Reporters Without Borders today condemned the supreme court’s failure, at a hearing on 11 November, to block all of the repressive measures the government has adopted against the Nepalese media including a 9 October ordinance banning independent radio news broadcasts.
The stance taken by the court confirms the lack of judicial independence and will have disastrous consequences for the news media, the press freedom organisation said.
“We deplore the supreme court’s ruling and we call on the government to repeal the 9 October ordinance and rescind all of the other draconian measures taken against the press since King Gyanendra’s power grab in February,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“We point out that the king himself said he wanted to restore democracy at the South Asia summit on 12 November and we urge him to keep his promises,” the organisation added.
The supreme court hearing was held in response to a petition by the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, the Nepalese Bar Association and other professional groups. By refusing to block the ordinance, the court has given it the force of law and has indirectly given a green light to press censorship, in violation of constitutional rights.
The ordinance imposes drastic new curbs on the Nepalese media including a ban on news programmes on independent radio stations. Radio Kantipur FM 96.1 immediately suspended its news broadcasts in response.
“Street demonstrations are our last resort,” said Narayan Wagle, the editor of one of Nepal’s most popular newspapers. “The supreme court’s decision has dashed all of the journalists’ hopes.” More than 200 lawyers wearing black armbands protested outside the supreme court building on 13 November.
Government decrees additional curbs on news media
Reporters Without Borders today roundly condemned a government ordinance issued at King Gyanendra’s behest on 9 October that imposes drastic new curbs on the Nepalese news media.
The ordinance bans all news broadcasts, criminalizes all press offences, imposes a ten-fold increase in fines for press law violations, and forbids the news media to cover “subjects that could have negative effects for political parties” or “which have as an aim a revolt against the government making use of violence.”
Referred to by the authorities as “Ordinance 2062 amending various acts concerning the news media,” it also bans any individual or organisation from obtaining a new licence to operate print, broadcast or Internet media.
It amends six press laws that took effect in May: the Radio Act, the National News Agency Act, the Press and Publication Act, the Press Council Act, the National Broadcasting Act and the Defamation Act.
The ordinance has been widely criticised by media watchdog groups including the Federation of Nepalese Journalists and the Save Independent Radio Movement, and an appeal against it has been lodged with the supreme court.