Global Journalist

A glimmer of hope shines on Nepal's oppressed media

King Gyanendra of Nepal attempted to end weeks of violent protest against his rule by reinstating the country’s parliament on April 24.

Parliament has been dissolved since May 22, 2002.

Gyanendra’s proclamation also called upon “the Seven Party Alliance (the pro-democratic alliance of the seven political parties in Nepal) to bear the responsibility of taking the nation on the path to national unity and prosperity.”

Gyanendra said he is confident that the House will contribute to the overall welfare of Nepal and its people, and that the nation will move ahead towards “sustainable peace, progress, full-fledged democracy and national unity.” This proclamation comes after a long period of oppression for the Nepalese people and the press.

Curfews and strikes have closed many offices and businesses, affecting the lives of the Nepalese people. The planned attack on the media had increased in the last year. More than 500 journalists were arrested only this year and 20 journalists are still in prison. During the last five years, and especially after 2002, the culmination of political turmoil and protests has taken the lives of more than 20 journalists, and 1,000 were arrested, manhandled and battered in various ways. In March the number of detained journalists was five, which dramatically increased in April.

The security forces arrested more than 150 journalists since the general strikes and mass protests led by the pro-democratic alliance of the seven political parties in Nepal, which took place April 8-11. More than 100 journalists were severely beaten and suffered injuries. Dozens lost their cameras and tape recorders, and nearly a dozen vehicles of media houses were damaged.

Police had arrested more than 2,000 demonstrators from the rallies and gatherings of political parties and hundreds of others were injured. Security forces deployed by the government to crush the demonstrations treated the journalists who reported freely and independently as if they were principal enemies.

While covering a mass demonstration April 10 in Katmandu, journalist Balaram Baniya, said, “I was beaten severely when I showed my press card and told the police commander that I was a senior reporter with the Kantipur Daily; even my friends who were trying to save me were beaten roughly when they were identified as journalists.”

The regular size of papers was cut in half and many of the published newspapers were not able to circulate. In some remote districts, many newspapers were compelled to stop publishing because they couldn’t obtain newsprint.

The senior editorial team of the vernacular daily Himalaya Times announced its members’ resignations from the newspaper. When the publisher turned pro-regime and pursued the line of censorship, the editorial team was compelled to resign. Dharmendra Jha, executive editor, said, “When there was no environment of continuing professional ethics, fundamental values and principles of journalism we couldn’t continue. We decided to resign to save our faith in journalism and professional integrity.” This trend has turned out to be common, as four of five broadsheet vernacular dailies changed their editors in this manner, being replaced by individuals who support the regime.

Twenty-eight Nepalese organizations comprised of various associations, unions and other institutions are jointly working for press freedom in Nepal, mobilizing international solidarity and support. An international joint mission made its second visit to Nepal March 20 to 25.

A joint mission of 12 international media organizations first visited Nepal last year to monitor the situation of press freedom in the country. The joint mission and follow up missions lobby for the protection of media rights and improving the situation — including meeting with the Maoist insurgency to urge press freedom.

Now that Gyanendra says he claims to reinstate parliament and ensure a move toward full-fledged democracy by the House, the question remains: What is the future of the press in Nepal? The Media Alliance Nepal says, “the Nepalese media movement is also turning its roadmap, now we need to go for media reform and professional development.”

Global Journalist is produced by the Missouri School of Journalism
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