Maoist newspaper, Janadesh, 14 August
Just when the Working Journalist Act, which protects the rights, provides benefits and security to working journalists was amended and passed by the Nepali parliament, media tycoons that have gaining profits from their big media houses have started conspiring against the bill. They are utilising their resources and political network to discredit the working journalists' movement.
The amendment to the first bill that protects the rights of working journalists who publish and broadcast the voice of the people was made by the meeting of the interim legislature on 8 August and was endorsed by the speaker on Sunday. Although the bill has been passed, working journalists in various media houses have gone on strike demanding their rights. Meanwhile their owners are trying to suppress their voice.
Working journalists who have been treated like labourers are happy about the recent amendment, but the media houses that treat these journalists as bonded labourers are obviously not so thrilled. In fact, they fear that they will now have to follow the amended act, which is why they are saying that freedom of press is under attack so that the attention is diverted somewhere else. When reporters at Kathmandu's HBC FM demanded that the provisions of the bill be implemented, the managers of the FM used the strike as an excuse, accused the Maoists for provoking the workers and the so called manager, Birendra Dahal went on a hunger strike.
The Act allows working journalists to start trade unions in their media houses, prohibits employing journalists without appointment letters, and does not allow more than 15 percent workers to remain under contract. When the journalists asked for their rights, the media houses say that press freedom is under attack, go to the prime minister and sensationalise the issue.
Acting president of the Revolutionary Journalist Union Gobinda Acharya says the owners of media houses are spreading rumours about press freedom being under attack, so that the main issue is not discussed. Meanwhile, general secretary of the Working Journalists Union has said that although the passing of the act was a positive step, workers' discrimination by their owners has still not been addressed.
The agitating workers at HBC FM say that if the provisions of the Working Journalists Act are implemented, they will resume their work. The groups have brought their 18-point demand down to nine points and have clarified that they have not padlocked the news section, just the FM administration section.
Similarly when The Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post went on strike demanding increase in salary, identification card be given to the workers, instead of listening to their demands the media house filed case against its workers and had those who were protesting arrested. It is clear from this move by the APCA House that the owners are not keen on implementing the Act. Workers of Nepal One went on strike with various demands in June, and their demands are yet to be fulfilled. During such uncertain times the Federation of Nepali Journalists is working against the agitating groups, which has angered many working journalists.
Editorial in Kantipur, 13 August
Time and again the Maoist leadership has talked about its commitment to free press. Although the leadership has criticised mainstream media, it has never spoken out against press freedom. However, the actions by Maoist affiliated unions contradict the public statements made by the leadership.
They shut down Nepal Samacharpatra a few months ago. After public criticism, the management and workers sat for talks and the newspaper started being published again. In July The Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post could not be published for a week. The publication and distribution of both the newspapers have stopped again.
This shutdown of two newspapers is not because the workers are demanding their rights, but because one employee is not happy that the newspaper published a news story against him. Arjun Kumar Gautam, union's APCA chapter shut down the newspapers on Saturday. Gautam showed up at the newsroom on Friday night and threatened to stop the distribution of the papers if the story against him was published.
At HBC FM, the Maoist affiliated Republican Radio Journalists Forum has interfered and stopped their radio broadcast. The Forum forced itself in and padlocked the news and program production section. As a result, 30 workers and journalists have been directly affected. Station manager Birendra Dahal has accused the group for interfering with press freedom and has gone on hunger strike.
Private media houses have suffered due to systematic attacks by Maoist affiliated unions. There's no question that the rights of workers, employees, and working journalists have to be safe. The management in the media houses should take the responsibility to guarantee that. Such internal issues of media houses and FM stations could have been solved via talks. To shut down a radio station and publication of newspaper must be condemned.
The Maoist leadership has denied its interference in press, but all the unions in these media houses are affiliated to the Maoists, so they can't try to distance themselves from their responsibility. If the Maoists are really not against press freedom, they should direct their unions to not be involved in shutdowns.
The Maoists have announced that they will start an urban uprising soon. One wonders if interference and attack on the press is one of the strategies for the urban uprising?