na?ve to believe that this is only about legitimate labour rights. Editors who defied the royal junta's attempt after February 2005 to directly censor content say coercion by Maoists this time is much more insidious.

Staff at Kantipur and Kathmandu Post faced threats of violence ("don't bring out the paper or we will break your legs"). The fact that news of the threats didn't make it to the front page of Kantipur is itself proof censorship through militant unionism works brilliantly. Nepal Samacharpatra and Mahanagar were forced to suspend publication this week by Maoists in union garb who told staff "we will spill your blood if you publish". Independent FM stations are also being targeted.

The Maoist leadership must immediately call off this poorly-disguised attempt to undermine press freedom. It raises serious questions about their intent, and proves even to those who have a soft corner for them that the comrades haven't given up their violent, totalitarian ways.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)