This report is based on the findings of the ’International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal’ in mid-July 2005, which included the following organisations:
ARTICLE 19 Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) International Media Support (IMS) International Press Institute (IPI) Press Institute of India (PII) Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) World Association of Newspapers (WAN) World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)
Media Rights and Freedom of Expression
During the past decade and a half, the media in Nepal has played an integral part in promoting peace, democracy, development and good governance. However, since the state of emergency was imposed in the country on 1 February 2005 — and despite the fact that it was subsequently lifted on 29 April 2005 — the press freedom and freedom of expression situation in the country has continued to deteriorate. Since February 2005, the national media community has been engaged in a number of exemplary and dynamic efforts in defence of these freedoms and rights. Nevertheless, despite these efforts, press freedom and freedom of expression continue to be infringed upon by all combatant parties in the conflict.
Harassment, Detentions and Disappearances
Media practitioners and freedom of expression advocates across the country continue to be subject to killings, violent attacks, intimidation, harassment and displacement by both the government and the Maoists. Moreover, media practitioners and others continue to "disappear" or be detained and imprisoned for the free expression of their opinions. Media practitioners are protected under national and international law and agreements and those who violate these must be held accountable and prosecuted.
Media Policy and Legislation
A media environment based on international norms and standards, as enshrined in the 1990 Constitution and other legislation, needs to be preserved and respected, with particular reference to the restoration of civil liberties and fundamental rights after the lifting of the state of emergency. In this regard, the lack of transparency by the state authorities and security forces in dealing with media and freedom of expression issues is of serious concern, as would be the introduction of any new media ordinance, decision or ruling that would alter or override existing media-related legislation.
Direct and Indirect Censorship
A number of direct and indirect forms of censorship are being applied against the media in Nepal. In particular, this includes interference in editorial independence, the prejudiced allocation of state advertising, pressure on commercial entities not to advertise with particular media, increases in postage costs for print media, disruption of print media distribution and the threat of non-renewal of broadcast licenses. In addition, reported "coercive measures", such as firing particular editors and journalists, are being applied against media institutions as conditions for continuing to operate.
FM and Community Radio
FM and community radio in Nepal has to date been a leader in the field of community broadcasting in South Asia. However, contrary to the Constitution, the Supreme Court decisions and national legislation guaranteeing press freedom and freedom of expression, radio stations in Nepal are currently under a de-facto ban for broadcasting news. Despite claims by Government officials to the contrary, FM and community radio stations in many countries around the world broadcast news. This ban in Nepal is depriving the population of free access to information, threatening the financial viability of FM and community radio, as well as causing large-scale unemployment for radio journalists and broadcasters.
The conditions faced by the local media in districts across the country are particularly harsh. Whilst all of the media community has been subject to killings, attacks, disappearances, intimidation, harassment, detention and displacement, this has been particularly severe in areas outside of the Kathmandu Valley. In such locations the media often finds itself caught between the combatant parties and under pressure to censor or alter the content of despatches and reports so that it is perceived to be more favourable to one side or the other. Moreover, media facilities and infrastructures are more vulnerable to being shut down, deliberately damaged or removed by one of the combatant sides. The recent emergence of armed "vigilante groups" in certain districts also poses a serious threat to media practitioners and freedom of expression advocates, as well as press freedoms and freedom of expression in general.