Reporters Without Borders today condemned a series of measures adopted by King Gyanendra’s government in the past few days that discriminate against the independent press, especially directives determining how state advertising will be allocated to the media.
“Nepal’s independent media have in turn been the victims of threats, discrimination and repression but they have continued to resist all of the government’s arbitrary actions,” the press freedom organisation said.
“King Gyanendra is trying to realise his dream of doing away with Nepal’s vibrant independent press, which has been rejecting his dictates ever since his 1 February crackdown,” Reporters Without Borders added, appealing to the international community to step up support for the independent media “in order to save one of the kingdom’s last surviving democratic gains.”
On 27 September, the information and communication ministry issued a set of directives on the assignment of state advertising entitled “One Door Advertisement Policy,” in which the government asked all state entities to place advertising only with media that “respect the nation, the nationality and the monarchy.”
An annual report issued by the Press Council on 22 September contained a ranking of 322 publications by sales in which several that are critical of the government, including the magazines Chhalphal and Ghatana Ra Bichar, were demoted from category A to category B although they have a sizable circulation.
Reacting to the new ranking, newspaper and magazine editors staged a protest in the office of Mathabar Singh Basnet, the Press Council’s chairman on 24 September, preventing everyone from entering. They said the ranking was unfair and biased, pointing out that publications that support the king such as the weeklies Rahashya and Janabhavana had been promoted to category A. The weekly which the press council’s chairman used to edit, Punarjagaran, is also now in category A. As a result, royalist publications will now have privileged access to state funds.
The Kantipur press group is meanwhile the target of a campaign of intimidation by pro-King forces for its critics to the current government. A royalist official in the eastern city of Biratnagar threatened to attack Kantipur’s offices during a meeting on 18 September. An extremist Hindu group made similar threats a few days earlier. An army officer promised to break the legs of a Kantipur correspondent on 15 September after he wrote an article about violence against civilians. Leading Kantipur columnist Krishna Jwala Devkota received many phone calls and e-mails in August ordering him to stop criticising the security forces.
Several senior officials have also made threatening and ridiculous comments about journalists who have “sold out to the foreigners.” Mathabar Singh Basnet, the Press Council chairman, accused the Nepalese media on 22 September of “dancing to the rhythm of the foreigners,” while the information minister said the press should work for the country and the king and not for foreign embassies.
“If the international community supports Nepalese journalists and press organisations, it is to express its solidarity with a profession that is the victim of a repressive government,” responded Reporters Without Borders, which has provided financial support to imprisoned or threatened journalists.