Reporters Without Borders condemned a latest government drive to strangle the independent local and national press as it unveiled a new policy limiting public bodies to buying advertising space in media loyal to "the nation, nationality and the monarchy".
"The government has a duty to share out its purchasing of advertising space in an impartial manner," the organisation said. "In fact it is doing the opposite by bringing in a new policy without consultation, that goes against the principles of free enterprise and freedom of expression"
"The royal government is trying to realise its dream as quickly as possible to drive out the independent press, which despite censorship and harassment continues to exercise its right to inform the public."
The minister of Information and Communications, Tank Dhakal, presented the broad lines of the "One Door Advertisement Policy-2062BS", on 20 June, designed to match public advertising to the respect shown by the media for "the nation, nationality and the monarchy."
The policy also allows for press firms to be judged according to their "positive activism" to strengthen the security forces’ morale. It also set out other more legitimate criteria trying to get support from journalists: financial transparency, applications of laws on journalists’ rights and respect for journalistic ethics.
A Central Coordination Committee (CCC) has been created to run the new policy. Its seven members come from within government, under the chairmanship of the Information and Communications Minister. The creation of the CCC cuts back to a minimum the role of the Press Council, seen by the authorities as too independent.
Allocation at local level will also be run by each state representative under the information department in Kathmandu. "It will be the death of local private weeklies," said one journalist in the capital who spoke under condition of anonymity. "The administrative clumsiness of the system and the lack of impartiality of government representatives in the provinces will squeeze the advertising revenue of these publications."
State bodies will have to submit requests for buying advertising space a month in advance in the capital and in remotest districts. Government daily Gorkhapatra is likely to the only paper to benefit. It should see a huge increase in revenue thanks to public advertising.
According to Raj Kumar Bhattarai, secretary general of Advertizing Agents’ Association of Nepal-AAAN, 30% of press revenue comes from public advertising. The government spends around 250 million rupees (nearly three million euros) a year.
Pushkarlal Shrestha, chairman of the Kamana Publications press group, said public advertising represents half its sales of advertising space in his publication.