Nepali Times
Guest Column
Freedom from pressure



The latest attack on Himalmedia by the Maoist trade union has come as a shock to us journalists who have been in some way or the other looking at the ruling party in a charitable light.

This is the work not of a trade union but of ruffians. Given what they have done, not just at Himalmedia but at other newspapers, magazines, radio and tv stations across the country over the past year, one can now question the true intentions of all Maoist-affiliated outfits.

The message, it seems, is clear: the party that won an election and now leads the government seems to believe in control of every organisation in the country by violence, intimidation and threats. Industrial units in different parts of the country have been facing the worst from militant unionism that has closed down factories and put the jobs of tens of thousands at risk. But an attack on the fourth estate is, by its very nature, different. A free press is an essential part of democracy and pluralism. An attack on independent media is an attack on democracy.

To take a tour back in time, what the CPN-Maoist leadership in general and trade union leaders in particular should not forget is precisely the contribution of the free press to maintain the party's image in the past.

The CPN-Maoist was given tremendous space and benefit of doubt in both print and electronic media while it was fighting the absolute monarchy in 2005-6. Many journalists paid a heavy price, serving long solitary confinement and torture on behalf of a pro-democracy campaign that ultimately brought the Maoists to power.

The media fought side by side with the Maoists in their struggle for republicanism, despite many journalists being skeptical about the cause at the beginning. It is clear that without the media's support, the Maoist revolution would not have been successful. What the Maoist union has done is wreck the solidarity that its parent party had built with the media by attacking journalists.

Every action has a reaction, the Maoists more than anyone else should know this. The Maoist leadership by now acknowledges that these acts of barbarism are counter-productive for its own party. We understand that it takes time for an underground guerrilla force to make a full transition to peaceful competitive politics. But it has been nearly three years. There are no more excuses for the party to delay in finding and throwing out the bad apples.

The Maoist leadership has so far been brushing it all aside as "revolutionary zeal", or the act of "royalist infiltrators". These excuses don't wash. The buck has to stop somewhere, and it stops at the top leadership of the party. If nothing is done, the Maoists will reap the whirlwind and the country will slide into anarchy.

The Nepali media struggled against the Panchayat oligarchy, it defied the military censorship of Gyanendra's neo-Mahendraism. And if totalitarianism raises it head now, it will fight it too.

Granted that the All Nepal Press and Publication Union has protested the employment policy of Himalmedia. But that doesn't give it the right to engage in violence. Granted that the management has been selective in letting go of workers during its downsizing exercise, but that is not enough of an excuse when the right to hire and fire is so critical at a time when the media economy is in such crisis. Job permanency is desirable but that can't be a demand to send an organisation into insolvency and thereby jeopardise the jobs of many others.

The sustained attacks on media have besmirched Nepal's reputation after such a successful and peaceful democratic transition. Let's work to restore our country's image as we work on the constitution drafting process. Let a truly free and responsible press flourish so it protects democracy and delivers prosperity to all Nepalis in 2009.

(Rishi Dhamala is a journalist and the convenor of the Reporters' Club. He has threatened to go on hunger strike from Sunday at Singha Darbar unless the government ensures security for media practitioners.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)